Written by Anna Hollisey
We love puppies. But they sure do bring a lot of poop-related problems into our lives. And how about those 6am starts? If you’re ready for the cold, hard truth, keep reading…
Horse poop, cow poop, cat poop, rabbit poop, even their own poop… they’re all irresistible snacks to some dogs. Unfortunately, dogs never read the human rule-book that says “never eat poop” – and will help themselves to any steaming heap they find. Don’t freak out. It’s natural and very common.
Eating poop is also known as coprophagia, and we’ve covered it on the FOTP blog recently. Some people believe that dogs seek out poop to meet certain dietary deficiencies, like eating grass to assist with digestion. But even pups who are fed top quality, complete food might pick up a cow-cookie sometimes.
You can train them to ‘Leave’, but it won’t happen overnight – and their sense of mischief will sometimes prevail. (Running gleefully with a mouthful of poop, and their owner in hot pursuit, is most pups’ idea of a great time.)
Once they are comfortable with your pack, puppies will almost certainly begin to treat their new family like their siblings. That means climbing on shoulders and biting. Lots of biting. Puppies can’t communicate with us during the early weeks so when they’re full of energy and want to play, they’ll use a lively nip to invite you to join in.
But remember that your pup isn’t being aggressive or ‘naughty’ – they’re just playing. So you’ll need to show them that you will only play on your terms.
The best way to handle an unwanted bite is by turning around or ignoring the puppy. If they’re persistent, put them into another room right away. They will gradually learn that bites come with consequences, and they’ll develop new ways to interact.
You can also distract a biting puppy with a toy (and introduce a marker word: ‘toy’) and show them how fun it can be to get their teeth into something that’s not you. When you see them becoming playful/bitey, tell them to find their toy and reward that behavior with a game of tug-of-war.
Here’s one that you will want to skip if you have a sensitive nature. Dogs spend a surprising amount of time (every day, and probably also every night) licking their genitals. It’s usually because that’s how they clean up (they don’t use paper) – although if they do it a lot, there could be an underlying infection or allergy.
If they’re a boy, the licking will intensify around the time their testicles descend (8-24 weeks).
While we’re on the topic of body parts, you might not know that some pups are born with extra toes.
It’s not uncommon; some breeds have been deliberately developed with additional toes (for greater grip – like the Norwegian Lundehund), but other dogs are just born that way.
This extra toe doesn’t usually have a bone. It’s just skin and muscle, which makes it susceptible to tearing. For that reason, your veterinarian might suggest chopping it off. You can plan to have this surgery at the same time as spaying or neutering your dog. If you want to deal with the extra toe (a condition known as polydactyly), the operation is best carried out while your dog is young.
Maybe you’ve pictured lazy Sundays with your new dog, enjoying long hikes and then reclining on the couch while the dog brings your slippers. In real life, you should be prepared for an early start every day. Dogs love routine, and they certainly don’t believe in lazy weekends.
Not only do they not understand the concept of a lie-in, sleeping through the night is unnatural for them too. When you bring your pup home, you’re going to have to get used to getting up in the middle of the night so they can go potty. Their little bladders won’t last until morning and if you’re crate training, they won’t want to go in their bed.
On the subject of routine – think about what you’ll do when you’re on vacation, too. Even if you think you’ll put your pup in kennels, you might feel differently about abandoning them when they’ve become your best friend and constant companion. Will the kennel staff know he can only go to sleep with his special rubber chicken? Will he get his sleepy-time dog biscuit at exactly 9:45pm? The bond between dog and owner can transform any human into an overprotective fur-parent.
Modern dog training techniques focus on creating alternative behaviors – not correcting or punishing the annoying ones. It’s known as positive reward-based training and it means no scolding or shouting.
When your dog glares at chickens through the fence, or leaps enthusiastically when you’re preparing supper, you’re advised to ignore every moment. Instead, it’s all about rewarding the good stuff. He looks away from the chickens for an instant? Treat time. Pauses jumping and places his bottom on the floor? Give him a treat.
By the way, it’s really difficult not to yell “NOOO” when your dog does something like climb up onto the dining table to “clean” dishes when you leave the room. Yup, this happens.
Some pups are super-sensitive to sounds and might bark intensely when your neighbors come out into their yard. Or a cat passes by the front window. Or the delivery person knocks at your door.
But sometimes your pup might start barking at… nothing. You’ll find them standing nervously at the edge of a bush or path, acting startled, or woofing like crazy. They’ve been spooked – for no apparent reason.
Of course there’ll be reasons, too: they might just be weird ones. Pups can be irrationally afraid of shopping bags, skateboards, and bridges. The best way to avoid this is to expose them to as much as possible during their early weeks. Walk over bridges, drop bags, pass cattle, and take them walking on busy sidewalks. If your pup becomes irrationally nervous around something, stay cool and don’t give them too much attention. They’ll pick up on your chilled demeanor, and sense there’s nothing to worry about.
Don’t offer too much reassurance. Coddling them might seem like a natural human reaction but you’re just teaching them there is something to be afraid of. Use your happy, playful voice and they’ll soon understand the vacuum isn’t their enemy.
Yes, it’s a wonderful time when you make a new addition to the household, but this type of change can cause immense tension. You’re negotiating new rules and systems, and your old routine has shattered. You’re trying to balance your expectations with a wilful, strong-minded puppy – who’d prefer to chew the couch than lie peacefully at your feet.
Very young pups may not have experienced a lot of human interaction.
They won’t bond with you instantly and they probably won’t sleep as much as they should… because puppies are terrible at knowing when they need a nap! Overtired puppies become bitey and wild, which causes stress, particularly if you have children. Don’t be afraid to put them in another room or crate to save your sanity as well as theirs.
Despite the poop, the licking, the biting and barking… get ready to fall in love.
We’re chemically programmed to fall in love with our pets. They may be a different species, but dogs boost human levels of oxytocin – the love hormone. Scientists have shown that the bond between a dog and its owner is similar to that between parent and baby.
Spend time petting your dog to increase your level of oxytocin by as much as 300% - which can reduce stress and induce relaxation.
Dog ownership is not a decision that you should rush. Relinquished pets account for around a third of shelter animals, which is in the region of 2 million every year, according to the ASPCA. Remember that almost a million dogs are euthanized annually – not every animal can be successfully rehomed.
Most dogs are given up when they’re aged between 5 months and 2 years old. The top 3 reasons, according to the ASPCA’s Rehoming Survey, were lack of time, personal problems, and allergies.
This tells us that you should consider your decision particularly seriously if any of these apply:
If, after reading all these puppy tales, you STILL want a dog… congratulations. You’re almost ready.
Bringing home a new dog can be a real shock. In our experience, the best way to learn is to borrow a friend’s dog for a day or ideally longer! You could even consider fostering a dog. This way, you’re helping out a charity, giving a dog a stable home when they really need it and you get a real first hand experience of owning a dog.
Of course, not all dogs will be the same, and your friend’s dog has become accustomed to your friend’s routine and habits. But you will experience the dog’s daily demands and inconveniences (and there will be some of those). You’ll be stuck with the jobs of clearing up insane amounts of poop and keeping the dog away from your best broom/ cushion/cat. And it might help you to make a totally informed choice… which could end up being the best decision ever.