As a dog owner getting my second Westie puppy, I thought I was totally prepared and knew everything I needed to know about caring for a puppy. Well, I quickly realized I had forgotten how much work a puppy is. And now, ten years later, I realize I am still learning. As a new AnimalSense trainer, I’ve spent the better of the past year learning about dogs and dog training. Somewhere along the line I started making a mental list of things I would do differently as a dog owner, knowing what I know now.
- Daily walks. While I took my puppy for occasional walks, I know that I also was somewhat lazy and would often find it easier to just let him out in the backyard. Knowing what I know now about the importance of socialization, I’d be doing two walks a day… not just for housebreaking, but for exercise, exploration and enjoyment.
- Rigorous socialization. Speaking of socialization, I would be much more rigorous about introducing my puppy to a wide variety of people, places and things. There are all sorts of checklists available. This is one I especially like: Socialization Checklist. And I now know that there is a really limited time window – ages 8 to 12 weeks when socialization is critical.
- Earlier training. I took my dog to his first class at about the age of six months. By that time he was already exhibiting what I now recognize as fear-based behaviors. But at the time it just seemed like bad manners (barking and growing at other dogs). So if I had the chance to do it over, I would investigate classes and have him registered even before I brought him home.
- Positive training. When I was doing that investigative work I just mentioned, I would be looking for a trainer who used positive reinforcement. When I finally did take my dog for his first class, I didn’t even know there were different approaches to training. As a firm believer now in positive reinforcement, that is definitely what I would be looking for.
- Better food. My learnings are not only about behavior and socialization. The other thing I would differently is select a better quality food. I fed my puppy what I thought was a “premium” food. While it probably never harmed him, he was never one to gobble down his food until I switched to a grain-free food. Like people, a dog should like its food…and look forward to it! There are several internet sites where you can read reviews and ratings of dog foods. Here’s one I like.
There’s probably more. But these are some really simple things to think about with a new puppy… or any dog! It’s never too late to make a better life for your dog.