Your puppy's firsts

Your puppys first

Adopting a puppy often fills us with such joy that we want to immediately introduce it to everything and everyone, including friends, the park and even the family car. But not so fast! Here are some tips on how to go about introducing your new furry pal to the world without overwhelming it.

Keep it short

Although stimulating, too much new information could overwhelm or even frighten young pups," says Sarah Wilson, leading dog trainer and author of My Smart Puppy (Grand Central Publishing 2006).

"Keep everything short and sweet," advises Wilson. "You want every experience to be positive and fun for the puppy so it wants to do it again."

Joy rides

Slow intro: Not every dog loves car rides, which is why a slow introduction to automobiles makes sense. At first take only short rides to fun destinations. Over time, you can lengthen the rides.

Fear factor: If your puppy shows fear, take smaller steps. First sit with your puppy in the car with the motor off for several minutes. Then offer a reward such as a small food treat for hanging out. Next, try short car drives followed by longer ones.

Take a seat: Since dogs are creatures of habit, assign a specific place in the car and put familiar bedding or toys there. "Make the car ride as routine as possible to help puppies settle down, especially if they get agitated or sick during rides," says Sarah Hodgson, world-renowned expert on puppy care and author of Puppies for Dummies (For Dummies 2006). For safety reasons you should assign your puppy to sit in its crate or be secured with a seat belt. Never drive with a dog in your lap because that can put all passengers in danger and you may even risk to being prosecuted.

Making friends

Early start: Socialization is the most important thing you can do for your puppy. Lack of socialization can cause dogs to develop aggression or phobias. The ideal time to socialize puppies occurs before they're 6 months old. Dogs older than 6 months can still be socialized, but it will take extra effort. Ideal starting places are puppy classes or play dates arranged with socialized dogs.

Keep calm: When introducing your puppy to new places, people and distractions, use a calm but cheerful voice. Observe how your puppy responds. If your puppy seems nervous or excited when experiencing something new, do what Hodgson calls “bracing”. Kneel and place one hand on puppy's waist and the other on its chest. In a consoling voice, say "calm".

Play dates: When taking your puppy to meet other dogs, ask the owners if their pets are socialized. If any uncertainty exists, try to meet the other dog by yourself and notice how it behaves. To be safe, choose neutral territory for the doggy introductions so neither feels threatened. This is especially important if the other dog is older.

To the park: A dog park can be a fun setting for your puppy. However, it’s best to wait until your pet is between 6 and 8 months of age before you go. "Before then, puppies are too impulsive and aren't mindful of other dogs' posture, which could make them a victim of a dog attack," says Hodgson.

When your puppy is ready, first make sure the park attracts friendly dogs. Once in the park, watch your pet closely. If anything threatens your puppy, or if your puppy's body language changes, leave quickly.

Know the signs: Overall, remember that as your puppy's advocate and protector, you need to pay attention to its response when facing new experiences. "If your puppy's tail is low or it starts clinging to you, the situation is too much," says Wilson. "But if puppy's tail is up and wagging, everything's OK."


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