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Goldilocks and Raising a Puppy

Updated: Feb 16, 2021

It’s January, and that means it’s time for all of the Christmas puppies to come out and meet the world! Raising a puppy is both an art and a science. Too much of something can be just as harmful as too little, so here are some tips to get it “just right.”

An American Bulldog puppy wearing a lacy bonnet has its front legs and chest on a white doll bed with a blue blanket. There is a teddy bear leaning against the front of the bed.

1. Feed your puppy, but not too much, and not too little! Get the highest quality food you can buy and monitor how much your puppy eats. Also be aware that many foods are too high in calcium for growing dwarf and large breed puppies (check my upcoming puppy food blog for suggestions). Most puppies can self-regulate up until about 12 weeks, but after that, many pups will over eat if you leave food out, so be sure to feed in meals and measure your puppy’s food with a standard measuring cup. More importantly, monitor his body condition Roly-poly puppy tummies should start to slim out a bit after 12 weeks, and considerably more by 16 weeks. Your pup may even appear gangly (but not skinny) by 5-6 months of age.

2. Spend quality time with your puppy, but….you get the idea! Dogs are social creatures and they need time with their humans, but they also need to learn to be okay on their own. Otherwise you may end up with a dog with separation anxiety (which is both heartbreaking and frustrating). Take time to play, train, exercise, and cuddle with them, but also teach them that exercises pens or gated off kitchens are a fun and safe place to be, full of fun puzzle toys and chew things.

3. Exercise your puppy! A puppy who doesn’t get enough exercise is more prone to biting, barking, chewing, and otherwise being naughty, but too much exercise too soon can ruin their joints! Puppy joints have gaps that can be damaged from prolonged exercise, or too much running around on hard surfaces or going down stairs. Three to four 10-15 minute walks, coupled with play in the house/yard and training sessions throughout the day should be plenty of exercise for most puppies. After 4 months, walks may be extended to 20 minutes each, and by 6 months, 30 minutes each. Consult your vet to make sure your puppy is ready for more exercise!

4. Socialize your puppy! Lack of socialization (exposure to sights, sounds, places, smells, people, and dogs) can cause fear and/or aggression in your puppy as he grows up, even if he seems “just fine” now. The critical socialization period ends between 12 and 16 weeks, so you have to work hard to introduce him to lots of people, places, and things, but without overwhelming him. Aim for 10-15 at a new place every day. Before his shots are finished, this might mean sitting on your lap on a bench outside of a pharmacy or convenience store, getting treats every time someone walks by. Safe, structured early puppy socialzation classes are also a great way to get your puppy introduced to other healthy puppies and strangers, as well as different sights, sounds and flooring surfaces.

5. Train your puppy! Puppies need to learn good manners before they pick up bad habits, so early training is crucial. However, if you try to train your 8 week old puppy for 2 hours a day, you will both become overwhelmed. Aim for sessions that are 1-2 minutes per month that he is old. That means an 8 week old would train for 2-4 minutes at a time, a 12 week old would train for 3-6 minutes, and so on. Train in multiple short sessions throughout the day in every room of your home, with a goal of 15-20 minutes total for the day.

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