Your Puppy's Firsts

Your Puppy's Firsts

By Karen Asp for The Dog Daily

Your Puppy\'s Firsts

Adopting a puppy often fills us with such tremendous hope and joy that we want to immediately introduce the new pet to everything and everyone, including friends, the dog park and even the family car. But not so fast! "All of these things are stimulating to puppies and can overwhelm them," says Sarah Wilson, leading dog trainer and author of My Smart Puppy (Grand Central Publishing 2006). She adds that if you're not careful, some puppies could get frightened.

How to introduce these new experiences to your furry pal without overwhelming it? "Keep everything short and sweet," says Wilson. "You want every experience to be positive and fun for puppies so they want to do it again."

Riding in a Car

Not every dog loves car rides, which is why slowly introducing them to automobiles makes sense. Take only short rides at first, picking fun destinations, Wilson says. Over time, you can lengthen the rides.

If your puppy shows fear, take smaller steps to start. 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.

Since dogs are creatures of habit, assign your puppy 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-raising and author of Puppies for Dummies (For Dummies 2006). You could assign your puppy to sit in its crate or be secured with a seat belt. Just don't drive with a dog in your lap because that can put all passengers in danger.

Meeting Other People and Dogs

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 playdates arranged with socialized dogs.

When introducing your puppy to various 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."

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.

Going to a Dog 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 to go to the park. "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.

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."

Karen Asp is a freelancer covering health, fitness, nutrition and pets for numerous publications, including Prevention, Woman's Day, Shape, Self, Fitness, Health, Real Simple, Good Housekeeping and Natural Health. She shares her office with a golden retriever in training to be a therapy dog.