Christmas Puppy Now What?

By Marion C.O'Neil CPDT-KA, CTDI

 Puppies are so sweet it seems they can give you cavities. Oh boy, they are cute, downright addicting. I love those round pink bellies and their intoxicating puppy breath.  So why do thousands of puppies end up being relinquished to our already overwhelmed shelters and rescues soon after the holidays have passed.   The average length of ownership for these puppies is 3 months ( The National Humane Education Society’s web site estimates that 5 million dogs and cats are euthanized in the U.S. each year. Of the dogs turned in, 42% were not spayed or neutered, 33% never saw a vet, and 96% never experienced obedience training.  The understanding is - acquiring a pet dog is supposed to be a lifetime commitment full of fantastic furry Fido fun.  What happened- poor planning lack of time, money, knowledge, impulse control buying? The top 10 reasons for relinquishment follow:  1.Moving   2. Landlord not allowing pets   3.Too many animals in the household  4.Cost of pet maintenance  5.Owner personal problems   6. Inadequate facilities  7. No homes for littermates  8. No time for pet (This totally outrages me)   9. Pet illness   10.  Biting

     The newness always wears off eventually. You wanted a dog. You didn’t realize that puppy teeth can feel like pristine forged steel needles leaving scabs all over your hands and arms. Who knew that “puppy” = eating and chewing everything in sight, secret peeing under the dining room table, incessant jumping, barking for attention, and if given the opportunity, escaping through the neighborhood.  Now that the holidays are over, the real life-changing training for your puppy should be fun, not drawn out work. Training sessions with your puppy should be short, a minute here, a minute there. Always leave them wanting more. “Real life” opportunities for training are very beneficial.  Your puppy quickly learns doors only open for sitting dogs. A wonderful and underutilized time to train is at meal time.  An example of an impulse control exercise would be – the puppy must stay sitting until released to eat its meal.  Exercise and mental stimulation are a must for a happy puppy. Try enrolling in a group puppy class. There are plenty of force- free, certified professional dog trainers at the Association of Pet Dog Trainers

  Euthanasia is the number one reason for death of dogs under the age of 2 years.  The most common reason for euthanasia was the dog was not properly socialized as a puppy. It doesn’t even compare to Parvo, Distemper or accidental death (PUBMED JOURNALS ARTICLES).    

In the age-old discussion of “Nature versus Nurture,” the fact is both are important. “Nature” is what your puppy or dog is born with, and “nurture” is what you provide for a happy, healthy, affectionate, well-adjusted, well-mannered dog. A critical aspect of “nurture” is socialization. Its importance cannot be underrated in raising a psychologically healthy puppy.  In fact, providing your puppy with a broad range of experiences prior to the age of four months of age has been proven to be one of the most critical factors in raising a stable, confident dog.

Socialization is introducing your puppy to a broad range of new experiences, people, environments, and activities. While you likely can’t expose a puppy to everything he or she may encounter in the future, the good news is that positive exposure to a wide variety of novel experiences results in a dog that easily adjusts to new things throughout his or her life. A well-socialized dog isn’t frightened of something he or she may never have experienced previously.  In other words, well-socialized dogs are more secure, confident, and self-assured. Socialization includes:

• People—from infants to the elderly. Different ages, sizes, ethnicities; glasses, hats, mustaches and beards, different clothing—anything you can think of.

• Places—new environments such as urban areas, country settings and everything in between. Nothing attracts friendly people more than an adorable puppy, so taking your puppy to new places gets him used to loads of people, too. Visit friends’ homes, your kids’ soccer games, and take quiet walks in the park.

• Things—Dog-friendly cats and other pets, household appliances, cars, buses, fire hydrants, trees and flowers. Virtually everything may be new to your puppy, so don’t be limited in your choices.

• Activities—Pleasant car rides, an elevator ride, and the like.  And of course, Puppy Class is one of the best places to socialize. Plus you’ll both learn a lot!

Safe socialization

It’s important that exposure to all these novel experiences is positive and without stress.  Here are some guidelines to help keep things stress-free and constructive:

• Have fun! Your positive attitude toward new things is important for your puppy. 

• Let your puppy approach new things on her own. Provide the opportunity for your puppy to investigate and let her take her time. 

• Respect your puppy’s feelings. Don’t push or force your puppy if he’s at all reluctant. Try laughing and interacting with the new object yourself, but ultimately err on the side of caution if your puppy thinks something is just too scary right now.

• Use common sense and be careful that all experiences are positive. Avoid situations, people, and environments that you think might result in a less-than-happy experience for your puppy. For example, in meeting a well-behaved child who wants to hold the puppy, have the child sit on the floor to avoid the possibility of a squiggly puppy falling from his arms and getting injured.

While there is little risk to socializing your puppy in public, there is a small possibility your puppy will be exposed to illness.

Professional groups including the APDT and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) believe that the profound advantages of socialization far outweigh the minimal risk of illness. Ultimately, however, the decision is yours, and should be made in consultation with your veterinarian.

     Don’t ignore your puppy because you’re too busy.   The cost of Doggie Day care is minimal. What you get in return is endless! Your dog learns bite inhibition and much needed social skills. A tired puppy gets into much less mischief. If money is tight there are some less expensive options.  Take advantage of your neighbors (a retiree or a college student) or a close relative. Ask them to watch your puppy while you are at work.  Almost everyone loves a puppy. There are local certified insured dog walkers looking for work. They take your dog out for that much- needed pee and get that wonderful walk to burn off penned up energy. In the November issue in the Free Press I explained how to play puppy ping pong. You have two people at different ends of the home calling your dog back and forth. You are burning up excess energy plus reinforcing the come when called command for you puppy.

 The amount of free information on the internet is endless. Be careful there is also a lot of bad information, too.  Writers promoting anything “Caesar” are not the best choices.

 January is the official “Train Your Dog Month” at the Association of Pet Dog Trainers ( Several free webinars and free articles will help you make decisions about training. Patricia McConnell’s “The Puppy Primer” and Dr. Ian Dunbar’s “After You Get Your Puppy” are two great puppy training books.  You can’t prepare the world for your puppy but you can prepare your puppy for the world!

Marion O’Neil CPDT-KA

Owner & Trainer of Molasses Creek Dog Training


New Classes Starting:

Focus with Distractions    12/18 Mon. 7:00 p.m.

Puppy I Manners                 12/16 Sat. 12:30 p.m.

Teenrover/Adult-Manners   12/18 Mon. 6:00 p.m.

Novice Trick Dog (NTD)             1/13 Sat. 10:00 a.m  

AKC Canine Good Citizen   1/14 Sun. 1:00 p.m.       


Check the calendar for more scheduled classes!