If you couldn’t tell from my Instagram, we got a lab mix puppy about 2 months ago from RACC, and he is about 4 months old now. His name is Gimli, after the dwarf in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. (If you missed our jaunt along the Tolkien Trail, you can read about it here.) Puppies are a lot of work. I get very little me time, because he’s not yet at an age where he can entertain himself. But he’s totally worth it. Isn’t he just the cutest? We sought out dog advice from sources we trusted, and figured a few things out on our own too. Here are a few tips for new dog parents we’ve picked up along the way.
(These are by no means awesomely captured pictures in this post. Puppies move a lot. Sometimes they do cute things when lighting sucks. Taking pictures of puppies is hard.)
1. Research your dog food.
Dog Food Advisor is the best all in one source I’ve found for checking the quality of your dog’s food in terms of ingredient sourcing and nutrition information. Dogs don’t have a variety of nutrition sources like humans, so their kibble has a huge impact on their growth and health. Make sure you consider the age of your dog, as well as it’s breed size when deciding upon a food.
2. Buy quality bowls.
Puppies literally can chew up everything, even their food and water bowls. I decided we were going to spend a little more money and get these bowls that Gimli would never destroy. They are also made in the USA and that gives us peace of mind that they won’t contaminate his food or water. Be sure to consider the volume of food and water your dog will consume when they are full grown when deciding on bowl size.
[UPDATE: After a year his bowls look new still. We regularly run them through the dishwasher.]
3. Puppies need a spot to play and nap.
Keeping an eye on a puppy while making dinner [or anything really] is a handful. This foldable ex pen has been a game changer. He has his own spot to play in a contained area where I can see him. Gimli takes lots of naps in here too. He knows this is his spot.
I’m not advocating anyone leave their dog in a pen all the time. But sometimes you might need to do something that prevents you from supervising him. Like take a shower. You’re pup probably doesn’t care you smell, but everyone else does.
The step through gate means we can walk in to easily change his water bowl without trying to lean over the side to pick it up. We have another hand-me-down ex pen that’s galvanized, and we’ve used it outside while we do yard work.
Not the prettiest things to have in your house. But let’s be real, when people come over they’ll be too busy playing with your puppy to care. If they do care, you don’t need those kind of house judgy people in your life anyway.
4. Car rides.
We each have one of these hammocks in our car. They have stayed in place and are easy to take out if we need room for people to sit. There’s a short leash/seat belt (each hammock comes with 2) that can hook into a collar or harness. We ended up getting Gimli a harness. If we’re ever in a crash and he gets jerked around, a harness helps direct that force through his chest, rather than having all of that impact on his neck through his collar. Since he’ll grow out of it soon, we bought an inexpensive harness without doing much research.
[UPDATE: After a year, my hammock has a hole at one of the seams. We like them enough that we’ll get another one though. Washing wasn’t very effective since they’re water resistant. A good shake and vaccuum with the dust buster helps keep them clean. Gimli is on his second seatbelt in each car. He chewed the first ones. A few squirts of bitter apple might have prevented that. But since he’s not a big destroyer of things that aren’t toys we didn’t think about it.
Since he’s fully grown now, we got him a more permanent harness. The cheap one we started with fell apart. This one has a leash hook on the back and the front. That’s good for car rides (hooking on the back) and for excited times where he pulls (hooking on the front). We also have this vest harness with a sturdier handle and more obvious reflective strips for hiking (like in Raleigh or Asheville). We’ve been happy with both harnesses.]
5. You gotta do their nails. I’m not talking polish.
Gimli’s nails grow super fast (it’s a puppy thing). We got this rotary tool so that we could regularly grind/file them down. It’s small motor does make a sound, which sometimes distracts him and makes him think he should bite it. This is an ongoing battle in our household. We’re wearing him down. Pun intended. Don’t be that person whose dog has super sharp nails. Your dog doesn’t need Kardashian talons. Inevitably your dog will jump on me and those nails will shred my legs. I will hate you for it.
[UPDATE: One of us lays Gimli on his back in our lap while pumping him with treats. The other grinds his nails. He legitimately does not care as long as he’s being pumped full of treats. We also don’t need to grind his nails as often now that he’s a bit older.]
6. The best part: TOYS!
Puppy boy is spoiled with toys like any good dog is. He likes them all: ropes, squeakers, canvas, stuffed, balls. In addition to his conventional toys, he loves old towels. He plays tug, chews on the corners, and drags them around.
[UPDATE: Anything stuffed Gimli is going to destroy. We usually don’t bother but if we do he needs constant supervision. He has 2 rubber toys and one super hard foam one that regularly stay out for him. All others are special treats. We’ve had good luck at Pet Valu for clearance toys. Chances are the toy will be in the trash in the near future, you may as well not pay a lot for it.]
7. Train your dog. It’s good for everyone involved.
We taught Gimli to do several things on our own, i.e. sit, stay, down, paw, etc. But we enrolled him in a puppy class at a local dog training venue. (I highly recommend working with Merissa if you’re in my area!). Gimli would probably grow up to be a fairly well behaved dog from all of the work we’ve done. However having a trainer guide you through the process is way more efficient than learning on your own, class helps to provide socialization, and trainers can be an excellent resource for all sorts of behavior related issues or questions.
Search in your area for a training club or ask your vet for recommendations. We’re getting a better education than we would at the pet store, and it ended up being cheaper. Training also gives your dog mental stimulation which they need just as much as physical exercise. You’ll be happy your dog knows how to train when it rains for a week straight and you need a way to tire your dog out.
Bonus Tip: Puppy teeth can be disconcerting.
When I first wrote this Gimli hadn’t gone through his second round of teething yet. Pups have puppy teeth. They’re sharp as hell and hurt if you dog chews on your. As they grow, pups loose those teeth to make room for their adult teeth. I found this very disconcerting. Someone told us to roll up a damp wash cloth and freeze it. Apparently this is a thing for teething babies. Works for puppies too.
One day Gimli was chewing on a bone (he loves these) and I found a tooth on the floor and he was bleeding. I was terrified I’d given him something that cracked his teeth. Nope. Just knocked out a puppy tooth. We found them laying around the house for a few weeks. You’d also see blood on other dogs’ fur if they were wrestling together. Worth keeping an eye on, but nothing to worry about.