The unfortunate thing is that although most puppies are sold at eight weeks of age, it’s one of the worst times to introduce puppies to new things. We know now that at eight weeks, puppies are going through a fear period: they may suddenly be scared of things that have never bothered them before, and it’s possible that these experiences may imprint them for life. In other words, they may hold onto that fear of the scary man or child or loud noise—forever. So going for their first car ride, meeting new dogs, new people, or being introduced to a new environment, to say nothing of being removed from their pack of siblings for the first time in their lives to spend their first night alone in a new setting, can be very traumatic. Seven or nine weeks of age is a better time to take puppies home—when they are more confident and not as easily influenced by fear.
My eyes felt bleary when I finally found the appropriate “What to do when your puppy bites” chapter in response to my scratched, bleeding arms.
“The book says to grab her muzzle, look directly into her eyes, and say ‘no bite’ in a stern tone,” I read aloud. “If she bites again, do it harder. Ow!” I dropped the book on the table and reached down to swipe Sascha away from where she was attached to my jeans. “Sascha, stop it!” I dropped to my knees and grabbed her small, snarling muzzle in my hand, but she whipped away from me and made another playful lunge. She was all baby growls and needle teeth and when she made contact with my skin, it hurt. “Shit! No bite!” My voice was very stern and very loud this time, and when I made a grab for her, Sascha danced away and flattened herself on the floor four feet from me, not sure whether to be scared or to join in the devilish game. She chose the latter, sprinted back to me, grabbed my slipper in her teeth, and tugged as hard as she could. This time I nailed her muzzle with a firm hand and shouted “No bite!” while glaring into her eyes. She cowered, ears flattened to her skull. With her tiny tail curled up on her belly, she crawled under the couch and all we could see were her big, brown eyes peeking out.
“Well done!” Joel’s voice was thick with sarcasm.
Tears burned my eyes, and an ache in my chest threatened to derail me. “I did what it said!”
“You didn’t have to do it that hard!”
I tried to pull Sascha out from under the couch, but she stayed just out of reach. Would she ever recover? I was sure she wouldn’t.
Moments later, Sascha fell asleep—a ball of golden fur all alone under the couch—but when she awoke, she seemed to have forgotten. She bounced into the kitchen, gobbled down the kibble I offered her, peed again on the carpet before we could entice her outside, then grabbed a shoe from the mat by the front door and charged around the house, full of glee. The extent of her joy was contagious, and we laughed, mirth rising from our bellies until tears ran down our cheeks. Finally, we managed to herd her outside to our fenced yard, she did her business, then settled down to chew on a stick. We heaved a sigh of relief and dubbed her “Baby Jaws”.
Somehow, we managed to survive the rest of the day. We barricaded off the kitchen, found some tennis balls, and Joel drove to the grocery store and returned with a couple of stuffed toys, a rubber hamburger with a squeaker (which she demolished instantly), and a Nyla bone that she set to work on with those killer teeth. We played tug with an old sock (unwittingly reinforcing her delight in these readily accessible toys), and tossed the ball for her, the tennis ball enormous in her little jaws. We discovered that she was a natural retriever.
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What would we have done to prepare for that day now, in 2018?
- We would have waited until Sascha was nine weeks old before bringing her home; we would have taken time to get to know her and visited her at least three times during the week that we waited, leaving something that smelled like us (an old T-shirt, for instance) for her to chew on, sleep with, and eat her meals on. By the time she came home, she would have known our faces, our scent, our touch.
- We would have worked on crate training her during those visits so that she had a familiar, safe place to be–both in the car on the way home, and to retreat to once she was in her new house. In the years to come, unfortunately she never did have a crate, but would wedge herself into the space beneath the lowest laundry shelf in our bedroom for comfort.
- We would have had a familiar-smelling blanket from her litter mates and mother in her crate, and a variety of chews, balls, tug toys and stuffed toys to offer her when she got mouthy.
- And thanks to Ian Dunbar, we would have had long and short-term confinement areas set up for her to explore—puppy-safe, reassuringly confining, and mentally enriching—with water, toys, a few stuffed Kongs, a potty area, and a bed snugged into a crate.
- Kong recipes: Kong recipes can be simple or complicated. I have found over the years that simple works best for me–I still make several Kongs a day for my year-old-puppy, Annie, and fourteen-year-old matriarch, Vera. There are many reasons to give dogs Kongs. Read more about it on WebMD
- To start, I have available dry kibble, soaked kibble, and at least one high-value food to layer with the soaked kibble—peanut butter, banana, (if your dog likes banana—Sascha did!), small chunks or grated apple, canned tuna, canned dog food, or Fresh Pet (available in the refrigerated section of pet supplies in some grocery stores), but you can use whatever your dog likes. Remember to limit foods high in fat to thin layers in the Kong. Never stuff a Kong solely with peanut butter or cheese, for instance–it can give older pets pancreatitis, or younger dogs diarrhea and vomiting.
- I start by putting a few dry kibbles in the bottom of the Kong to make it easier to clean when your dog is finished with it, then I start layering the ingredients. As I fill the Kong, I pack it in with a dowel (or with my finger), so that it’s solid. I finish with one of the high-value ingredients, and top it with a treat.
- For dogs who are adept at emptying Kongs, you can freeze them, and it will take the dogs longer to empty them. However, if your dog has never seen Kongs before, especially if they are rescues and stressed, pack it loosely and show them how to empty it. Roll it, drop it from a few inches off the ground, and praise them when they clean up the treats that fall from it. Once they are adept at it, try freezing it for them.