By Gary Koehler
Bringing home a new retriever puppy, especially your family's first, is sure to generate considerable excitement. When children are involved, you can figure on doubling the amount of chaos your pup will encounter when he enters your home. Few can deny the appeal of a playful puppy, but even before the initial pandemonium dies down, dog owners should have a plan in place that will help to integrate the pup into the family dynamic.
The plan does not have to be complex or daunting; it should focus rather on common sense. Schedules and rules are a must when caring for a puppy, and children should be informed as to why these restrictions are important. Give clear, easy-to-follow instructions to kids, and then be sure to monitor their puppy care each day.
Following are several tips that will help to safely and successfully introduce a new puppy to your family.
Let him rest.
When a new pup arrives, children will undoubtedly want to play with him all the time. It is important to remind them that puppies need plenty of sleep, up to 16 hours per day. This is the time that the pup's brain and other internal organs develop, as well as muscles and bones, preparing him to be a great duck dog. Lengthy naps are typically followed by 15 to 30 minutes of play, which is the perfect amount of time for him to engage with children.
Beware of choking hazards.
Just as is true with children, choking is a big concern for puppies. These incessant chewers will nibble on just about anything they can grasp with their mouth, which means that toys—particularly action figures, dolls, and small building blocks—are prime targets. Children may not understand when their new pup destroys a treasured toy, so encourage them to clean up after playing or keep their bedroom door closed to make sure their toys and the puppy will be safe.
Purchase a crate.
Dogs need their own space, and a crate provides just that. Make it comfortable for your pup and place it in an area of your home that is relatively quiet. A crate will help protect your pup from injury and allow him to feel safe when you are not home. Likewise, resist the urge to take your pup out of his crate if he starts to whine, or to let your new puppy share a bed with you or your child. It is important for him to have a defined spot to rest from day one.
Establish a feeding schedule.
Ideally, a new puppy will eat three small meals per day rather than two larger ones. If you are unable to accommodate this feeding schedule due to work or other commitments, get your kids to help. Instruct them on how much to feed the dog, and make at least one feeding per day their responsibility. This will help promote a sense of ownership.
Encourage moderate, supervised exercise.
At eight or 10 weeks old, a puppy does not need excessive exercise. Short walks are ideal. Children can help with such activities, but they should be supervised. A fenced backyard may also give you the opportunity to let the pup run off-leash. First check to be certain that there are no gaps under the fence for him to squeeze through, and then make sure someone is there to keep an eye on him to help prevent injury.
Treat the pup with respect.
Children should be taught not to tease a young puppy, because such behavior can lead to aggression. Rough-housing should also be forbidden. That means no swatting and no tail- or ear-pulling, which can cause injuries and inadvertently teach your pup to avoid people out of fear of pain. Children visiting your home should be informed of these rules as well.
Keep commands simple.
Beginning with early training, advise your children to consistently use the same single-word commands when addressing the pup. Housebreaking the puppy should be a family function. When the pup looks like he's about to do his business, pick him up, move outside quickly, and say "out." Ask your kids to do the same. Eventually the puppy will get the message.
During his long and distinguished career with DU magazine, the late Gary Koehler was among our most popular and prolific contributors. We are honored to share this previously unpublished column with our readers.