By Candy French
Since Great Dane Rescue of Southeast Texas has had “puppypalooza” descend the past week, it only seems appropriate that the subject of how to start your puppy off right would be of great interest.
Before I start, let me throw in a disclaimer: these techniques are ones I have found to be the most successful in warding off potential problems as the puppy matures to adulthood. They are not the only means, they may not work for you. But as a Great Dane owner and exhibitor/breeder of conformation show dogs, and now a foster for rescues, I have had success doing these very things and just want to share that. They are suggestions, NOT the Ten Commandments.
It is important to understand that the groundwork you lay out in the first few weeks of having a puppy in your home sets the stage for his interactions with your family, friends, and other animals for the rest of it’s life.
Most people think the first thing you must address is housebreaking. This is NOT correct. The first thing you have to address is the puppy’s place in your home. What do I mean by this? It’s subtle things-letting your puppy walk on you, make decisions about when to play and when to rest, how your puppy responds to your children, other animals.
From the puppy’s point of view, he/she has been taken from one pack and placed in another. They may be a bit timid at first and must be shown proper behavior within the new pack. That’s why they cry when left alone-they are pack animals.
Albeit gently, the puppy must be given the understanding that the two legged occupants of the new “pack” are higher in the pecking order than they are. They should never be allowed to walk on, lay on, or chew on any member of your family. These actions, even in their infancy, are dog communication for dominance, “claiming”, and control. This is why some dogs become child aggressive as they grow older, because they have played with children as siblings and view them as equals (litter mates) instead of pack leaders.
This also does not mean that you run around correcting the puppy at every turn, but you redirect the chewing to an appropriate toy or bone, YOU be the one to decide when the puppy is on your lap, and when they get down. Teach him/her to relax while lying on his/her back in your arms. You are practicing their submission to you, and don’t let the puppy up until he relaxes. You pick up the puppy and you put him down. Unfortunately for Dane owners, that window of opportunity doesn’t last long! The key is do not let the puppy make decisions. That is the sign of relinquishing control and puts them in position of a pack leader, which is NOT what you want. The best rule of thumb is this: do I want this behavior to continue when this dog is 175 pounds? If the answer is “No”-correct it NOW.
A crate is an essential piece of equipment, both for a smooth transition for the puppy, and sanity for you! It serves two purposes: 1. it gives the puppy it’s own space, and 2. it makes things much easier controlling the puppy’s schedule. And this is where confusion occurs for the crate is a TOOL, not a residence. If you must be gone 10-12 hours a day, DO NOT get a puppy!!! They are rapidly growing during this time period and need exercise frequently, not to mention the need to eliminate during the day.
Each puppy matures at it’s own rate, but generally speaking, giant breed puppies grow at a rate of every month equals one year of life for the first year. For example, a 6 month old puppy would be equal to a 6 year old child. You can also use this as a scale in determining when they need to eliminate. If a puppy is 2 months old, he/she can be expected to “hold it” for 2 hours, and so on. A crate of the appropriate size (Big enough to stand up and turn around comfortably) will encourage the pup to be continent to keep his “den” clean. I have found that taking a puppy out to “potty” before and after meals, and immediately after leaving the crate will insure quicker results for housebreaking success.
Another valuable use for the crate is making it the place where they eat their meals. This gives them a sense of security so that the bad habits of resource guarding (food aggression) and bolting food (eating too rapidly) never get started. Their food is in their den and they don’t have to share with other animals. It also makes the crate a positive experience instead of a punishment.
For best results of bonding and socialization, after your pup has had his final series of vaccines enroll in a local “Puppy Kindergarten” if at all possible. The expense is minimal in light of the experience both you and the puppy will achieve. Local Petsmart’s or other specialty pet stores, boarding facilities, and some veterinarians will sometimes offer these. I know this sounds very labor intensive–it is!!! The more time you invest the greater the reward!
Hopefully, with these few suggestions, you can get a positive start to a lifelong, loving relationship with the new canine member of your family. Please remember, they depend on you for everything and they will give their all to make you happy, as long as they understand what you want.
Happy puppy raising!