How to best bond with your new dog

It’s an exciting day when you bring your new dog home, but it can also be a challenge. Getting your new pet comfortable with her surroundings can be tough, but with a little work you’ll be best friends in no time.

Start by Puppy Proofing
When you first introduce your puppy or dog into your home, you want to make sure the area is safe. Prior to arrival, Caitlin Fitzgerald, DVM, recommends puppy proofing your house. “Puppies and dogs often like to chew and mouth things they shouldn’t,” she said. “Take care to hide exposed wires, and place anything of value that you do not want to become a chew toy out of reach.”

It is also a good idea to confine the new pet to a small area so he can get used to the new smells of the house and become acclimated to the environment. Fitzgerald suggests trying to keep loud noises and activity levels down so the new pet does not become frightened. Another option that some pets also do well with is having their own crate or cage that they can get to know as their safe place.

Get to Playing
Playtime is when the real bonding can start. “Specific toys that help to build bonds are any toys that engage the human and the dog, such as Frisbees, tennis balls, rope toys” says Fitzgerald.  “Fetch and tugging games are also fun for the owner and the dog, plus it’s a great way to add in an element of exercise.”

Teach Trust
It is important to teach your dog trust early on through petting, grooming and snuggling. Scent plays a big role in trust, so spend time holding and petting your new dog. You can also give an article of your clothing to the dog to sleep with to further share your scent. “Dogs like to be given direction, so a confident owner will be a great leader to the dog, and that helps with building trust,” says Fitzpatrick. “A dog obedience trainer is a very good option for owners to learn proper ways to lead their pet.”

Whatever happens, stay committed. Oftentimes bonding happens faster than you expect, and you’ll be able to enjoy the wonderful and rewarding experiences that your new dog brings into your life in no time!

Support Your Puppy's Growth With Proper Nutrition

When Daisy Lehman of Cleveland brought home her pug puppy last summer, it was with explicit feeding instructions from the breeder. “He told me to transition slowly from the food he’d been giving her to the puppy formula I was planning to give her,” says Lehman. The advice was sound, but Lehman was still not sure what this new puppy food should be.

“Puppies have different nutritional needs than adult and senior dogs,” says Katy Nelson, DVM, a Virginia-based emergency veterinarian. “They need a food specifically formulated for young dogs. They also have size-specific needs.” Small breeds need more protein and calories. Large-breed puppies must have less of both to avoid joint and bone problems as they grow. Below, Nelson offers more advice on what you should look for when choosing a commercial puppy formula for your young best friend.

Prebiotics are nondigestible ingredients (oligosaccharides) that work in the digestive system to help good bacteria thrive and multiply. This is important because good bacteria help with digestion. Without them, the body loses nutrients and ends up with gastrointestinal tract irregularity. “We see it all the time in dogs, particularly puppies, because their immune systems aren’t sturdy,” says Dr. Nelson.

Prebiotics are especially important in pups because they are naturally nervous critters. Events like thunderstorms, vacuuming, or mom and dad going out of town cause quite a lot of stress. This leads to the release of cortisol, which changes bacteria in the system. Prebiotics help to balance out your puppy’s system, promoting the good bacteria over the bad.

Fish Oil
Plan on teaching your new dog old tricks? A food containing fish oil, which is naturally rich in DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) may make your task easier. Numerous studies show that when pregnant and nursing mothers take DHA, their puppies are more trainable. “It’s brain food,” says Dr. Nelson.

Fish oil also helps keep a puppy’s skin and coat healthy. Additionally, it benefits the joints and GI tract by reducing inflammation. “It helps with all body systems,” she explains. “I don’t think we’ve reached the tip of the iceberg in understanding its benefits.”

Antioxidants are substances thought to protect cells against the effects of disease-causing free radicals. These free radicals are produced when food is broken down and when there is environmental exposure to toxins. Free radicals likely play a role in health problems such as heart disease and cancer, among others. Puppies who take in antioxidants through food are less likely to have growth abnormalities and are generally healthier in the long run.

High-quality Protein
Protein helps puppies to maintain skin and coat health as well as lean muscle mass, but the jury is still out on what constitutes “high quality.” Puppies need a good-quality protein source, whether human grade or directly below. There’s a bad feeling about byproduct meal in the world, but as long as it’s quality-refined, it’s not actually a bad thing. Skin, liver and spleen are nutritious.

Vitamins and Nutrients
Like human infants, puppies have specific nutrient needs. Calcium and phosphorus need to be in proper balance so that bone development is healthy. The same is true for amino acids and vitamins. Look for a commercial food that has been certified “complete and balanced” by AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials), the FDA of pet foods.

Following her own veterinarian’s advice, similar to Dr. Nelson’s, Daisy Lehman ultimately chose for her pug’s first year a complete and balanced puppy food formulated specially for toy breeds. She’s happy to report that her flat-faced friend has grown into an energetic and healthy pooch that’s now nearing doggie adulthood.

Your Puppy's Firsts

Adopting a puppy often fills us with such tremendous hope and joy that we want to immediately introduce the new pet to everything and everyone, including friends, the dog park and even the family car. But not so fast! "All of these things are stimulating to puppies and can overwhelm them," says Sarah Wilson, leading dog trainer and author of My Smart Puppy (Grand Central Publishing 2006). She adds that if you're not careful, some puppies could get frightened. 

How to introduce these new experiences to your furry pal without overwhelming it? "Keep everything short and sweet," says Wilson. "You want every experience to be positive and fun for puppies so they want to do it again."

Riding in a Car
Not every dog loves car rides, which is why slowly introducing them to automobiles makes sense. Take only short rides at first, picking fun destinations, Wilson says. Over time, you can lengthen the rides.

If your puppy shows fear, take smaller steps to start. First, sit with your puppy in the car with the motor off for several minutes. Then offer a reward, such as a small food treat, for hanging out. Next, try short car drives followed by longer ones.

Since dogs are creatures of habit, assign your puppy a specific place in the car and put familiar bedding or toys there. "Make the car ride as routine as possible to help puppies settle down, especially if they get agitated or sick during rides," says Sarah Hodgson, world-renowned expert on puppy-raising and author of Puppies for Dummies (For Dummies 2006). You could assign your puppy to sit in its crate or be secured with a seat belt. Just don't drive with a dog in your lap because that can put all passengers in danger.

Meeting Other People and Dogs
Socialization is the most important thing you can do for your puppy. Lack of socialization can cause dogs to develop aggression or phobias. The ideal time to socialize puppies occurs before they're 6 months old. Dogs older than 6 months can still be socialized, but it will take extra effort. Ideal starting places are puppy classes or playdates arranged with socialized dogs.

When introducing your puppy to various places, people and distractions, use a calm but cheerful voice. Observe how your puppy responds. If your puppy seems nervous or excited when experiencing something new, do what Hodgson calls “bracing.” Kneel and place one hand on puppy's waist and the other on its chest. In a consoling voice, say "calm."

When taking your puppy to meet other dogs, ask the owners if their pets are socialized. If any uncertainty exists, try to meet the other dog by yourself, and notice how it behaves. To be safe, choose neutral territory for the doggy introductions so neither feels threatened. This is especially important if the other dog is older.

Going to a Dog Park
A dog park can be a fun setting for your puppy; however, it’s best to wait until your pet is between 6 and 8 months of age to go to the park. "Before then, puppies are too impulsive and aren't mindful of other dogs' posture, which could make them a victim of a dog attack," says Hodgson.

When your puppy is ready, first make sure the park attracts friendly dogs. Once in the park, watch your pet closely. If anything threatens your puppy, or if your puppy's body language changes, leave quickly. 

Overall, remember that as your puppy's advocate and protector, you need to pay attention to its response when facing new experiences. "If your puppy's tail is low or it starts clinging to you, the situation is too much," says Wilson. "But if puppy's tail is up and wagging, everything's OK."