Many families expanded by four feet this past year—mine included. We are one of the eleven million U.S. households who welcomed a new pandemic pet. Though a seasoned Dog Mom, I decided to enlist a team of professionals to help me on this journey. Here are some resources and tips that I have found super helpful.
Good Manners Count
A well-trained dog doesn’t mean a robot puppy, just one that you can trust not to knock people down. Manners matter with kids and dogs. My dog trainer—or, as I refer to her, my puppy whisperer—Sarah Hodgson, literally wrote the book (ten of them) on dogs. As the author of Puppies for Dummies, Dog Perfect and Modern Dog Parenting, she knows how to train owners to raise puppies and introduce new dogs into the home, ensuring a lifetime of success. Sarah makes house calls and is available for virtual appointments, which I have found particularly helpful. Whether Sarah is in my house or we’re watching her popular social media videos, Millie hears her voice and goes wild with excitement. Check out Sarah’s Free Puppy Power Hour on Instagram Live every Thursday 8 p.m.
Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and TikTok
Paging Dr. Doolittle
A good vet is your lifeline for everything from what to feed your pup to all those “is this normal” questions. Greenwich has a number of great vets, but just over the O.G. border in Stamford check out Spot On Veterinary Hospital, Hotel and Spa. Each year the center earns top honors in GREENWICH magazine’s Best of the Gold Coast Awards for its array of services and personal pet care. Whether you’re looking for day care, boarding, spa or veterinary services, you’ll find it here.
Spot On Veterinary Hospital & Hotel
184 Selleck Street, Stamford, 203-973-7768 spotonvet.com
Playdates and Dog Degrees
Socializing with new people is great for puppies, but playing with other puppies is key and can have a big impact on their bite control and general disposition.
Dog Gone Smart in Norwalk offers puppy and tween dog socialization sessions. Drive up, park in one of the designated spots, text the number and a staff member will pick up your puppy from the car for a half-hour playdate. And you get to watch it all from a camera link on your phone.
The canine center offers such a variety of dog classes it’s almost like sending your pooch to doggie college. Feeling ambitious? You can get your dog certified as a Good Citizen or a Therapy Dog to visit nursing homes and senior centers. And a bonus for anyone with a pool and boat, there are swim lessons in the dog pool.
Dog Gone Smart
15 Cross Street, Norwalk
WHAT’S FOR DINNER?
Dog kibble isn’t for every dog, and some breeds have more sensitive systems, are prone to allergies or respond better to fresh or raw dog food diets. Many dog owners credit fresh or raw dog food with their pets health. Food is delivered to your door and stored in your refrigerator.
The company will create a custom pet meal plan developed by vets and using human-grade ingredients. Food arrives in pre-portioned and in pour packs.
The options include fresh, human-grade food in a choice of four recipes featuring lamb, chicken, turkey or beef.
This delivery service offers vet-formulated pre-portioned individual ready-to-serve meals.
There’s a movement with some pet owners for raw food. Kaskazini Kitchen delivers its fresh high-quality bio-appropriate raw food for cats and dogs to New York and Connecticut.
PET PANTRY WAREHOUSE
This family-owned, community-oriented store in Riverside has been in business for over seventy years and offers a wide variety of food options. Shop online for curbside pickup.
PETSMART & PETCO
petsmart.com,Stamford; petco.com, Greenwich
Both of these local stores offer curbside pick-up, same day delivery and repeat delivery, so you’ll never run out (plus you receive a discount for signing up).
As with any diet change, consult your vet before making major dietary changes.
Sarah’s Tips for Raising a Happy and Well-Trained Puppy
EMBRACE THE THREE F’S: FREEDOM, FOOD AND FUN
Puppies try their best to get your attention, and almost always do. Offer them lots of rewards for doing the right thing and a comfortable place to rest when they’re tired.
Food: Most puppies will do just about anything for a tasty snack. This makes training as easy as filling a plastic container with yummy snacks and shaking it to associate important words like their name, “sit” and “come” with a delicious reward.
Freedom: Freedom is an essential component of a puppy’s happiness. Many of the issues in new puppy-parent relationships are caused by constant tethering and restraint. Tethering or even hugging your puppy too tightly can be experienced as being captured by a predator. Instead of restraining your puppy, help them experience freedom by putting them on a long thirty-foot leash. You can always call them back with treats or a toy.
Fun: Teach your puppy commands by associating them with fun. Ask them to sit before you throw a ball; show their favorite bone, then run away as you call out their name and “come.”
TEACH YOUR PUPPY ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE
With plenty of positive reinforcement and patience, puppies can quickly learn to associate words with actions. It’s as simple as saying “ball” when you toss one or “bone” or “toy” when offering those things. Going to the car? Say “car.” Going outside? Say “outside.”
Heading back in the house? Say “inside.”
Puppies also learn human languages by focusing on tone. When giving a direction, speak like you are talking to Alexa or Siri—clear, monotone and bark-like.
RECOGNIZE AND RESPECT YOUR PUPPY’S NEEDS
Puppies have five basic needs: eat, drink, sleep, play and potty. Like babies, they fuss when they experience any of these needs. Unlike babies who cry to be soothed, puppies fidget and nip or bite hard.
Puppies need sixteen to eighteen hours of sleep per day. Without proper rest, they become overstimulated and exhausted. But sleep isn’t the only need that can cause your puppy to become restless and incorrigible. Bladder pressure can create stress, as can hunger, tension and thirst. The next time your puppy is biting or getting wild, see if taking care of their needs solves the problem.
DON’T LEAVE YOUR PUPPY GUESSING
Start by setting up a place where you can direct your puppy every time they enter the room. Place a mat in a corner and let them know that all good things happen on the mat. When sharing food, toys, treats and even attention, send your puppy to their mat first. How? Simply point to the mat and say “on your mat” and walk toward it, hovering a treat, toy or food dish there until your puppy stands or sits still on it. Repetition is the key. Keep at it until your puppy starts going to the mat on its own and offer a reward when they do. When going to the vet or somewhere new, bring the mat. Think of it as a transitional object similar to a toddler’s blanket.
When putting your puppy down for a nap or leaving them alone in a room, use a crate, pen or small gated area around the mat. To help them associate this as a positive experience, dim the lights, play soothing music and leave a favorite toy.
KEEP YOUR PUPPY OCCUPIED
To deflect their attention or prevent unwanted behaviors, keep your puppy occupied with chewable objects that engage all their senses. I have a broad range of chewable bones and toys for my four dogs, who range in age from just under a year to ten years old. I store them in a drawer near the kitchen and a basket upstairs. Each time I call my dogs over, they line up and wait with anticipation to see what toy they’ll get. It’s adorable, teaches self-control and limits unwanted chewing.
A FEW FUN TEACHING TOYS FOR YOUR PUP
Mats that can be used to hide treats and toys to stimulate seeking and sniffing skills
Feeders that dispense dry food or treats slowly and provide a stimulating activity
Games that provide challenges to your puppy
Licky Mats & Stuffed Hollow Toys
Lickable objects that are excellent for self-soothing and to occupy your puppy when you’re busy or away