Surviving Your New Puppy

Congratulations, you’ve adopted a puppy! Like any baby, your new little one can turn from cute to terror as he/she matures. Let’s look at how to deal with the “ages and stages” that await every new pyr parent.

First, be prepared to deal with standard “Fear Periods”. Breeds who are instinctively alert to changes and threats in their environment like livestock guardians, may have longer and more noticeable fear periods. And because your giant puppy looks more like an adult in comparison with most other large or medium-sized breeds, you may be tempted to think he or she has the mind and physiology of an adult dog. Don’t fall into that trap. A one-year-old Great Pyrenees is still a puppy in terms of his immature mind and growing body, though every individual is different.

Up until 5-6 weeks, a puppy in a normal environment knows no fear and his brain matures and grows fast. He is safe with his littermates and mother, learns how to interact and play with his littermates. The first Fear Period occurs at 8-10 weeks (or even 7-11 weeks), when a frightening event can be perceived as a traumatic experience. The good news is that NGPR doesn’t separate puppies from their mothers or foster homes prior to 11 or 12 weeks, thus avoiding a major scary experience. And since we’ve found that youngsters do best when they have another dog to follow, learn from, and play with, we generally insist upon placing puppies in homes with another dog. Training your puppy alongside your resident
dog lets them see how to follow your commands. And the puppy will look to the older dog to see how to react to different situations or stimuli.

New Fears

The Adolescent Fear Period runs from 4 months old to 6 months of age.

The challenges: Your puppy starts teething, is becoming more aware of the world around them and can suddenly become frightened of everything, including things that didn’t intimidate them before. That means the vacuum cleaner or clothes dryer may become a focus of exaggerated fear response, from trembling to submissive urination, or racing off or barking to “keep it away”. The landscaper or stranger on the street suddenly can be considered a threat, as may children with their fast, uncoordinated movements.  

Your response: It’s important to handle these new experiences with patience and kindness, keeping calm and managing the environment to reassure him he doesn’t have to overreact to strangers, and monitoring any interactions with children very closely. In anticipation of meeting strangers, have someone the puppy knows walk out of his sight down the street, then approach and greet him with treats and a gentle, happy voice. Turn on the offending appliance for a few seconds to desensitize him without overwhelming; vacuum one room at a time, touch the vacuum (or dryer) yourself and encourage him to come up and “inspect” it on his own.  

This is also when having a confident, older dog in the house can help guide the pup through his fears, whether of leaving the house and seeing strangers on a walk, having his nails trimmed, or knowing how to react to household noises. The pup will follow the leader and learn when reaction is and isn’t necessary. Don’t use force to make your puppy confront a scary object. Use treats and “sweet talk” to reassure your dog that it’s okay. And don’t pile on too many new experiences when you see your dog is going through a rough patch of fear.

Regardless of Covid restrictions, you can work on socializing your puppy at home. Play fun games, like hide and seek, inside and outside the house. If you have kids, that’s an opportunity for positive interaction. Inside, you also can set up scent training games and practice clicker training, handling the pup’s feet and ears, and nail trimming (start by just stroking his feet gently with the clipper). Let the puppy sniff a bicycle that’s not moving, then click and treat when someone is riding the bike near him. Put on a hat or sunglasses or a hoodie to see how your dog reacts and get him used to seeing someone “safe” wearing these items.

This is also a time when the puppy is taking everything into their mouth (some call this the “velociraptor” stage), and you as an owner will be challenged to praising the good chewing behavior without using harsh corrections. He may need more playtime to work out his increased energy, repeated reinforcement of replacing your shoe with a “good” chew toy, and good nutrition is essential. Basic obedience training and Nothing in Life is Free techniques should be started.

The Terrible Teens

From 6-14 (or in giant breeds, even up to 18) months, the “teenager” kicks in. It begins with a fear period (primarily fear of new or even old situations that were previously fine, such as meeting people without apprehension) and in general, a time when your patience and training intuition will be challenged.

The challenges: You may feel your dog is regressing, but take heart. This behavior can be related to physiological changes, including the major growth spurt that occurs during this time, and as a result, they may even be uncomfortable physically. In addition, your dog is maturing sexually and as in any teenager, those hormones can mean mood swings and testing the limits with some aggression. In the early part of this period, they are more likely to test boundaries, both geographical and behavioral, and even non-pyr breeds may play deaf when you call. Additionally, your dog’s heightened awareness of his environment can mean your youngster is on high alert to any changes in your backyard or living room furniture placement.

Your response: Reassure him that the strangers are “okay”, don’t force him to interact with them, but use treats and stay calm and upbeat talk to guide him through. When possible, have new people place high-value treats on the ground near your dog. Manage his environment so you don’t overload him with stressful situations. Prepare him for new experiences by practicing new situations, i.e., pretend to go through a vet visit at home, using friends to help give a physical examination, use a closed pen to mimic a vaccination injection.

This “teenage” period lasts longer in giant breeds, up until 18 months and can linger even longer, since many giant breeds don’t reach maturity until 2-3 years old. This is another example of when finding more time to exercise and also use constructive play with your dog will pay off. This is also the time to reinforce both obedience and Nothing in Life is Free training with the adolescent whose attention may tend to wander.

Puppies are adorable, lovable, and a lot of work, but building a relationship of trust will pay off in a well-adjusted, confident family member. Remember, this is part of the natural development of your dog’s adult personality. The keys to surviving your dog’s adolescence:
-patience, patience, patience;
-make sure your dog has enough exercise, like any toddler, they need to blow off steam with a good run;
-consult your vet for the correct diet for a giant breed at different stages of growth;
-stay calm when he’s not;
-use lots of treats, and often, when encouraging positive associations with “scary” situations such as new people or objects or experiences (like fireworks);
-don’t overwhelm your puppy with loud noises or fearful experiences, your job is to manage their environment;
-make your puppy’s introduction to other dogs a positive one with friendly dogs you know are safe and will tolerate a puppy;
-monitor interaction with children closely, for both their safety;
-don’t force or punish a dog who shows fear–use praise and encouragement;
-practice obedience training in short, fun sessions;
-use Nothing in Life is Free training to establish that you control the resources;
-practice car rides and make them fun, not just a trip to the vet.

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