Count Down to Puppy – Part 1 of 3

An 8 week old Huskie puppy lies to the right of an alarm clock. His nose resting up against the clock.

Pre Puppy Preparation

New puppy on the way! Yahoo! You are probably feeling excitement mixed with some nervousness. This is completely natural. This three part series will help you organize your pre-puppy preparation, resources and support system. It will also help you navigate your pup’s homecoming and your first week together.

Toys, Treats and Supplies

this is a pull quote which reads: Focus on toys to stuff and appropriate things to chewOver time and with test runs you will learn your pup’s preferences for toys and treats. Use your imagination as you build your toy and treat arsenal. Remember that pups love variety. In the meantime there are a few essentials that you will need pre-puppy. Focus on toys to stuff and appropriate things to chew in the crate. You will also need a couple of toys to play tug and retrieve with. Food stuffed toys should be easy for a puppy to use. Too difficult and the pup will give up. Check out West Paw Toppl Toy for an easy beginner toy.

Crate Location

Kitchens or family rooms are usually good bets for crate locations. Avoid high traffic locations such as next to the front door. Pup should not be able to see outside the house when in the crate, as the view will stimulate him and he is supposed to be “at rest”. The crate should not be placed in an unlived area of the house such as a guest room or basement; your puppy should not feel banished and should be comfortable with normal household activity.

Having a couple of crates is a good option. A crate in the bedroom, living room and kitchen if you have the space ensures that there is always a prepared place to keep pup safe and provide the all-important structure that a new puppy needs.

Wire crates can be draped with a towel or blanket to increase the cozy factor and help reduce visibility when needed.

Use non-plush bedding in the pup’s crate to start. Your puppy may be enticed to chew it or use it as an absorbent spot to pee. Monitor any bedding for pee accidents and remove immediately as you are teaching the puppy to go outdoors.

Puppy Elimination Zone

Decide on a spot before the pup comes home. You want to take the pup to this spot immediately upon arriving home for the first time. This is the spot that you will take pup out (on leash) to pee and poo–sod can be used if there is no lawn. Pee pads or other pre-fab elimination areas sold at pet supply stores are an option for condo dwellers far from an outside spot. Read up on house training.

Accidents Will Happen

Be prepared with a good enzymatic cleaner. Orange Apeel, Skout’s Honor and Nature’s Miracle being a few of the products available for the task. Skout’s Honor is a favourite.

Find A Trusted Neighbourhood Pet Supply Store

Think about what you will feed your new pup. There are lots of options beyond kibble. Prime yourself on nutrition by subscribing to the Whole Dog Journal. They are a great resource for this. Then go look for a pet supply store so you can discuss your options with them. A good shop will have keen knowledgeable staff eager to talk with you about your pup’s nutrition. Better choices in food will make all the difference in your pup’s health both short term and, most importantly, long term.

Stay Tuned for Part 2

In our next post we’ll discuss lining up a support system, finding a vet, reserving a spot in a class and priming you with the right training knowledge. All of this will make you comfortable with what to expect with your new puppy.


3 Simple Games to Play on The Move

A white and black puppy is staring upwards while standing between and woman’s legs, with it's paws on her feet. Clearing looking up at her face.

Moves on the go!

Teach your puppy watch, touch and a rock solid recall and hone these moves as you go on outings together. All of these behaviours have something in common. They reorient the pup back to you. This is helpful for building attention or asking for attention from your dog when you need it. On the go is a perfect time to perfect your pup’s moves. You have built-in distractions from mild, moderate and more. You can decide when and where your pup is ready for practice.

Adventures that present you with opportunities to play these games may range from hikes, walks in your hood, or errands in your hood while you are waiting with your pup for your shopping partner to return, romping on the beach, long-line park play or even while you are waiting for the light to change on a city street corner.

As with all of the behaviors you teach your pup, start at home in a distraction free zone, add distractions then take it on the road.

These are simple, fun, practical moves. With your pup proficient in these behaviors you will come to rely on them over and over again in lots of situations.


What’s not to love about the ability to get your pup to give you attention when you ask? There are so many situations where this cue will come in handy. Once you’ve got your dog’s attention that is when you are able to communicate in a clear way. You many want to get your pup to move in a different direction, to get him to look away from trash on the street, to pay attention to some training or a game or just for fun and a chance to pay him.

The goal behaviour is that your pup looks at your face, into your eyes, when you cue him to watch.

How to Teach Watch

1.  Use a clicker or verbal marker.

2.  Count out 30 treats. (soft, tiny and yummy to your pup)


Use a counter, table or ledge to keep your treats on. Between treats keep your hands still, at your belly button or on your lap, so your pup doesn’t get distracted and focus on your hands. We want him looking into your eyes.

3.  Set a timer for 2 minutes.

4   When your pup looks at you click and treat or say ‘Yes’ or ‘Good’ and treat.

5.  Practice this a few times per day

6.  When your pup is consistently looking at you add a verbal cue such as ‘watch’ or ‘look’ just before he looks up.


For a tiny pup it is sometimes easier to start this game while you are sitting on the floor.

If your pup isn’t offering you the behavior you can prompt him with a cluck or a kissing sound for a couple of repetitions to get the behavior started.

7.  Add distractions. Keep in mind you want your pup to look at you no matter what the distraction. When you are adding distractions go slow and steady. Build on previous successes.

Tip – distraction ideas

•  Stand with your arms open wide and wiggle your fingers.

•  Stand with your foot on a squeaky toy, give it one little squeak.

•  Build towards repetitive squeaks.

•  Have someone walk through the room.

•  Have someone bounce a ball from a safe distance away.

When you feel like the behavior is on cue with your distractions added it’s time to practice in public.


On the left a lab puppy is sitting facing a woman on the right. The labrador has his right paw up in the air touching the woman's right hand which is also coming out to meet his paw. Basically they are high fiving each other.


Teaching your pup to touch your hand with his nose is helpful for many reasons. It gives you a way to move the pup around hands-free (as in you don’t have to manhandle your dog into position). It can help redirect your puppy back to you. You can use your hand as a target to teach your dog how to sit, down and stand. You can use it to teach your pup to greet new people by having him touch the back of a person’s hand, very helpful for shy dogs and this can help redirect a jumping puppy. Your vet will be glad because it can come in handy there as well. You can practice recall between two people having the dog target each person’s hand. It is the foundation behaviour for more advanced targeting behaviours. It is fun.

The goal behaviour is that your pup touches the palm of your open hand with his nose when you ask him to ‘touch’.

How to Teach Touch

1.  Using a clicker or verbal marker

2.  Count out 30 treats.

3.  Set a timer for 2 minutes.

4.  Present your open hand, with your palm facing the pup, directly in front of the pup’s nose. Just a short distance of even a half-inch away from the pup’s nose for the first few repetitions.

5.  The dog’s natural inclination will be to sniff your hand.

6.  Click and treat or say ‘Good’ or ‘Yes’ and treat.

7.  As your pup progresses move your hand a little to the right and to the left.

8.  Gradually increase the distance you present your hand from.

9.  When your puppy is reliably touching your open palm on cue add your verbal cue ‘touch’.

10.    Try getting the pup to follow your open hand.

11.    Add some distractions.

12.    With the behavior on cue around your distractions it’s time to practice in public.


The benefits of being able to call your dog are many. A reliable recall is indispensable. There are some important factors to keep in mind when you are teaching your puppy to come on cue every time you call. Two of these considerations are to only call your puppy when you know they will, for certain, come to you. Always reinforce your puppy for coming. This means call them and give them what they love. This could be really good food or a quick round of their favourite game.

Calling your pup to come while on leash or a long line is practical, fun and effective. You will be confident that he will come since he is on leash. You are present ‘in the zone’ so you will be prepared with appropriate DOGPAY*, whatever that looks like for your pup. For recall it should be triple scale! If you are on a 6-foot leash you will be speedy so the amount of repetitions and opportunities to reinforce are plentiful. This is a winning combination for your pup’s education.

Playing ‘come to me’ on Leash or Long Line

1.  Using a clicker or verbal marker.

2.  Move to the end of your leash.

3.  Call your puppy to come.

4.  When he gets to you click and treat or say ‘Yes’ or ‘Good’ and treat.

5.  Repeat often.

Variations of this Game

One: Move to the end of your leash, call your puppy to come, as he gets there toss the treat past you and move off in the opposite direction.


Two: Move to the end of your leash, call your puppy to come, toss a handful of treats into the grass and your pup gets reinforced with a fun round a find it.

Run, Call, Reinforce

A fun game is to run a few steps, call your pup and treat. You can do 10 repetitions of this in a really short period of time. Lots of repetitions in a short period of time helps your puppy learn new behaviours more quickly. Lots of repetitions also mean lots of reinforcement, which is another factor in how quickly pup learns.

This is exactly what it sounds like. You run just a few steps, call your pup in an excited happy voice, reinforce quickly with food and or a game of tug.


The beauty of this game is the chase followed by the fast DOGPAY*. It is doubly reinforcing for your pup.


If your pup won’t come to you try kneeling down or use a squeaky toy, or make a kissing sound.

Is your puppy stressed? Is the distraction level too high?

Is your DOGPAY* high enough for this job?

Sometimes just a simple back and forth between you and your pup can be grounding and stress reducing for one or both of you. Having the ability to go into a simple game mode in a time of stress can change the emotions back to a place of calm.

These are just a few examples of simple, fast games you can play with your puppy while you are out and about. The main objective here is that you teach and PLAY; that your time spent together out and about is dynamic, interesting and creative. If you take the time to teach your puppy fun and useful things to do you will have a beautiful connection and a line of communication that is unbeatable. Get creative; make up your own games. We would love to hear about how you are teaching your puppy to be with you while you are out and about.

*DOGPAY is the food, treat or other positive reinforcement you award your dog with for their attention and efforts. Remember, dogs don’t work for free.

Finding Fido this Spring

A woman is looking through binoculars. She is looking towards us and has a smile on her face. Meanwhile a cute jack russell puppy is sitting next to her, leaning her way and looking in the same direction.


The Savvy Way to Search

You’ve finally taken the leap and decided to get a puppy. Knowing what kind of dog you want is the first step, but there are still many things to discover. All too often the important question of how to determine the best place to get your puppy is ignored.

Red flag: Anyone about to get a puppy is susceptible to a naturally occurring, common affliction. We call it “puppy-love-haze.” Symptoms include a heightened emotional state; a tendency towards small, furry cuteness; and impulse buying.

Puppy-love-haze skews our better judgment; leaves us wide open for making poor decisions and could have serious side effects. There will be plenty of time for the puppy love-fest, but when making your decision about where to get a pup, a dispassionate approach is critical to the future success of your relationship with your dog.

Why is this important?

Birth to 16 weeks is considered the “golden learning window” during which you have an opportunity to positively affect the future behavior of your dog. Certain things must take place during this critical period in order for your puppy to grow into a well-adjusted dog. Socialization, preventative exercises and house-training are all important.

Most puppies go to their new homes at about eight weeks of age. So half of this “golden learning window” is spent in the care of a breeder or animal shelter. How do you know that the person raising your puppy has been committed to the puppy’s healthy development from day one?

Asking some questions will help you determine the right source. By “right,” we mean the place where those responsible for your pup’s first couple of months are proactive and concerned about canine socialization and an enriched development program.

Interactive Interviewing

A reputable puppy seller or shelter is going to ask you questions. With approximately 40 percent of all dogs being surrendered during their first year in a new home, they want to be sure you are a suitable match. It is not uncommon to be asked about your lifestyle and about the time you are willing to devote to caring for the dog; you may even be asked to sign an agreement to enroll in classes…and show proof of completion! And the list goes on.

It is important that you have a list of your own questions. Regardless of where you get your pup, you are searching for the best-case scenario. Is the source making your job easier or more difficult? Taking the time to find out is well worth the effort.

The Savvy Search Checklist

  • Can you meet the parents and see the facilities where the pup is being raised? It is always nice to meet both parents of the pup if you can, though often, the mother is the only one available. It’s also a good idea to meet these dogs before the puppies are born, so that your observations are not swayed by the cuteness factor. Take the time to observe what their personalities are like. Specifically are they well socialized and friendly around you. If the mom shows signs of being unfriendly towards strangers, there is a chance that her pups will too.
  • In a situation where you have decided to rescue a puppy from a shelter you may not have the opportunity to do this background check. You should still gather as much information on the puppy as you can. Some shelters make use of “foster homes” so the puppies won’t have to be brought up in a shelter environment. Are you able to visit the foster home, see the facilities and meet the dogs?
  • Is the area where the pup stays clean? Can s/he leave the sleeping and play area to eliminate? Are the puppies being raised in an area where there is plenty of activity, as opposed to being shut away?
  • Has a range of stimuli been provided for the pups? How complex (while safe) has their environment been? Have they encountered a variety of surfaces and objects to explore and play with? Have they been exposed to sounds that are out of the ordinary for the area in which they live? Have the sounds been increased in volume to “proof” them against noise sensitivity?
  • What type of early socialization have the pups had? What numbers and variety of people have they met? Have they had early exposure to children (of all ages)? Have they been exposed to gentle handling and received treats from the different folks they encountered? Have they been for car rides? Have they visited a vet clinic? Was the car ride and visit pleasant?
  • What type of preventative exercises have been started? Have the puppies been fed individually to help avoid food guarding. Have “trade-you” games been played in order to reduce the likelihood of food and toy-guarding? Have they had a positive introduction to gentle handling exercises? Have they had a positive introduction to grooming tools? Does the puppy-raiser keep notes on the individual pup’s development? If so, may you read the notes?
  • Have the puppies had a positive introduction to a crate? Have they been separated from their litter-mates for short periods of time? Or is the day you bring your puppy home going to be the first day s/he is separated from the litter and introduced to the crate?

The Happy Beginning

Once you’re armed with answers and know-how, life with your dog-to-be should exceed your puppy-love-haze expectations. What a great way to start your time together.

To discover more about the importance of early education, socialization and preventative exercises please visit



This is a composition of two pictures beside each other. On the left is a beagle puppy nuzzling a rubber ball with his nose. On the right is a jack russell terrier playing tug of war with a man who is mostly off camera. All you can see is his hand holding the other end of the tug toy.


A Lesson on the Finer Points of Toys

Magic! I pull out ‘red ball’ and my border collie Fen is ‘in the game’. She is ready to work, play or ham it up. Whatever’s on the menu.

Sure, dogs love to play. Dog’s love to hunt for things, forage, chase, catch and tug. This makes them prime partners in top-notch frolic. There is an art to teaching your dog how to play with you. You want your pup to recognize and use the suitable toys versus your socks, to know the rules and follow them, and to stay engaged.

Lets explore some details about toys including appropriate things for your puppy to chew on. I will refer to these as ‘Chews’. Let’s break things into categories and talk about how to use them most effectively for optimal fun and safety.

5 Components to Good Toy and Game Practice

The Right Toy for the Job

Rope toys or stuffed animals can be fun to play with but they are not the right toy when it comes to teaching a puppy to love his crate. This is a job better suited for a stuffable rubber toy filled with food your puppy loves. Plush animals and ropes can be shredded and ingested posing a threat to your pup’s health not to mention they are hardly appetizing compared to a toy stuffed with delectable chicken and pumpkin or yogurt and apple. Many young pups can’t navigate a hard rubber food-stuffed toy so they give up. A softer or easier toy to start off with will help teach the puppy the joys of working for their food. A tiny stuffed toy is not the right toy to play a good game of tug with. A longer rope with room for your hand to be at a safe distance from the puppy’s mouth is more suitable. A tiny ball is not safe for a larger dog. Using the right toy for the job is very important; it contributes to effectiveness of teaching and training as well as to optimal fun and safety. Finding the right toy for the job is reinforcing for both you and your pup.


Warning, accumulating a collection of different toys for your pup may become habit. I LOVE buying dog toys. I frequently have to will myself to keep walking past the toy section, or not. Having a variety of toys is fun and helps keep things interesting. Your pup will grow to have his favorites.


Before you go crazy buying toys for your pup it is a good idea to learn his preferences. This will come with getting to know your pup, experimenting and paying attention to what toys and games they love. Remember your puppy decides what is reinforcing.


Keep your dog’s toys stowed away. Trunks, baskets on top of crates or in a drawer are some good options. Safe storage helps keep toys off the ground, aids in keeping the dog interested in toys and helps prevent the destruction of toys left unattended with a pup.


Pick up all the dog toys. Avoid leaving any lying around. The toys you play with together should get put away when the game is finished. The toys that are safe to chew on like food stuffable toys and appropriate bones and other ‘animal bits’ can be given to the pup to chew but you should still check on the puppy frequently. When he is not chewing they should be picked up. Rubber stuffable toys with an opening and an additional air hole are safe for crate time with the puppy. Toys and chews should be inspected regularly for loose bits and wear and tear. As bits from the chews get gnawed down they should get thrown out so the pup doesn’t ingest anything that could be a choking hazard.

A Toy’s Purpose

Toys serve many different purposes. They can entertain your pup when you can’t. They can be therapeutic in nature providing chewing, gnawing or foraging opportunities for your puppy. You can play awesome games together using toys. The fun and lighthearted nature of games is superior when it comes to teaching your puppy new things. Not only is holding a chew, as your puppy gnaws it, a nice way to bond; it is also an opportunity to work on exercises to help prevent resource guarding. Games like retrieve, tug and hide and seek give your pup the opportunity to exercise their predatory chops. Some dogs may find toys more reinforcing than food when it comes to training. Toys serve many worthy purposes for lots of different jobs. Learn to be toy savvy.


This is a graphic that says “TOYtorial, Seven puppy toy categories”. It also has the & logo on it

  1. Things to throw Balls and discs. There are so many different styles of balls for your dog to play with, all of these toys should be brought out to play with and put away after the game. Soft mesh rubber balls are great for pups – choose appropriate sizes. Avoid tennis balls, which will act like sandpaper on the dog’s teeth, not to mention the chemicals used in these ball. My Puppy Pick…  JW Pet Hol-ee Roller
  2. Things to play tug with Ropes, fleece ropes, rubber rings or long soft plush unstuffed toys for puppies.The main thing here is that your puppy likes it and that you have ample space for hand safety. Tug is a fantastic game to teach your puppy.
  3. Stuffed animals Soft plush toys and snuggle toys. Sometimes these toys have a squeaker in them. These toys are frequently shredded and chewed by dogs and sometimes ingested. They are super-cute and fun to play with but be sure your dog is not going to chew it up. They certainly aren’t my first pick for leaving in a crate or pen with a pup. I think they are better suited for indoor retrieve.
  4. Food Stuffable Rubber Toys – Food Balls and other food dispensing toys – Puzzles, and snuffle mats (AKA work to eat toys)Stuffable rubber toys, food balls and other food dispensing toys and puzzles all have something in common. They provide your dog with the opportunity to work for their food. Foraging and working or searching for their meals, treats or just for a fun game is fulfilling for your dog. Dog food bowls are the biggest waste of time. Why feed your dog from a bowl when you can use his food to provide this enriching opportunity. Kong dog toys are a popular example of a food stuffable toy.  My Puppy Picks… West Paw Toppl Treat ToyOmega Paw Tricky Treat, Kong Wobbler Nina Ottosson is Queen of the dog puzzles
  5. Squeakies Pups respond to rapidly repeated, short burst, high-pitched sounds. Enter the squeaky toy. These can be most helpful in getting your puppy’s attention. They can help with a lagging puppy learning to walk on a leash. They can help speed up a dawdling recall or chase me game. Plus they are just fun to play with, toss around or let your pup run around and squeak. They come in all types of different shapes and sizes and materials.
  6. Chews A bone produced from nylon does not a good chew make. Would you like to chew on nylon? Do you really want you puppy ingesting nylon or some other bizarre man made material. Chews should be biologically appropriate for your dog to ingest. They may be given raw, baked, smoked or dried. They include but are not limited to hooves, bullies (bull penis), Beef knuckles and marrowbones, chicken feet and necks. My Puppy Picks… Bullies, hooves smeared with goat cheese, yak cheese sticks, smoked knuckle bones
  7. Grippers to hold chews These are rubber toys that you can jam a ‘bully’ or other animal bit into and they grip the chew tightly. They add a layer of safety since the pup will not be able to swallow the small part left inside the gripper. It also gives the dog something to hold on to as they gnaw away. Examples… Kong Goodie Bone, Orbee Tough Nooks

A word on animal bits

It might be gross to you but to your dog gnawing on a big raw meaty bone can be one of the most satisfying parts of his day. I encourage you to learn about the benefits of providing this type of chewing for your dog.

Give a dog a bone

Often people are surprised that they might have to do some introductions to get their pups into bone-chewing mode.

Hold the bone at first and let the dog sniff it if he acts disinterested smear a little something tasty like goat cheese on the bone. It shouldn’t take long for your pup to start to learn to enjoy. For the first handful of sessions hold the bone as your pup chews on it. Since bones are often very high value items to dogs they can be most helpful in crate training game plans and are also good aides in helping to keep your dog’s teeth clean. Finding a good pet supply store that can educate you about bones and keep you in good supply with healthy chews is a smart move.

Safety Considerations

  • As with all toys, bones and other animal bits must be managed carefully and small pieces that could pose a choking hazard should be taken away.
  • If your dog has shown signs of guarding, a raw bone is not advisable. They are very high value items and the dog may become stressed at the prospect of you taking the bone.
  • Always work with the help of a certified professional trainer if you are dealing with guarding issues with your dog.


A composition of two different pictures. The photo on the right is a of a german shepherd puppy sitting, looking at a food stuffable rubber toy. There is some kibble spilled out of the toy. The photo on the left is of a brown poodle hunting for kibble on a snuffle styled mat.


Toy Stuffing Tips

  • Think Goldilocks; you want the food to come out just right. If it is too hard to get at, the dog will give up, too easy and he will be finished too quickly. Stuff it just right and he is reinforced and satisfied. Honing your toy stuffing skills will take some time and consideration. Learn you pup’s preferences, get creative and use your imagination.
  • Anything that is healthy and safe for your dog to eat can be stuffed in a toy, chicken, pumpkin, yogurt, sweet potato, apple, banana, strawberries, blueberries, cheese, turkey, chicken stock (then freeze).
  • Need some inspiration? Check out Kong’s recipe section. You will find lots of shared recipes on other sites too if you do a search for dog toy stuffing recipes.


Any of these toys can be used to play fun games with your dog. There are rules to playing games. Rules for you to follow, and rules your pup needs to follow.

Your Rules

Stay engaged with your dog; keep your head in the game.

Quit the game (especially when teaching a young pup) while they are still engaged. You will build on this as the pup’s attention span grows.

Put the toy away after the game is over.

Pup’s Rules

Teach your pup the give/sit cue so he doesn’t jump for the toy.

If he bites too hard while playing and gets your skin, stop the game.

If he quits on you – the game is over.

Tip – teach your puppy to play outdoors too. This ensures you can have a good game of retrieve in a field or park or a fun game of hide and seek or tug in the vet’s office.

Inexpensive ways to create DIY puzzles

Brown cardboard TP or paper towel rolls can make a great toy. Fold one end. Drop in a handful or kibble or treats, fold over the other end. Punch a couple holes in the tube and let your pup have at it. The same game can be played with a brown paper egg carton. Drop treats in a muffin tin and cover with balls. Uses a couple of old towel tossed on the floor, create creases and crevices to drop treats into.

In my practice I consider games of greater importance to condition sooner in a young pup than some of the everyday moves like down or loose leash. Everything is important but if you focus on providing these fun outlets for your puppy it is bond building and so enriching for your relationship. This will benefit every aspect of raising a pup. Learning your puppy’s preferences when it comes to toys and games and chews is a win-win endeavor.

Over to You

What are your dog’s favourite toys? Do you have any toy stuffing recipes or DIY dog toy project you’d care to share?