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My Top 10 Tips for Raising a Puppy

10 tips for raising a well-rounded puppy and advice for surviving the puppy phase.

I regularly receive emails from readers with new puppies asking for advice on everything from food to training to exercising to gear and more. Since I’m such a dog person and I share so much about our dogs with you, I thought that I’d sprinkle a few pet posts in here and there.

10 tips for raising a well-rounded puppy and advice for surviving the puppy phase.

I’m going to start general today with some of my top 10 tips for raising a puppy. While they are so cute and fluffy, they are a ton of work!

Be prepared for what you’re getting into.

Nothing makes my blood boil more than those stories about families who adopt puppies only to drop them at the humane society a week later because, “They peed all over the house and were too much work. It just didn’t work with our lifestyle.” Remember, when you bring a 7-week old puppy home you are basically welcoming a baby into your house. Do you expect children to be potty-trained and well-behaved straight out of the womb? Of course not. It takes time…and training. So before you even make the choice to bring a puppy home, ask if you can handle it at this point in life. Are you prepared for the work it takes to raise a puppy? Will you freak out if the puppy has accidents inside? Has your family had a real discussion on the responsibilities for caring for the puppy? If you can’t handle a puppy, consider adopting an older and calmer dog. There are so many in need of homes.

10 Tips for Raising a Puppy

I remember thinking on quite a few occasions with Zoey, “Oh my god…what have I done? I totally forgot that it was this hard. Can I do this? Will I ever love her as much as Sullie?” These are normal thoughts. Stay the course. You can do this and it’s worth it.

Crate Train Your Puppy

Embrace the crate.

I cannot sing the praises of crate training enough. First, it’s important to adopt the mindset that crate training is not mean. It’s actually a wonderful way to create a safe place for the pup and it facilitates good potty, eating and sleeping habits in addition to giving you peace of mind that the puppy isn’t going to destroy your house while you’re away. I’ll write a separate post on the ins and outs of crate training soon.

Start training early. And hire a professional.

Sullie was my first pup 10 years ago and while we did an okay job training her, we definitely could have done better. While she is overall the sweetest and most well-behaved pup ever, she is still no fun to walk on a leash. I did the Petsmart Puppy Kindergarten with Sullie and while it was “okay,” I knew I didn’t want to go that route with Zoey. I don’t agree with some of their training techniques (personal preference) and I wanted a deeper dive into training.

10 Tips for Raising a Puppy

We made the investment to hire UberDog here in Charlotte to help us with training Zoey. They did several in-home session and we have lifetime group classes (that we need to take advantage of). It was totally worth the investment for us. Before choosing a trainer or training program, make sure that you agree with their training method and beliefs. I’m in the “positive as possible” camp when it comes to training so UberDog was a great fit for us.

Make sure you’re committed to doing the work you need to do for training your dog. They’re not going to learn everything they need to know through one training session with a trainer or a class every week. It’s day in and day out work at home. Also, take responsibility for some of your dogs bad habits. Case in point, Zoey still jumps up on the counter and eats things. While I get mad at her, it’s mostly our fault for failing to do the proper training to stop the habit.

Dogs are so smart and they want to make you happy. You just have to train them!

Be patient with potty training.

I had this dream that Zoey would just be potty trained within a week of coming home. WRONG. We had so.many.accidents no matter how diligent I was about crating, looking for signs she needed to go, how many trips we took outside, etc. It seemed like she could just squat and pee in an instant. While there are definite dos and don’ts of potty training, you just have to give them time. A puppy’s bladder is not matured enough to hold it for any length of time until about 4 months old. Before this they literally have to go when they have to go.

Golden Retriever Potty Training

Hitting that 4 month mark was magical and we had very few accidents after because we’d done all the work on good potty habits before. Another friend of mine recently brought home the cutest lab puppy but she was so upset because he was having accidents everywhere…including in his crate. I encouraged her to be patient and he did eventually mature out of it.

Just a note: I am not a fan of using puppy pads in the house. I personally don’t ever want to train my dogs that it’s okay to go inside. But that’s just my opinion, I know for some city dwellers or those with small dogs it can work well.

Golden Retriever Puppy Cuddle

Love on your puppy from day one if you want a dog that likes to cuddle.

As you all know, I love to cuddle with my girls. When Sullie was a puppy I received advice (I can’t even remember where from) to hold her belly up to teach her a) that I was the alpha/one in charge and b) to trust me and relax and it worked so well. To this day she loves to be held belly up and she’s also an excellent spooner. I did this with Zoey as well and although she’s an independent wild child (so much more so than her sister), she loves quiet cuddles. We have family cuddle parties every morning and at night before bed. 🙂

10 Tips for Raising a Puppy

Keep your puppy close.

You have to watch puppies like a hawk. Turn your back on them for a second or let them wander into another room and you’re looking at a potty accident or them getting into something. With Sullie, I shut her in whatever room I was in at the time and with Zoey, her trainers encouraged us to leash her to us no matter where we were in the house so that she was never more than 4 feet away when behavior needed to be corrected. We hooked her to chairs, coffee tables, cabinets, etc. What I’m trying to say is…we spent a lot of time together and she was never unsupervised.

10 Tips for Raising a Puppy

A tired puppy is a good puppy.

Regular play sessions and walks are great for wearing puppies out but you also want to mentally stimulate them as well. Zoey would sleep for 3 hours after a 30 minute session with her trainer. It wiped her out! So remember, physical AND mental stimulation. In addition to training activities, there are all sorts of toys that you can purchase that mentally stimulate them too.

10 Tips for Raising a Puppy

Offer a variety of appropriate things for your puppy to chew.

Puppies are going to chew, period and the end. It’s important to give them lots of options for appropriate things to chew so that they’re not chewing your furniture. Every dog is different so offer different textures, shapes and sizes and be sure to follow the age guidelines listed by the manufacturer. Related to the idea of loving them from day one if you want a cuddler, if you want a dog that loves to play with toys and balls, offer them early so they get in the habit.

I’ll do another post about our favorite toys, bones, accessories, etc.


Mess with your puppy.

When Sullie was a puppy we messed with her all the time (bows in hair, case in point…ha!). We pulled on her ears and her tail (gently), put our hands in her bowl while she was eating, rough played with her and my ex even shot a cap gun while she was eating to get her used to loud noises (not my idea but…it worked). I did this (minus the cap gun) with Zoey too and it really helps to develop a dog with a good temperament. I wanted dogs that weren’t sensitive to having their ears or paws touched or groomed, were cool with kids messing with them and that didn’t have food issues. The food training was especially important to me because I didn’t want to deal with any food guarding or aggression issues. I’ve trained both of my girls to eat on command and they could care less if I came in and took the food away or touched them while eating.

Socializing your puppy

Socialize your puppy.

Get your puppy out of the house! We took Sullie everywhere with us…on adventures around town and on road trips. As soon as she had the appropriate shots to play with other dogs, we scheduled play dates. Same with Zoey, I was taking her to the gym with me daily from the first day I brought her home. You want to get your puppy used to the world outside of your house so that they are relaxed and not anxious when you take them out in public. The play dates are great for helping them learn to socialize with other pups and for wearing them out.

7 month old golden retriever

Bonus: have fun!

The puppy phase will be over before you know it so soak up that puppy breath, puppy belly and puppy fluff. You’ll have a rambunctious teen on your hands soon enough!

I’d love to hear your puppy advice! Share your best advice and stories in the comments below. 

{ 21 comments… add one }
  • Katherine June 29, 2016, 11:13 am

    Love these tips- thanks for posting Jen! My husband and I are bringing home our first puppy in September (a goldendoodle) and this was super helpful!

  • Emily June 29, 2016, 11:50 am

    Thank you so much for this, Jen! I look forward to the post on favorite dog toys!

    • Jen DeCurtins July 4, 2016, 8:58 pm

      You’re welcome Emily! 🙂

  • Mary June 29, 2016, 12:33 pm

    Please, please, please share a post on crate training! We just got a puppy and, while its only been a week, we are definitely having some issues getting puppy to embrace his crate. He is doing really well with potty training, and has yet to have an accident in his crate, but soon after he enters his crate the howling begins. It doesn’t last too long, but I’d love some tips on how to help puppy love him crate! Thanks!

    • Jen DeCurtins June 29, 2016, 12:38 pm

      Hey Mary – I’ll give you a few tips right now. FEED HIM IN HIS CRATE! This way he associates it with a positive place. Also, leave treats in there. Some dogs do better with their crates covered so like drape a blanket over the sides so it feels more like a cave. Like a baby you are also going to have to let him cry it out in the beginning (it’s good that he stops howling after a bit) but try those other things to make it a more positive place. You might also try placing a t-shirt or something that smells like you in there. Also, leave the door open all the time and praise him if he goes in on his own.

      Good luck!

  • Shoshana June 29, 2016, 12:41 pm

    I loved this post, it was very informative. My husband and I adopted a 1 1/2 year old lab mix from the shelter 4-5 years ago and so many bad habits were already em-brained in him and it’s been hard to kick those bad habits. I can definitely see how teaching while a puppy can make a huge difference. Looking forward to your next dog related posts :).

  • Megan June 29, 2016, 1:15 pm

    Ahh thank you for this post! My husband and I are looking into getting a pug puppy soon and these tips are so helpful. Looking forward to reading more posts on this, especially the crate training.

  • Courtney June 29, 2016, 6:57 pm

    All the Zoey pics made my day!!! Love the tips, we are still trying to stay the course with the UD group classes! 🙂 I will reach out to you & Ashleigh via FB to see if we can pin down a golden puppy play date for Zoey, Paul Newman and Ernie! 🙂

  • Stephanie Phillips June 29, 2016, 7:19 pm

    Love all of your puppy pictures! Golden are the best! We have a golden retriever named Zoë, and thinking about adding another in the near future! I hope they will get along as well as Sullie & your Zoey do 🙂

  • Emily My Healthyish Life June 29, 2016, 8:31 pm

    This post is so timely! It has been such an eye-opening month with our new puppy. Our other dog is 8 so everything feels brand new. I actually wrote about it in my post for tomorrow, but a puppy is like a baby. You have to know what you’re getting into! But he’s brought so much love and joy into our house 🙂

  • Victoria June 29, 2016, 11:39 pm

    Keep these posts coming! My boyfriend and I are getting a golden pup in the fall and while I grew up with the breed I have never trained a pup on my own. We made the choice to get a puppy mostly to instil good habits and behaviour long term. Honestly I’m not super excited for the puppy phase because I long for the years when they can run/hike with us and are trained but I really want to put in the work to develop their behaviour and amazing personality! Also side story, I frequently take care if a very sweet 4y old golden who is well behaved but he is petrified of bags/luggage/large objects in the house because he was crated and put on a plane for 4h when he was a pup. So long story short, I would never put a puppy or young dog (or any age) in airplane cargo!

  • Megan June 30, 2016, 4:16 pm

    Good tips! We rescued one of our pups (from a bad home) when we think he was ~10 weeks old and even breaking habits that had formed that early took a lot of time. Socializing him right away and crate training him were so key to having an awesome, well-adjusted dog!

    One thing that I’d encourage everyone who is training a dog to remember is that your dog is a dog, not a child! As much as I love my dogs like they ARE children (like you do, Jen!), I try to remember that they don’t process emotions the same way that we do. So, for example, if they’re whining and we run over to them and coo at them “you’re ok” and pet them, it actually teaches them that whining is a GOOD behavior. That’s when you run into separation anxiety, etc. It’s hard for us tender-hearted dog people, but really important!

  • Josi August 20, 2016, 3:11 pm

    Hello! Just wondering where you got your goldens? I’ve been trying to research some different breeders and your pups are beautiful!

    • Jen DeCurtins August 21, 2016, 12:31 pm

      Sullie came from Creekstone Retrievers in Alabama and Zoey from Seasons Gold in Charlotte.

  • Landon Jones April 30, 2017, 12:41 pm

    Thanks for these tips and tricks! We are getting an eight week old golden retriever on May 5th (Friday) and we’re naming her Olive. This really helped me figure out what to do when she gets here.

    • Jen May 3, 2017, 5:26 pm

      YAY! 🙂

  • Scott June 13, 2017, 12:37 am

    We pick up our English Cream Golden in 2 weeks at 17 weeks old. Our 3rd Golden in about 33 years and know he has some big paws to fill(Taegan was wonderful for 14 years). We are so excited!!

  • Taylor Bishop July 14, 2017, 8:55 am

    I appreciate that you mentioned it’s important to be prepared for a puppy, and if you can handle it right now. Having a puppy in the home can be fantastic, but you also need to make sure that you can offer it the best as well. If you believe you can and you stick to it, you’ll definitely be glad you did.

  • Lori July 30, 2017, 9:35 am

    We bring home our first Golden Retriever in 3 wks . This will be our first “big dog ” experience, we have a Yorkie mix . She has been really easy to house break . I think we just got lucky with her and realize that’s not always the case, we are hoping that Ellie can set a good example for our new girl and help with some of the training. We are excited to bring her home. Thank you for the helpful tips.

  • Emily September 1, 2017, 2:06 pm

    I am adopting a golden retriever puppy soon but I do not agree with crate training or “messing” with my puppy I am hoping he will do fine without it

  • Deb Pearl October 3, 2017, 11:35 am

    My husband bought my son a golden retriever puppy for his birthday and he was super excited. In the excitement I forgot that we need to train the little guy and I don’t know how. That is a good idea to make sure that we are committed to doing the work to train this dog. We do really want him to be well trained. It’s true that we won’t learn everything in one training session. Thanks for the tips!

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