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Part 3: Life After TPLO Surgery

6 Nov

The first three weeks after Bailey’s surgery were the most difficult. The swelling and fluid build up in her leg was considerable and we were constantly trying to reduce the amount of weight she placed on it. The first three weeks are also the most critical after surgery to prevent infection and make sure the leg is healing properly.

After three weeks, we scheduled our follow up appointment to recheck Bailey’s leg. Thankfully, we had kept her calm and she was on her way to recovery. The next eight weeks were spent keeping Bailey under strict confinement, with little activity and minimal distractions.  The recovery period after surgery did take a considerable amount of time and effort, but it’s critical to make sure your dog’s life after TPLO surgery can be enjoyed to the fullest.

After twelve weeks, Bailey was able to slowly begin walking on her leg and no longer needed to be confined. We were advised to gradually begin walking her and to not let her become too active too soon. If you recall, Bailey had tore her cruciate ligament at six months and we had not be able to take her to obedience training. I knew she was still terrible walking on the leash, and feared trying to walk her right after surgery. We scheduled a private session with an experience gun dog trainer to help Bailey heal and give us control during the walk. It was still critical that Bailey didn’t pull aggressively or lunge at dogs, cars (or anything else) as she was strengthening her leg. Our trainer recommended the prong collar – known as the “pinch” collar – and it worked like a charm.

We were finally able to walk Bailey with control and confidence. We started her rehabilitation with a short five-minute walk a day and allowed her to roam around our living room. We began increasing Bailey’s level of activity each week, keeping her walks to five-minutes each, but increase their frequency with time.  As her strength and energy grew, we knew to push her a little further each week.  It’s amazing how leash walking strengths your bond – or maybe it’s just the entire experience we all went through – but, we would know when Bailey would need a break or would want to continue her walk.  It takes patience, attention and persistence – but eventually the hard work paid off.

It took several months for Baily to work her way up to a 30 minute walk, and then eventually an hour. A year later, we’ve rechecked both her knees to make sure she is strong and healthy. Thankfully, she’s made a full recovery and shows no signs of tearing in either leg. Doctors predict that more than fifty percent of dogs that have a cruciate tear in either one leg will eventually need their second leg repaired. We’re hopeful that Bailey defies their prediction.

She certainly still favors her right leg and gets sore with aggressive activity. We’ve learned to only take Bailey on runs 1-2 times a week, and limit them anywhere from 20-30 minutes depending on the weather. The rest of the week, she’s quite content with walks. Although she may get sore, she is no longer in constant pain – and  she’s is still able to out run most of the dogs at the park. If we never told anyone about her cruciate tear or TPLO surgery, they would never know any different – and we’re hoping Bailey doesn’t remember a thing!

Happy Health, Happy Tails

27 Sep

Vaccines are an important part of your new puppy’s health in order to strengthen their immune system and help keep them happy and healthy throughout their life. While you may hear concerns about over vaccinating adult dogs, puppy wellness vaccines are critical to your pup’s development. And don’t be alarmed – depending on where you live and your pet’s activity, your veterinarian may suggest additional vaccines to protect your pooch. As with any health decisions, it’s important to be informed and understand your pet’s health.  Here is a list of the main vaccines to expect giving your new furry baby.

When we brought Bailey home at six weeks of age, she had already begun her first round of puppy vaccines. But, because there was a chance she was still nursing, our vet recommended that we begin the puppy wellness vacciness from the beginning to make sure her body was producing antibodies on her own. It’s good to talk to your breeder about when they plan to begin any vaccines and how to best continue.

It’s typicall to begin puppy vacinnes at six to eight weeks, which will be around the time you pick up your new puppy, so make sure one of your first tasks is to schedule a visit to the vet. At that time, your vet will discuss vaccine recommendations, your vaccine schedule and any other needs for your puppy, such as deworming, flea and heartworm prevention. It’s important to understand how to keep your puppy safe during this time, so don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you need – you’re paying for the time!  Click here for a complete schedule during your puppy’s first year.

While puppy vaccines are generally safe for all dogs, there are a few things you should watch for after the your puppy gets it’s shots. Click here for symptoms and possible reactions to be aware of.

One last thing to remember is immunity is not immediate! After your last round of vaccines, it takes a week or two for their little bodies to pay catch up and be fully immune. So, you’ll need to wait before you can begin socializing your new pup. This includes play dates with dogs who have not been vaccinated, any areas where unfamilair dogs may have previously pottied (even front yards) and definitely parks and public places. The LAST thing you want to do is pick up your new puppy and head to the pet store!! Pavo is highly contagious and you don’t want to expose your new furry baby.

Now, if you’re puppy is anything like Bailey – at 14 weeks, they have more energy than they (or you) know what to do with! At six weeks, Bailey was a bundle of energy, but at least she was little. After a couple months, she was much bigger and growing rapidly. She was also faster – making our yard more like a playpen than a sizable area to sprint. Are you, or someone you know, also pulling their hair out wondering how to drain their pup’s energy until fully vaccinated? Here are some tips to try:

  • Start obedience training as soon as possible. Mental exhaustion is works like a charm, while instilling some manors. (We’re still working on this!)
  • Stock up on interactive toys that stimulate your pup to burn off some energy. Check out our favorite chew toys here.
  • If you have a Labrador or hunting breed, “Find it” or “seek” might be your new favorite game! We would hide (high value) treats around the living room and backyard and encourage Bailey to use her nose and “find it.” You’ll need to be patient and practice, since puppies naturally use their eyes vs. their nose – but this is a great way to start developing other senses.
  • Practice leash walking in safe/clean areas, such as the backyard or driveway. (This was Bailey’s least favorite).
  • Introduce them to swimming. When bailey was little, we let her practice in the bathtub and then purchased a baby pool when the weather was warmer.

Still have questions? Here is a good resource with more information. Good luck and enjoy your new furry baby!

You may also like:

Chewing Time

Video: Water Babies, or Not?

Did Someone Say Food?

Pet Insurance: Are you covered?

To Spay, or Not to Spay?

25 Sep

One of the first medical decisions we had to make with Bailey was if we were going to spay her or leave her “intact.” This wouldn’t have been a topic for debate if Bailey was a pound puppy, but we did have an eighth generation AKC Certified Labrador Retriever on our hands. We realized breeding or showing her would be too ambitious for us to take on, but we also had to consider the health benefits and risks of spaying her.

After consulting with our veterinarian, there are five main factors to consider when thinking about spaying or neutering your pet:

  • Age
  • Health Risks/Benefits
  • Cost
  • Behavior Problems & Fixes
  • After surgery care

There is a lot of research and debate about when and if you should spay or neuter your pets, so it’s important to talk to your veterinarian. The majority of research agrees that spaying your pooch before their first heat (generally 5-10 months of age) will significantly lower their risks for certain cancers. According to Pets.WebMD, the number one benefit of spaying is to help your pet live a longer, healthier life. Spaying can help prevent uterine infections and breast cancer, which is fatal in about 50 percent of dogs. Additionally, research shows that female dogs spayed after their second heat have a 26% higher risk of developing mammary cancer than those spayed before their first heat.

After learning about these benefits, we decided to spay Bailey at six months of age. Our veterinarian also recommended reparing her hernia while she was under anesthesia, which was a two for one deal. So, if you’re furry baby was born with a hernia or has other conditions – you may want to discuss if it’s possible to fix them all at the same time.

If you’re worried about how much spaying or neutering costs, there are lots of low-cost options available at animal shelters and organizations. Depending on the location, costs can range from $70 to $200, or more. However, cost mostly depends on the weight of the dog, which is another reason not to procrastinate if you’re considering the surgery. The ASPCA is a great resource for low-cost options and clinics available. If you have pet insurance, your plan might cover all or a percentage of the surgery.

Research also shows spaying and neutering may affect unwanted behavior. While many of the behavioral benefits are associated with neutering males, there is some discussion that spaying might contribute to behavior problems in females. However, most research notes that both males and females become more docile. I have to admit – we haven’t noticed any change in Bailey’s behavior. She’s still just as rambunctious and smart now, as she was at six months. You can read key findings from a 1997 study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Davis, Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital here.

Last, but not least, make sure to plan your pups after surgery care. Most spays take less than thirty minutes, but are invasive and cut through the abdominal muscles to remove the ovaries. It’s important to make sure your dog has proper care for at least 24 hours after the surgery and they get lots of rest. Bailey was very disoriented when she was released to go home and she was prescribed an anti-inflammatory and pain killers. If this is the first time your dog has undergone anesthesia, you should watch for adverse reactions and alert your doctor immediately if you’re concerned. Knowing that Bailey was a high energy pup, we kept her crated for a few days and used the leash to take her potty to ensure she didn’t injure herself by running.

After a week, Bailey was feeling better and healing well. We often think how great of a mother she might have been, but she still practices her motherly skills with our cat and other pups at the dog park.

If you still have questions, read these frequently asked questions about spaying and neutering here.

Pet Insurance: Are You Covered?

18 Sep

It wasn’t long after we brought Bailey home that we realized how much time, attention and money this adorable Labrador was going to be. Her high energy and drive made us question – what wouldn’t this puppy get into!

After hearing my stories, my colleagues mentioned that we should look into purchasing pet insurance – and that our company actually provided this benefit. Pet insurance? Really? What a genius idea! 

In just the first couple months, we had already incurred hundreds of dollars in vet bills just from puppy wellness visits and vaccines – I couldn’t imagine how we would budget for any unexpected health issues. The thought of something happening to our new little one and not knowing how to pay for treatment was unbearable. After learning more about pet insurance and the advantages, it seemed like the most affordable way to make sure Bailey’s planned medical needs and long term health we’re covered.

Whether you’re thinking about a new puppy or adopting an older dog, you may consider looking into pet insurance – and more importantly, which carrier and plan is right for you. If you have a pet or considering pet insurance, here are a few tips to consider before making a purchase.

  1. Learn if there is a waiting period before your coverage begins. It usually takes at least 30 days.
  2. Most providers don’t cover pre-existing conditions, common breed problems, or previous diagnosed issues.
  3. Understand your provider’s cancelation policies or restrictions.
  4. Choose a plan that provides an affordable deductible or co-pay option.
  5. Ask about the provider’s reimbursement procedure, timing and if there are any claim fees to be aware of.
  6. Do your homework on the right provider and plan options. Use review sites or forums to learn from others experiences.
  7. Look for available discounts through company work/life benefits, or by covering multiple pets. It doesn’t hurt to ask!
  8. Ask if your provider requires a preferred animal hospital or vet. Also, certain providers are limited to specific states.
  9. You know your pet the best. Choose the right level of insurance that will protect them and you. The first step is getting them covered. You can always change or upgrade your plan later.
  10. Many providers offer access to pet experts, online advice and other helpful resources to keep you informed. Take advantage of the free information available.

The process of finding a provider and plan that works for your family can seem overwhelming. However, if you take your time and ask the right questions – it will hopefully save you money in the long run. If for nothing else, to make sure you’re prepared in case something unthinkable happens to your furry baby. Our decision to purchase premium coverage for Bailey has saved us more than $2,000 and provided us peace of mind that she will receive the care needed – without worrying about vet bills.

Good luck and feel free to contact us if you have any!

Weather Proofing for Outdoor Style

10 Sep

It’s hard to imagine how little Bailey was when we first brought her home. She could fit in my lap. After a few months, it was time to think about where Bailey would stay while we were away from the house. She was too rambunctious to keep in the house – and too destructive to leave alone outside.

We looked at a number of kennels and dog runs, and finally decided on the ShelterLogic 4×8 Kennel. These kennels are dog friendly and fit nicely in a backyard or garage. They come with an easy to assemble cover for the top – but the side panels and bottom floor are exposed.  The price and size were perfect – but left us questioning how to make this outdoor doghouse functional and cozy year round.

An eight-foot long kennel takes up a large space in any yard – not too mention weatherproofing for leaves, bugs, dust, rain and wind. It wasn’t too long after Bailey started staying in her kennel that she started developing allergies.  Thankfully, they were only seasonal allergies – but this led us to create Bailey’s clean and comfortable sanctuary outside.

First, we had to find a base for the floor to minimize the amount of leaves, dust and bugs accumulating in the kennel. We used six cinderblocks to raise the kennel and then purchased high-end plywood for the flooring. There are also plastic kennel floors you can purchase, but they are much more expensive and slippery.

We then surrounded the sides of the kennel with wood panels to block leaves and dust from entering inside. Tarps were laid across the top of the kennel for extra protection from the wind and rain in the winter.  The best part of using a tarp is the ability to fold up one side when the weather is nice. With all other areas of the kennel covered, Bailey can still enjoy looking out and getting some fresh air when it’s not raining.

Last, we’ve designed the inside of the kennel to match our outdoor décor. We used large fleece blankets, sheets and old outdoor pillows to create a comfortable and cozy retreat for Miss Bailey Jane while we’re away. This also works well to extend the adult sitting area, so the kennel isn’t a major eye sore in the backyard. Some queen palms and foliage also help hide the kennel and create a natural separation for Bailey’s area.

And of course, no outdoor area would be complete without toys! To make sure our yard is not cluttered, we hide all Bailey’s toys in an outdoor garden tool box – which is a natural addition to any landscaping and provides additional seating for guests.

Here are a few photos for inspiration. Good luck creating your outdoor doggie retreat that is both functional, safe and a natural addition to your yard.

Dog Park Caution Tails

31 Aug

Dog parks are a wonderful way to get outside and exercise your dog, while also socializing them. Without our local dog parks, Bailey would never be able to sprint full speed ahead or meet other furry friends. They’ve definitely provided many wonderful afternoons (and a tired out pooch), but we’ve learned not every dog park is a safe place to romp around.

Not to sound like an over protective dog mom, but – it’s not Bailey I’m worried about – it’s the other dogs … and irresponsible owners … and unmaintained parks.  As State Parks and recreational services continue to diminish, there are several precautions pet owners should take before considering if Fido should go out and play.

Here are some photos and tips to consider for a safe and fun trip!

We hope you enjoy your trips to the dog park as much as we do! Below are other related posts you may want to read: 10 Tips for Your First Trip to a Dog Park Dog Park Etiquette Dog Park

New campaign emphasizes importance of dog health at off-leash parks

Summertime: Water Safety Tips

17 Aug

Summertime is here – and so is the heat! There’s no better way to enjoy the sun than to cool off swimming. And, if you have a Labrador, they might be the first in the water!

Enjoying a beautiful summer day wouldn’t be the same without your K-9 companion, but you might be surprised how quickly things can go wrong.

Labradors are natural born swimmers – but, they may need some coaching before they’re comfortable with large bodies of water. We recently took Bailey to grandma’s house for her first swim in an adult pool and realized that her swimming instincts were a little shaky.

Whether you’re headed to the lake, beach or backyard pool – here are 10 water safety tips to consider so that everyone has a good time:

  1. Baby steps: Even though Labradors might love the water, if they’re like Bailey, they might be unsure in new situations. A good first step is to slowly introduce them to water. Maybe start with a baby pool, or just be patient while they explore their new environment. If you’re taking them on a boat, you should let them get familiar with the boat and turn on the engine before getting on the water.
  2. In and out: Several trainers don’t recommend throwing your dog in the water to learn how to swim. Bailey’s Uncle (also a Lab owner) made sure we showed her how to get in and out of the water. With all the excitement, this took awhile before she caught on – but with any puppy, practice makes perfect.
  3. Bring friends and family: If your dog is hesitant to get into the water, they might be more willing to follow others. You’re bound to get wet anyway, so play along or bring another dog to lead the way. Just be careful of those paddling webs – they don’t stop when you get in the way.
  4. Make it fun: Labradors are retrievers and instinctually want to fetch in the water. They might not dive in the water at first (Bailey was too scared), but they will be driven to swim and play fetch. Bring a ball or other toys and have fun. 
  5. Use caution: if it’s not safe for kids, it’s not safe for dogs. Pay attention to warning signs that indicate unsafe water and areas. If conditions in the ocean, rivers or lakes are too dangerous for kids, it’s probably unsafe for dogs too. Dogs can also slip from running around wet pool areas just like kids. Always supervise your pets and use good judgment. Here are more helpful tips on pet water safety.
  6. Use a doggie vest or k-9 float coat: Even though Labradors are good swimmers, they are big and heavy dogs. They too can use a little help if you’re planning a long day in the water, or you’re on a boat. Consider using a doggie vest so they don’t get too exhausted – and swallow too much water trying to stay afloat.
  7. Dog proof your boat or pool area: A day out with the family = exploring. Whether its the new environment, an exciting day or lack of 100% attention – your furry baby will find something to get into! The last thing you want to ruin your day is a backyard remodel or chewed seat on your boat, so think about creating a safe place for Fido or keep them on a leash. For more information on dog proofing your boat, click here.
  8. Provide shade and water: A long day in the sun can be tiring and dehydrating – even when you’re swimming. Make sure there is a shaded area for your dog to cool his paws and drink fresh water.
  9. After sun and splash grooming: You never know how your dog’s skin will react to chemicals, algae or other goodies in the water, so it’s important to rinse them off after a swim. Labradors are also highly prone to ear infections – so remember to clean their ears to evaporate any access water.
  10. Take your time: You want your dog’s first experience in water to be positive, so take your time. Bailey’s first attempt at swimming wasn’t exactly how we’d imagined. But eventually, she’ll get more familiar with water and become the Splash Dog we know she’s born to be!

For more helpful information about Dogs and Water safety click here.

Did someone say food?

31 Jul

There is nothing Bailey loves more than food. Pavlov’s theory is true when it comes to Bailey. As soon as she hears the word or we spell F-O-O-D, she starts salivating. If we mention the word “treat,” she instantly becomes an obedient soldier, ready to do anything on command for that delicious snack.

With her intense food motivation, we’ve learned the importance of reading ingredients to make sure Bailey’s getting the proper nutrition. Especially when you’re using treats for obedience training – calories, sugar and fat can quickly add up!

As with any nutritional information, it’s important to understand the main ingredients and their percentages. Do the main ingredients list: Ground Whole Grain Corn, Ground Whole Grain Sorghum, Ground Whole Grain Wheat, Soybean Meal, Corn Gluten Meal (all fillers)? Or, does your dog food list natural ingredients, such as: deboned chicken, chicken meal, peas, potatoes, turkey meal, pea fiber, whole carrots, whole sweet potatoes, blueberries and cranberries.  Ingredients in both dog food and treats are very telling – and you might be surprised the percentage of Crude Protein, Crude Fat, Carbohydrates and Crude Fiber. Just as we would look at ingredients to watch our own weight – we need to do the same for our pampered pets.

Another important decision is when to feed your pooch. To help Bailey not get hungry throughout the day (and devour her meal), we feed her twice daily. Depending on your brand’s feeding guidelines, you would give half the amount in the morning and the second half in the evening. For puppies, it’s recommended to feed them three times throughout the day. You’ll always want to watch your dog’s weight and alternate the amount depending on how lean or heavy they’re looking. You’re veterinarian can help you determine what’s ideal for your pet.

Here are some additional food related tips we’ve learned:

Food Allergies

After about 6 months, Bailey also started developing allergies – common among Labrador Retrievers. Her eyes and skin would get red, and she began to chew her webbed paws. Before we knew what she was allergic to, the vet warned us about food allergies. We quickly realized how hard it would be to determine which food she might be allergic to because of the variety of ingredients we were giving her. So, as a new dog owner, you may want to limit the amount of ingredients (or proteins) to your pup until you know they may react. Thankfully, Bailey has seasonal skin allergies and not a food allergy!

Digestion Problems

Some food brands high in protein or that include rich proteins (i.e., venison, liver, beef or pork) tend to upset Bailey’s stomach. Fish, poultry and lamb products have worked the best for us. You also want to make sure your dog is having healthy (and solid) poops and they’re not too gassy.

Vitamins and Supplements

After Bailey’s torn ACL in her right knee, her veterinarian recommended she take Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate supplements. This helps with common joint problems in Labradors and arthritis in older dogs. You can find these supplements (among other vitamins) in a variety of dog food or treats. We also give Bailey one Omega-3 krill oil vitamin a day for a healthy coat. These don’t give her gas like fish oil does, and they help against dry/itchy skin.

Avoid Bad Habits

There’s nothing worse than an 85 pound Labrador scouring the counters for food scraps or stealing food off your dinner plate. Proper table manners begin with reinforcing good behavior – and for our family that means no human food for Bailey. Many common foods can be toxic to dogs, not to mention very unhealthy. Setting boundaries will help keep you and your dog safe in the kitchen and at the dinner table.

Bailey’s Favorites

Below are some of Bailey’s favorite treats and tricks we use to slow down how fast she eats her food:

The bottom line – a healthy dog is a happy dog. It starts with nutritious ingredients, but healthy food behavior is just as important – from both the owner and the dog!

Chewing Time

9 Jun

Of course it’s normal for all puppies and dogs to chew. Chewing was one problem we tried to prepare for. Labradors are one of the worst breeds when it comes to chewing. I’ve heard horror stories of dogs chewing shoes or tearing up clothes. Problem solved – don’t leave your wardrobe lying around. Needless to say, shoes were the least of our problems when it came to mouthing with Bailey.

We expected Bailey to chew when teething for around six months. Our first problem was thinking chewing would only last six months and not considering all the other reasons dogs chew or mouth. It was impossible for us to anticipate Bailey’s intense play biting, and just how painful it could be. How can a little puppy inflict so much pain? Those razor sharp teeth not only chewed on everything in the house (removable or not), but us! 

There was a lot of trial and error, but here are a few tips that we found successful while Bailey was teething:

  • Having a variety of chew toys available. Bailey’s attention span for toys is short, but having toys with squeakers, different textures and interactive toys that hold food is key.
  • Freezing a washcloth or chill bone to sooth the gums. Bailey also loves eating ice cubes, although she’s quite messy.
  • Rubbing frozen butter on your hands and arms to encourage licking vs. play biting.
  • Stop playing when the biting gets too rough. Sometimes, we just leave the room.
  • Using sour tasting anti-chew spray. Sour Apple wasn’t strong enough, so we use Natural Vet’s Bitter Yuck! There are also anti-chew strips available to protect baseboards and furniture.
  • Rewarding good behavior when dropping items that aren’t toys. “Drop it” might be the command we use the most.

The second surprise was that puppies put EVERYTHING in their mouth! Rocks, sticks, leaves, bugs…anything worth exploring. Apparently, like babies, puppies learn about their environment by their mouth. Understandable, since dogs don’t have hands. Thankfully, after Bailey explores, she spits most objects out once she realizes they’re not food. However, Labs are notorious for swallowing rocks and other objects, so don’t take any chances. We never let her chew on small objects that she could potentially swallow.

Another surprise was Bailey’s obsession with fabrics and excessive licking. According to Pet WebMD, some dogs lick, suck and chew fabrics because they were weaned too early (before seven or eight weeks of age). Bailey was weaned at five weeks, so there might be something to this theory… However, she just might think pillows are large chew toys. Rule of thumb, anything that has stuffing is in danger of Bailey destroying.

Even after two years, we still have to correct what is, or what is not a chew toy. Whether driven by boredom, excess energy or just being a goofy Lab, having available chew toys around is important. For Bailey, we’ve found redirecting unwanted chewing works best. Before she learned “drop it,” we would foolishly find ourselves in a game of chase and reinforcing bad behavior. Trainers have also mentioned using loud noises to stop bad behavior, such as shaking pennies in a tin can. But, Bailey just figured this was another game.

Other tips that have helped us prevent destructive chewing are:

  • Making sure she has exercise. Without two-three walks a day, Bailey would never settle down in the house. We mix up her exercise routine with 30-minute walks, two-mile runs, fetch in the yard and chasing other dogs at the dog park.
  • Mental stimulation. We don’t always have time to provide hours of exercise a day, especially in the winter. Another trick we’ve learned is to let her mentally exhaust herself. She loves car rides, siting in the front yard, or meeting new people at Starbucks. All these activities are new, exciting and mentally draining!
  • Using interactive toys to make them think. There are a variety of educational toys that release treats when manipulated the right way. Some are better than others, but it usually takes awhile for Bailey to figure them out. And when she doesn’t, she has learned the law of gravity and will just fling the toy in the air to force the treat out.

It’s important to remember that chewing is instinctual for dogs and does have benefits. For Bailey, chewing on toys is an excellent way to keep her teeth clean and provide mental stimulation. We’ve definitely gone through our share of chew toys – so much, I have started to sew in order to salvage as many toys as I can. Here are some of our favorite chew toys that keep her interest, last longer than 10 minutes and don’t cause an upset stomach.

Bailey will most likely remain an active chewer all her life. We were foolish to think chewing would stop after teething. Providing her the right outlet to work off boredom or anxiety only helps prevent her from being destructive. Consistent training and exercise is the best solution for a happy puppy in the home. 

In turn, Bailey makes sure we all pick up after ourselves, or take responsibility for what she might think is a chew toy. We might not be able to control an occasional accident, but we can try our best to prevent it – and in the end – how we react to it.

Getting Puppy Ready

21 May

The day we brought Bailey home was both exciting and terrifying. We knew our lives were about to change forever. We wanted to make the transition for both her and our family as easy as possible. We found standard information online about what to know when bringing your puppy home, the essentials on how to puppy proof your home and what supplies your puppy will need. However, as first time dog owners, we needed more than a list – we needed to know what to expect.

The book, How to Raise the Perfect Dog: Through Puppyhood and Beyond by Cesar Millan, was extremely helpful and includes stories from multiple dog owners.  Whether you agree with Cesar’s training techniques or not, his book provides a deep understanding of your puppy’s development stages, as well as the pros and cons on a variety of topics including: crate training, housebreaking, vaccinations and how to avoid the most common mistakes (which we desperately didn’t want to make!).

During the first few months with Bailey, we quickly learned what worked and what didn’t. Below are a few highlights that helped us get puppy ready.

The first ride home

Before bringing Bailey home, we took all precautions to make sure she would be comfortable during the hour ride home. We packed a travel crate, towels, toys, treats, a puppy collar and leash, just to be prepared for anything.

Additionally, we read to take advantage of a dog’s powerful sense of smell to ease the transition away from their mother and littermates. The breeder was open to us taking a blanket, but advised against using anything else we had brought. Bailey wasn’t use to collars, leashes or crates, so I ended up carrying her out in my arms. He was right, because she slept in my lap until we arrived home.

Puppy proofing

An easy way to begin puppy proofing your house is to get down to the dogs level (physically), before you bring the dog home. If you crawl on the floor, you’ll quickly see what the pup might find to chew.  We packed away all accessible vases, plants, curtains, cords (and eventually rugs). Luckily, our home already had baby locks on all our kitchen cabinets, so we didn’t have to worry about her getting under the sink.

After eliminating the obvious items off the ground, we quickly became aware of everything else Bailey could find – and run into. We had no idea how much energy a seven-week old Labrador puppy would have, which added another dynamic to puppy proofing! 

It is true that puppies need boundaries until they get use to their environment. If Bailey didn’t have boundaries in place, she would bulldoze her way throughout the house.  It was (and still is) amazing how quickly she finds something to chew or accidentally knock over.

We immediately started taking precautions to secure “safe spaces” for Bailey to relax outside of her crate. During the first month, we kept an enclosed play pen in the kitchen that we could easily move around the living room or outside as needed. I’d highly recommend investing in a quality exercise pen, as puppies grow quick! The wire pen was fine at first, but as Bailey grew, she would easily move it around and sometimes pinch her paw if she jumped too hard.

To prevent Bailey from roaming throughout the house, we also installed an extra tall baby gate. Even two years later, we still use the baby gate to limit her access and keep her in a designated area of our home.   

Crate Training

Crate training Bailey was the BEST thing we did. If done successfully, the crate becomes similar to a “den.” It helps the dog feel secure and safe, while still being able to see everything around them.  We made sure the crate had plenty of blankets, including the one with her mother’s scent.  We also included a shirt with our own scent to help her bond with us as well.  For the first few days, we would frequently let Bailey go in and out of her crate so she wouldn’t feel trapped or isolated.

Bailey still absolutely loves her crate, even at 85 pounds. We started with the large 42-inch crate and used the dividers to allow the appropriate amount of space need as she grew. Now that she’s full grown, she uses an x-large 54-inch crate and she has plenty of space to stretch, turn and lay with her legs straight out – her favorite position.


Crate training also helps with housebreaking, as dogs usually won’t potty where they sleep.  Our secret to housebreaking was consistency and patience. My husband and I agreed that we would not get upset if the dog had an accident in the house (as hard as it may be). To ensure there were minimal accidents, we took Bailey outside to potty every two-three hours, regardless if she indicated any signs (night and day). The potty pads didn’t work, all Bailey did was chew them. We also practiced taking her to a designated spot in the yard.  Every time she went to the bathroom, we would praise her with a treat.

After two weeks, she had her schedule down, but it was still up to us to follow through and take her outside. It was difficult waking up at midnight, 3am, 7am and going home at lunch, but we were committed.  We kept this schedule until Bailey was around 9 weeks, before transitioning to every four hours. It wasn’t until around three months of age that Bailey started sleeping throughout the entire night. The hard work paid off. Housebreaking was one of the few things we haven’t had to worry about with Bailey.

Sticking to a schedule

Another important lesson we’ve learned is to be consistent. From day one, Bailey has forced us to stick to a schedule – even when it’s not convenient. Without a routine from morning to night, our household would be chaos.  Finding a schedule that worked for Bailey helped us focus her attention throughout the day.

Needless to say, a puppy is hard work regardless of the breed. They take lots of time, money and commitment. All puppies have different energy levels, but you never know what you’re going to get until you bring your dog home. The best approach for success is to be prepared and make sure you’re puppy ready – both emotionally and financially. If you do choose a Labrador Retriever to join your family, you’ll have at least three years of puppy ahead of you!

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