Puppy Proofing Your Home: A Vet’s Perspective
Looking back after having raised two boys and a puppy past toddlerhood, I can tell you there are a lot of similarities.
Of course, raising a puppy is easier than raising a toddler, though mostly because of the use of crates. (Having said that, I think a crate would come in really handy in raising a human toddler, but Child Protective Services would probably have something to say about that.) So, per the suggestion of my editor, I decided to take this opportunity to talk to you about "puppy proofing."
The primary goal in puppy proofing (and childproofing), at least to me, is to make the place as safe as possible to avoid injuries, hospital visits or death.
Obviously, since death is the most serious consequence, I’ll touch on that one first.
The number one cause of accidental death in puppies that I see is the pool. Puppies fall in, they can’t climb out and they drown. Puppies have zero natural instinct to stay away from the pool or prevent themselves from falling in. (Just like puppies don’t have any natural instinct to not fall off the exam table at the vet’s office if they aren’t held, by the way.) This is why a puppy should never (ever!) be left unattended in a yard with a pool.
Personally, I’d watch them even if it’s got a fence around it. Puppies can squeeze through some tiny gaps when they really want to.
Being the paranoid person that I am, I’d watch the pup even if the backyard didn’t have a pool. Those curious little critters can squeeze out of the fence or get stuck or even carried away by hawks or owls or coyotes (I live in Texas, these things happen).
Back to the pool, though: I went out with my lab Mia every time, and she fell in the pool twice. Both times she just panicked and kept paddling in the one spot and surely would have drowned if I wasn’t there.
A good trick I use is to get the pup accustomed to the pool (forcefully, if necessary) once it is big enough to climb out. With someone else in the pool to help you, have the dog get into the far side of the pool and help him or her swim to the steps and get out. Do this over and over again.
All of my dogs have done multiple "pool drills," so they have their escape path memorized. Granted, all three dogs hate the pool.
The rest of the hazards that come to mind tend to come as a result of a puppy’s inherent need to stick everything in its mouth, either to eat or chew it. "Exploring the world with their mouths" was what it was called in veterinary school.
That means anything that can shock, poison, obstruct, strangle or otherwise inflict damage should be removed from your home (ASPCA has a pretty good list). I’ve seen pups and even adult dogs eat just about everything.
When we got Mia, I told the kids and the husband (who never had a puppy before) that anything on the floor, and I meant ANYTHING, belonged to the dog. If you left your iPod on the floor and the dog ate it, it was your fault. This worked well to reduce the incidence of "stuff" left on the floor.
In fact, my house was probably never cleaner than when Mia was a puppy. Remote controls, shoes, baskets, kid toys — anything that wasn’t a dog toy was kept out of "puppy level." (Bear in mind that puppy level grows with the dog; nowadays everything has to be about a foot or two from the edge of the counters to be out of Mia’s reach.) Cabinet doors must also be kept shut, especially those with medicines, cleaners, etc.
Give special consideration to electrical cords, as these could cause severe damage to a puppy/dog (possibly even death). Mia once ate my laptop cord, but apparently it didn’t pack much of a punch because she was left unfazed. My laptop, on the other hand was fried.
For all these reasons and so much more, a puppy should never truly be left unattended, even in the most puppy-proofed home. So what do you do when you have to leave a puppy alone at home?
If nobody was watching, we tried to keep Mia in her crate. If we left her out, invariably something would get destroyed. (She was once even able to quietly chew a seatbelt strap nearly in half while in the back of our car.) We also used a lot of baby gates to keep the puppy in the area where we could keep an eye on her.
My husband is handy and actually built hinged gates to keep her in the main living areas. This kept her in the kitchen/living areas and away from the formal areas and upstairs and out of our supervision (and if we went up there, she came with us).
Puppies are like little cute Tasmanian devils, just waiting to cause mayhem and destruction if given the chance … so be vigilant!
And good luck!!!
Dr. Vivian Cardoso-Carroll