By Richard Cross of The Dog Clinic
Puppies are naturally curious and love exploring. This is adorable to watch – but can sometimes put your pup in danger.
It’s your job to ensure the home and garden are safe for your new pet. Young dogs don’t have “danger awareness,” so it’s vital to audit your home for hazards.
Puppy proofing doesn’t just keep your dog safe though. The fewer dangers there are in the home, the more you can relax and enjoy the wonderful – but short – puppy period. Your new pet will also be happier if he can explore without constantly being picked up.
Step 1: Learn the Three Rules of Puppy Proofing
There are three rules when puppy proofing a home:
- Assume your puppy will chew anything they can get their paws on.
- Assume your puppy will access rooms that are meant to be off-limits.
- Always supervise your puppy when he’s not in a pen or crate.
Rule #1 is a consequence of a puppy’s teething stage. Just like humans, young dogs lose their first set of teeth and new ones fill the gaps, which can be a painful experience. Chewing relieves some of this pain, which is why puppies go through periods of wanting to chew almost everything.
And when I say everything, I mean it! Furniture, wires, remote controls, coins, jewelery and almost anything else can be a target for chewing. A puppy’s sharp teeth can also be surprisingly destructive.
While you should encourage your dog to chew appropriate items during the teething stage, this type of training can take time. It’s best to remove anything you don’t want your pet to chew and replace it with chew toys.
Rule #2 is often overlooked by new puppy owners – especially those who haven’t raised a dog before. It only takes one mistake, such as leaving a door ajar or turning your back for a few seconds, for an inquisitive puppy to run upstairs or into an off-limits room.
For this reason, make sure that all dangerous items are safely stored – not just those in the rooms you’re planning to restrict your puppy.
Rule #3 is arguably the most important. While puppy-proofing is essential for keeping your pet safe, your pet should always be supervised when he’s not enclosed in a crate or pen. The tips below are not a replacement for supervision.
Step 2: Remove Hazardous Products, Chemicals and Items
The average home is filled with dangerous chemicals and items. Cleaning products, such as hair shampoo and bleaches, are common examples. Medication, razor blades, many human foods and trash can also be hazardous.
These items should be stored somewhere your puppy has no chance of accessing. High cupboards or those with safety latches are best, as some dogs learn how to open doors.
Start by checking the kitchen and bathroom. Look for hazardous chemicals, such as toilet bleach or washing up liquid, that might be dangerous for your pet. You should also check that all cupboards close correctly and that bins have a properly-fitting lid.
Once you’ve cleared the kitchen and bathroom, check the rest of the house for sharp objects and other hazardous items. Scissors, razor blades and knives are all potential dangers.
Step 3: Declutter Your Home
As you know from Rule #1, a puppy can (and will) chew almost anything. This means an item doesn’t need to be toxic or sharp for it to be dangerous.
For this reason, you should do a full sweep of your home to hide possessions you don’t want him to chew. This is also a good time to teach everyone else in your household – particularly children – to be careful about what they leave within your puppy’s reach.
Most importantly, remove objects that could be choking hazards. Children’s toys, remote controls, mobile phones and other small objects can be dangerous for your dog to chew – and might be expensive to replace. Anything with batteries is particularly dangerous, as battery acid can be lethal.
Power cords are another hazard. Hide cords behind furniture so your pet can’t access them. If you can’t hide a cord, use a cover to protect it.
Also, look for anything a puppy might try to play tug-of-war with. Tablecloths are a dangerous example, as pulling one might bring cutlery, plates and other items crashing down onto the dog.
Step 4: Check Your Garden
The most important task when puppy proofing a garden is to check your new dog is safely enclosed. A puppy’s natural curiosity can take him far from home if he escapes, so there is a real risk of your pet getting lost.
It’s easy to check if a fenced garden is properly enclosed, but more difficult if the boundaries are marked with hedges. A determined puppy can push through thick foliage, so you may want to add a small fence to keep your pet safe.
Even if you’re sure the garden is enclosed, you should still supervise your pet. It’s not uncommon for a puppy to find an escape route that the owner has missed.
Once you’ve secured your garden, check for dangerous plants. Many common garden plants are toxic for dogs, including daffodils, azaleas and rhododendron. The ASPCA provides a comprehensive list here.
A Few Other Puppy Proofing Tips…
There are many ways a young puppy can get into trouble. Here are some more tips for keeping your pet safe:
- Provide a “safe space” for your pet. Your puppy should always have somewhere he can retreat to when he needs a rest from people or excitement. This space should be quiet and have a comfortable bed that’s suitable for puppies. You should also teach children not to disturb your pet when he’s in his safe space.
- Water is always a drowning hazard. Pools, hot tubs, baths and even toilet bowls can put your dog at risk of drowning. Large bodies of water, such as swimming pools, should be fenced off so your dog can’t access them. Your puppy should also never go into the bathroom unattended.
- Be careful with rucksacks, gym bags or shopping bags. It’s a habit to come home and put your bags on the floor. Unfortunately, these bags may contain dangerous items, such as electrical gadgets or products containing xylitol. A puppy only needs a few seconds to get into a bag, so be careful where you put them.
- Keep your pet away from high jumps. Puppies are agile, but they are also clumsy and have weak bones. Jumping or falling from a height can cause injury, so don’t let your dog jump off furniture or outdoor decking.
- Medication should be locked away. I mentioned it earlier, but medication is one of the biggest dangers for a young dog. Never leave medication on low surfaces or tables, as it only takes a few seconds for a strong puppy to chew through packaging.
- Be aware of small stones. Small stones and pebbles can be a choking hazard for a puppy. If your pet starts to chew pebbles, you may need to restrict him to grass or patios.
A puppy’s natural curiosity makes them a lot of fun – but can also put them in danger. Puppies don’t understand boundaries or have awareness of danger, so you need to keep them away from hazards.
Make sure you puppy-proof both your home and garden before you collect your new pet. Not only will this keep your dog safe, but it’ll also make those first few weeks a lot less stressful.
Richard is editor of The Dog Clinic – a website dedicated to promoting positive training methods and a deeper understanding of canine behavior.