Caring for your Poodle

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Feeding: 

What to feed your dog is a hotly contested subject, and there are many strong opinions out there. For those who are interested, two popular websites devoted to the study of dog food ingredients are dog food analysis and the dog food project. The former reviews brands of kibble, while the latter is devoted more to a study of the individual ingredients found in your dog’s food. There is also a thriving movement of individuals who feed their dogs only raw foods.

Fortunately, the breeder will most likely include a sample of what the puppy has been eating at the kennel (you should request this if she does not), and the easiest solution is simply to continue feeding him this food throughout the first year of his life. Dogs do not need much variety in their diet; all kibble is required by the FDA to meet a dog’s complete nutritional needs. To a great extent, what we choose to feed our dog is more of a reflection on our sensibility than the dog’s needs.

That said, poodles are notoriously picky and sensitive eaters. Moreover, standard poodles are subject to bloat, a potentially fatal condition that occurs in many deep-chested breeds. I eventually found that the best food for my dog was a grain-free kibble with some cooked chicken mixed in for a taste. This food is less bulky and easier for my dog to digest. I feed him three times a day to ensure that he is never eating too much at one sitting, a good precaution against bloat.

If you do decide to change your puppy’s food, do it slowly to avoid too much stress on the dog’s digestive system. A good rule is to mix about 20% of the new food into your puppy’s regular food the first day and to continue to mix gradually larger amounts each day until you have completely phased out the old food. A final piece of advice is to feed your puppy one final meal about an hour before bedtime.

If you feed only twice a day, in the morning and the early evening, you may find that your puppy vomits white foam in the middle of the night, a sign that he could be hungry. After waking to the sound of retching several times a week, I finally introduced this late-night feeding. My dog never vomited at night again.

Housetraining: 

Poodles are smart dogs and will understand the basic concept–that you expect them to relieve themselves outside–within a few days. However, young puppies, like young children, have limited control over their sphincters and bladders, and until the age of four months, they will go within seconds of feeling the urge.

Thus, the key to successful housetraining is simple: take your dog outside often, and praise him when he goes. It is your job, as the dog’s owner, to ensure his success by anticipating when he may have to go. Twenty minutes to a half-hour after he eats and whenever he is released from the crate are the most likely times. But for the first few weeks, it is a good idea to take the puppy out every waking hour or so regardless of the circumstances.

Crate Training:

When your puppy arrives home, he will be anxious and frightened. Often, the breeder will include him a blanket or towel with the familiar smells of the kennel, and this is what you should use as bedding in the puppy’s crate. If you have a wire crate, it is a good idea to cover the top and sides with a quilt, to make the interior more like a den. You can also place a ticking clock or sound machine on the roof of the crate to introduce some soothing sounds. Putting the crate in your bedroom so that the puppy can hear and smell you (but positioned so he’s not able to see you) will bring him some comfort.

Regardless of what you do, however, the first few nights your pup is going to howl and whine and cry. As heartless as it sounds, as exhausted as you may become, resist the impulse to interact with him. Interventions will only thwart and prolong the process by which the puppy becomes acclimated to his new environment and accepts the crate as his safe den.

Socialization: 

Poodles are a breed with low dominance, a strong orientation toward people, and high intelligence. To have a happy dog, you must raise your dog keeping those traits in mind. To raise a poodle in isolation from the outside world is okay, so long as the dog has constant interaction with its owner and proper obedience training. To leave a poodle consistently alone for long periods is to thwart its nature and will result in a bored and frustrated dog that acts out and may develop fear aggression.

For all dogs, early socialization is important. I recommend enrolling in a local puppy socialization course, especially if you are a first-time dog owner, as soon as he has had a full course of immunization shots. The purpose of this course is not to teach obedience (though the principles will be addressed). It is to allow your puppy to interact with other dogs in a controlled environment and to let you, the owner, watch how other owners handle their dogs. You and the pup will both acquire confidence as the course progresses, and it is a fun and rewarding experience.

Opportunities for socializing your puppy are everywhere. If you have a young child, and the officials allow it, bring your dog to the school and take him along to after school activities in good weather, provided that there is a place to sit outside. Bring him into dog-friendly establishments. Our local Home Depot allows dogs, for instance, and my poodle enjoys the attention he receives there so much that he wags his tail whenever he hears the words, “Home Depot.”

However, most breeds are not protection dogs. They are social animals, and they benefit from regular interaction with other dogs and people–which includes being allowed to sniff dogs they meet, romp off-leash, and be petted by passing strangers. You are not going to make a dog with the wrong genetic structure into a guard dog by encouraging its aloofness. You are just going to have a dog that is wary of strangers.

Obedience Training: 

Poodles are notoriously comic dogs, that will get into mischief when they are bored or want attention. They also develop a clear sense of when they need to behave, as opposed to when you simply wish to exert authority, and they will take full advantage of this distinction if you let them. You must be firm with them (not aggressive) so that the dog knows you are in charge.

In my opinion, with a poodle, you have a choice. You do not need to obedience train this breed beyond the basics. Poodles enjoy training and can be taught to do complicated tricks or to perform competitively either in the show ring or the agility course.

But you can also allow your poodle to learn through experience, capitalizing on its natural desire to please you and enjoying the spontaneous eruptions of his personality along the way. As the dog bonds more deeply with you–and provided, of course, that you exert authority over your dog–he will accept your leadership and slowly begin to modify his behavior to conform to your wishes even without formal training.

Grooming:  

Unlike most dog breeds, that have an undercoat, the poodle has one layer of dense, curly fur that is often called “hair.” They shed just other dogs do, but rather than fall off the dog immediately the dead hair becomes interwoven in the living, causing mats that form close to the dog’s skin (“felting”). Eventually, this can cause discomfort to the dog. Thus, poodles must be regularly groomed, both brushed and clipped, to prevent mats and keep the coat in good condition.

Most pet owners, of course, opt for something a bit simpler to maintain. Even so, the dog must be groomed every 6-8 weeks. You can pay a groomer to perform this service for you, but with a little trouble, you can learn to groom your poodle. I recommend at least giving this a try. Grooming allows you to bond with your dog and to build trust–and you will save a whole lot of money this way!

Health Care: 

Like most purebred dogs, poodles are at risk for a variety of diseases and conditions, including Addison’s, Bloat, Epilepsy, Hip Dysplasia, Hypothyroidism, Neonatal Encephalopathy, Optic Nerve Hypoplasia, and Von Willebrand’s Disease. Some of these conditions can be eliminated through selective breeding to exclude certain genetic combinations; others, like Addison’s, are only detected when the dog exhibits symptoms.

At your dog’s annual exam, you should discuss how often to immunize, which shots are necessary for your area, and what form of the heartworm medication is best for your dog. The veterinarian will also check the dog’s vital signs and a stool sample. The latter is critical, particularly in your initial visit to the veterinarian’s office, as some puppies come to their owners insufficiently wormed and may require an extra dosage or even antibiotic treatment for the gastrointestinal irritation worms can cause.

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