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April 2, 2014

Puppy-proofing? Protect your dog -- and your home

We bought food bowls, borrowed a crate and dusted off baby gates. But soon after we adopted our 13-week-old puppy, we discovered the house really wasn’t ready.

Clove, a Labrador retriever mix, chewed wires we thought were hidden and investigated stairs we thought she’d ignore. She rummaged through deep plastic bins holding smelly shin guards and plucked snow-soaked mittens from our warm radiators. Within a week of her arrival, we had to block off power strips, reorganize our mudroom, devise a new plan for drying winter gear and gate the staircase.

“It’s a lot like having an infant in the household,” said Pamela Barlow, animal behavior counselor at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ adoption center in New York City.

Barlow says puppies need constant supervision and a safe environment to explore. She cautions against confining them so much that they don’t get outside experiences. It is hard to go back and socialize puppies if owners miss the window of opportunity to do so.

Puppies are drawn to things they can chew on and are stimulated by things that move, said Dr. Carlo Siracusa, director of the Penn Vet Behavior Service at the University of Pennsylvania.

“Many times, we think that we should protect our home from a new puppy,” Siracusa said, because the puppy could potentially cause damage. But more important is the opposite: making sure that puppies are safe in their new home.

Most essential is to create a safe haven — a place where the puppy can rest and sleep when there is too much excitement or stimulation, such as when kids have friends visiting, Siracusa says.

For the Sullivan family of South Orange, N.J., a crate has proven to be more useful for keeping their puppy, Angus, safe than his exercise pen has. Angus, a bichon frise-poodle mix now 5 months old, learned how to get out of the pen the first day, Elie Sullivan said. She keeps the door of his crate, located in her sons’ room, open.

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