Editorial February 2016 Issue

A Good Dog in the Making

Building a good dog is a huge task.

There was a week in December when I had 16 foster dogs staying with me. It's not quite as crazy as it sounds; 15 of them were puppies – they took up only two crates’ worth of space at night! Nine of those puppies were from one litter of pit bull-mixes that were brought into my local shelter. Six were from another litter, perhaps Chihuahua/terrier-mixes, and are being fostered by a friend, but she was traveling (with her own three dogs!) over Christmas and couldn’t drag the tiny puppies along, too. Both sets of puppies were estimated to be about 4 to 5 weeks old when they were brought to the shelter by people who claimed to “find them.” The last foster who was with me – and is still with me – is a year-old hound.

Whole Dog Journal editor Nancy Kerns and Otto

When your dogs are adults and you’ve had them for years, it’s easy to forget how much you’ve put into making them the dogs you enjoy living with. Having all of these puppies and an active adolescent has been a stark reminder of what a huge investment it takes, in terms of time and money, to make a good dog. Let me recount some of the ways . . .

Potty Training

If you had nothing else to do, I suppose you could start training even tiny puppies to go potty in a certain easy-to-clean place. But I had a lot to do in December, and way too many puppies to train. So I bought a lot of puppy pads, and did daily loads of laundry – old sheets, towels, tablecloths, etc. – for the first few weeks in order to keep the puppies clean and dry. By the end of our month together, with them a little older, they were using a potty area outdoors fairly reliably, and the laundry was down to a load every two or three days. The more they went outside, the less clean up was needed, but all those trips outdoors took a lot of time!

Finding the Right Diet

It took weeks (and probiotics) to get their little tummies happy so that they produced nice stool, as opposed to stinky, gloppy piles.

Parasite Control

Both litters required deworming twice in the first month. The little pups also needed treatment for fleas.


I invited everyone I know to come over and play with the puppies. It was hard work, but it has to be done. 


Yes, training. Even tiny puppies need to learn that it’s rewarding to come when called, to sit politely if they want to be petted, and not to cry and fuss when they are locked in crates or behind a baby gate. And the year-old foster dog is learning how to wait at doors (rather than darting through), to walk on a leash, and to greet people calmly.

Specialized Puppy Equipment.

I bought a pet-specific heating pad for the puppies to sleep on; they were just so young and it was so cold! They found a small hole in one bed and completely destuffed it overnight; that had to be replaced with a stuffing-free bed. I also bought a bunch of toys and chews.

A person forgets about all of this when her dogs are middle-aged and perfect – and that’s a good enough reason to go kiss them right now. And to foster again soon.

Whole Dog Journal editor Nancy Kerns

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