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Playgrounds are great, but with them comes risk. Some common things that owners need to both be aware of and accept are that pups may pick up a minor infectious disease such as an eye infection or kennel cough (even when vaccinated against it). They are also more at risk for minor injury, as are children who play at school or on teams. The owner needs to take the occasional “skinned knee,” tooth mark, sprain, or broken toenail in stride. Such small matters are to be expected even in the best facilities and are well worth the risk, as long as the facility is well run and professional.

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The greatest risk for your pup will come from areas that are frequented by large numbers of dogs. Therefore parks, dog runs, grassy strips, and any area where there are strays are the most dangerous spots for pups who are not yet fully vaccinated. Alternatively, areas that are not frequented by many dogs are comparatively safe, though nothing is risk free. For many communities, these comparatively safe locations include business districts and downtown areas.

Wherever you are, steer your pup away from dog feces, as that is a primary way viruses are passed from dog to dog.

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Your puppy can be socialized as she learns. Most cities have wonderful training programs available. Look for a small group run in a way that makes sense to you. Observe some classes. Look for happy people and puppies. The focus should be on fun, as the focus of any kindergarten is on fun. Sure, the pups are learning, but there is no reason to tell them yet (or ever) that learning is anything but a type of play.

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Ask your local vets, shelters, and trainers if there are any puppy playgroups in the area. This is a free service we offered in New York City that the owners loved. Once people got to know us, they frequently signed up for classes. It served both the community’s needs and ours. It also allowed for early identification and intervention on budding behavioral or health problems. A veterinarian, groomer, day care facility, or trainer could all benefit from offering these professionally supervised hours of socialization and fun.

If you have a small breed, please look for a playgroup for small breeds or form your own with a couple of other small-breed owners. The exception to this is some terriers who, regardless of physical size, may do best with larger pups.

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Quarantine can seem like some of the longest weeks of your life. When you’ve been working all day and are exhausted and your pup’s been napping all day and is raring to go, conflict is bound to result. How to avoid that? Try any of these activities:

Food Cube

A toy that holds dry food inside. As the pup nudges and noses it around, a pellet will fall out randomly. Some dogs find that mighty entertaining and will play with it for long periods. Worth a try.

Find It!

Have someone hold the pup (or put her on lead and loop the lead over a doorknob). Show her a biscuit or toy. Get her excited about it. Then put it down a couple of yards away, but right where she can see it. Get her and tell her, “find It!” Go with her to the treat/toy.

Do this a couple of times. Now, put her reward just out of her sight. Repeat as before.

As she comes to understand the game, begin to hide the treat/toy in harder places—first just out of sight, later in places she’ll have to really work hard to get to. If she ever seems stumped, happily help her out. Soon she’ll hunt high and low when she hears those magic words “Find It!”

Word of advice: Don’t teach your pup to dig into the couch or open the cupboards looking for her reward. These “skills” will not be nearly so charming when your pup decides to do them on her own when you’re not looking.

Which Hand?

Put a biscuit in one hand and make a fist, leaving the fingers a bit open. Put both hands out in front of you and ask your dog: “Which hand?” Let him sniff both hands, and when he sniffs, licks, or paws the hand with the biscuit in it—open your hand and let him get it.

Dogs catch on to this game fast. Soon you can keep a small treat in a tight fist and your dog will show you quickly that he’s not fooled.

Quiet Time

What crayons and a Sesame Street video do for children, these next toys do for puppies. Priceless bearers of an almost guaranteed fifteen minutes of peace and quiet.

Supervised Rawhide

Rawhides are surprisingly controversial in some circles. Some say they have too many toxic chemicals in them. The answer to that charge is to buy bones made in the United States, unbleached bones, or organic rawhides.

Some people say they are dangerous and that dogs can choke on them. (And in fact, dogs do choke to death on them every year.) The answer to that is supervision and proper-size bones. If your pup can swallow the bone/chip, it is too small. Once the bone or chip is softened by chewing so that it can be swallowed, throw it out. Not sure if it is safe or not? Throw it out. Supervise your dog when he chews, especially if he is a vigorous chewer.

Avoid chews made of tiny bits of rawhides pressed together (often in unnatural colors and shapes), as these are too easily consumed and can cause diarrhea. Also, who knows what dyes and chemicals go into them! Compressed rawhides, several brownish gray layers formed under pressure into bones, rolls, and so on, can make long-lasting chew items.

Stuffed Kong

Take one Kong toy, insert a few biscuits or smear the inside with cream cheese or a bit of peanut butter, and let your dog have at it. Most dogs will work hard to get out every bit of yum.

Stuffed Bone

Same game as with the Kong, works just as well. Either toy can be put in the dishwasher if need be.

Frozen Rope Bone

Take one rope toy. Soak it in water, wring it out, then freeze it. Cool chew for a teething pup.

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