It’s puppy season! Bringing home your new puppy is very exciting. There is so much work to be done! Be prepared for some sleepless nights, lots of patience, and some hard work. Two of the most common misconceptions that new owners have are: (A) The new puppy understands language and (B) The new puppy already knows how they are expected to behave in a home. A puppy, just like a human baby, must be taught everything. Unfortunately, too many people imagine that their new puppy will be just like Lassie and the whole experience will be nothing but rainbows and butterflies. With such unrealistic expectations, people often become overwhelmed when puppy starts exhibiting her natural puppy behaviors. The good news is that there is no better way to establish a bond than through training. With a little work, patience, and perseverance, you can teach your puppy to be your best friend and companion for many years to come. Here are a few tips to help you get started:
- Don’t wait! From the moment you bring your puppy home, you must start teaching the house rules and stay consistent with them. Young puppies have short attention spans, but they can begin to learn simple obedience commands from as young as 7 to 8 weeks old! Utilize methods that rely on positive reinforcement and gentle teaching. Clicker training is an excellent way to start. Keep the sessions brief, frequent, and fun.
- It takes a Village. Introduce your puppy to as many new situations, people, sights, and sounds as possible. Babies and toddlers, people in uniforms, people of all races and sizes, wheelchairs and crutches, bicycles, car rides, elevators, stairs, vacuum cleaners, etc… These are just a few examples that may lead to fear and anxiety unless there is sufficient early, positive exposure. Have a socialization party! Invite 10 people over to help and put a bowl of treats by the door. Tell your guests to ignore any unwanted behavior (jumping up) and praise proper behavior.
- Never coddle or soothe a fearful puppy as doing so will only reinforce her fear. Instead, stay calm and positive while going about your normal routine, thus showing her there is no reason to be afraid.
- Don’t allow your puppy do anything you don’t want your grown-up dog to do. For example, it’s cute when a little puppy jumps up on you, but when she is full grown; it’s obnoxious and quite possibly dangerous. There should be no grey area as far as the rules and boundaries are concerned. Once a rule is established, you must stick with it.
- Always supervise your puppy! She should not have free reign in the house. Unsupervised puppies will chew and destroy as part of their natural curiosity and play. They are also likely to find a nice hidden potty spot. Rather than finding yourself with the need to reprimand your puppy, use a crate, X-pen, or long leash to help you keep an eye on her and avoid unwanted behaviors. Always provide suitable play objects designed to entertain your pup so that she will not want to destroy your possessions.
- Get clean and puppy-proof your house. Anything left on the floor is an invitation for puppy to chew. If you find something she has chewed, but you did not catch her in the act, roll up a newspaper and give yourself a whack for leaving her unsupervised and/or leaving something on the floor. Do not take your puppy over to the mess and yell or physically discipline her. Remember, you have to punish the behavior you want to change at the exact moment it occurs. If you do not catch her in the actual act of chewing, all you are doing is punishing her for being present at a mess on the floor. Since this makes no sense to your puppy, your reprimands could create fear and anxiety, which could lead to aggression or owner avoidance.
- If you catch your puppy misbehaving, try a loud noise such as clapping your hands or a loud “uh-huh!” Most the time the noise will startle her and she will temporarily stop the behavior. At that moment, praise her with a “good dog!” and quickly redirect the puppy to a more appropriate task. You can also use noise devices like a shaker can or pot and pan lids. Most of the time young pups are very impressionable and easily intimidated. Harsh physical reprimands only serve to frighten them and make them hand shy. We want your pup to look toward a human hand as something pleasant that brings comfort, food, and affection.
- Do yourself and you new puppy a favor and find a trainer, a class, and/or a puppy socialization/play time.
- Download these two priceless books all about puppy training: Before You Get Your Puppy and After You Get Your Puppy.
Certified Canine Trainer & Behavior Specialist
Professional Dog Training in Houston, TX