We’re getting a puppy! How amazingly, brilliantly, wonderfully exciting…. then puppy arrives! No, really – having a puppy is an incredibly enriching period of our lives and we are indeed privileged to share our lives with these wondrous, funny, all absorbing beings.
Truth is though that we owe it to these dogs, to serve them the very best we can and to do our utmost to ensure the transition from puppyhood to adulthood is as smooth as possible, for our sakes as well!
A Time You Can’t Get Back – Enjoy!
I meet so many owners of lovely young puppies and all are keen to get going. This is not to be discouraged and it’s great to have goals and objectives, things you want to get out and do throughout your dog’s life – fantastic. What I always say to owners though, especially first timers is enjoy this time. It’s so easy to coast through the first few months and then think, ‘hold on, where did that time go?’ It’s a time that can’t come back, so enjoy every little second, all those funny things your puppy does, things he does that makes you smile. Also, don’t cram his mind with hundreds of things all at once, this can be stressful, take your time. This brings me onto…
Actually Get To Know Puppy and Bond
I always remember a first time owner a couple of years ago, conversation went something like this – ‘can I enroll puppy at puppy class? – [of course, how old is she?] ‘7 weeks’. OK HOLD IT RIGHT THERE! Great that we have a keen first time owner, but we need to reassess here. Actually turned out that puppy was just being picked up that week from the breeder. This time period can be one of great stress and uncertainty (probably in the owner too!) and so is a bonding and ‘getting to know each other’ period. You will be focusing on socialization, habituation, feeding routines, house training, sleeping patterns and general day to day routine. All of this in the formative weeks takes priority. At my Centre, we take puppies for socialization bonding and Starters Classes after all inoculations are complete.
Learn Don’t Cram
Prior to puppy school, I like to ‘bump start’ puppies with a few basics such as habituating to the harness, collar and lead in the home, so that once inoculations are complete, they are accepting of these items and ready to go and enjoy their adventures. I will also start with some easy stuff such as ‘sit’,which give the owner a means of positively reinforcing the puppy for simply sitting still in a variety of different scenarios and ‘come’, which is obviously super important once puppy is released off-lead into the big wide world. Cue word ‘come’ can be used whenever puppy comes running back, which is likely many times per day and so is operantly strengthened.
A Bit Of Self Control
Puppies naturally lack self-control, so I like to start, after having taught ‘sit’, with some simple self control basics. I like to work on the notion of ‘puppy gold stars’. A big gold star for example can be earned by the four paws on the floor exercise. Most puppies are very apt at propelling themselves at whoever will give them attention and this is not something to be actively encouraged. If we can teach puppies that sitting calmly with four paws on the floor will be rewarded however, puppy is likely to choose this response more often that jumping, because the former is what achieves her that reward (or gold star). I like to start with this exercise as soon as possible and I also use it with puppies who have become very mouthy, although I might utilize other self control exercises here as well as substitute responses for what we’d term inappropriate behaviour.
Getting Out and About
I cannot stress this enough. It is so, so crucial that puppies experience life prior to 14 weeks – socialization and habituation. Socialization refers to interaction with us and conspecific species the dog will live with. Habituation refers to absorbing environmental sounds and experiences. So, I won’t go into great detail here because there are lots of available ‘tick list’ socialization and habituation sheets but essentially think about meeting people of different ages, appearances, wearing different sorts of clothing etc. Take your dog past schools, railway stations, experience different traffic noises, household appliances, visits to the vet, trips in the car, up and down stairs. If your dog will live with other pets, now is also the time for them to be carefully introduced and for your dog to begin meeting other dogs. Your dog should now prepare for adult life, everything she will meet with in her life, you need to be preparing for now.
Sleep Is Gold
Don’t feel the need to constantly occupy your puppy! Like children, puppies often become much more excitable and mouthy simply because they are over tired. Allow your puppy time to sleep and somewhere where he won’t be disturbed. That wild, crazy period at bedtime ‘puppy zoomies’ (or to give it it’s full name ‘frenetic random activity periods’) is normal, so don’t respond, just let it happen. If you have young children, make sure they understand that puppy needs peace and quiet. Puppy is a living creature who must be respected and isn’t a toy. Respect should be taught early.
Get The Right Advice
There is a LOT of advice out there and that’s great. Use it to your advantage but please remember, your dog is an individual and whilst getting advice is great, it isn’t tailored to your pet and can sometimes conflict. Common areas for seeking advice are; mouthing that”s stepping up a gear, house training that’s just dragging on and on, puppy play that just seems to be a little more than boisterous puppy play. If you need help, always ask for help from a registered, certified behaviour consultant who can give you that individual assistance.