Getting a puppy is a fun and exciting time. But if this is your first puppy ever, or it’s been a while, you may have some questions. These are the questions I get asked the most as a trainer:
When can I start training? RIGHT AWAY! Whether you think you’re actively training or not, your puppy is observing and learning the second she meets you. She is learning how to get your attention, how you react to her behaviors, your routine and what your body language means. She is perfectly able and developed enough to learn basic manners, behaviors and house training skills. If you’re not actively training, your puppy may even be picking up some habits that will need correcting later.
Should I crate train? ABSOLUTELY! Not only is the crate an excellent house training tool but the crate can be a happy and safe place for your pup. Dogs are naturally clean animals, meaning they don’t like to eliminate where they sleep. If the crate is properly fitted, your pup won’t want to potty in this space. This allows you a place to contain your pup for short periods of time without fearing an accident. Also, your puppy will inevitably end up in a crate at some point of her life. Trips to the vet and groomer usually entail some crate time. Visiting these professionals may be stressful enough for your dogs; they don’t need the added stress of being afraid of the crate. Lastly, the crate can provide a place for your pup to escape to when feeling sick, tired or overwhelmed. It’s always a good idea to create a dog-only zone for your pooch to escape to and the crate is a perfect place for that.
Should I socialize my puppy and how? YES! ABSOLUTELY! The first 12 weeks of your puppy’s life is the most critical socialization period. If you get your puppy at 8 weeks of age, that only leaves you with 4 weeks to work with! Now don’t freak out, socialization can spill over into later weeks, but the bulk should be done by 12 weeks of age. You might be thinking, “But that’s before my puppy finishes her vaccinations!” and you’re absolutely right. This is something not every veterinarian agrees with, but the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior does. According to the AVSAB, “incomplete or improper socialization during this important time can increase the risk of behavioral problems later in life including fear, avoidance, and/or aggression. Behavioral problems are the greatest threat to the owner-dog bond.” While infectious diseases such as parvovirus and distemper are life threatening, it’s actually behavioral issues (ones that could have been avoided with proper socialization) that are the leading causes of death in dogs 3 years and younger. Get into a group puppy class, get around appropriate family or friends’ dogs. Don’t forget to socialize to objects like vacuum cleaners, rolling trashcans, and skateboards. And of course, socialize to all kinds of people – tall, short, people wearing sunglasses, hoodies, and hats. Introduce your puppy to the mail man, police officers, and firefighters. Trust me, you’ve got a cute puppy, people will be happy to help you socialize!
Should I take my puppy to the dog park? NO! If you haven’t already, please review a previous blog entry, Dog Park Do’s and Don’ts. Every interaction your puppy experiences will shape how she perceives similar situations in the future. The dog park is simply not a controlled enough environment to safely socialize. Owners may not be monitoring their dogs properly, there may be dogs in attendance who shouldn’t be, and your puppy is still developing social manners.
What’s the most important thing a puppy should learn? Well, there’s a few. One is bite inhibition. Puppies nip and bite, sometimes too hard. We have to teach them how to have control over their jaws and the pressure of their bites thus eliminating chances of them causing harm to someone later. Dogs bite for various reasons, such as when they’re startled, when a warning wasn’t heeded, or when in a fight. If your dog ever feels she needs to defend herself by biting, teaching her to have a soft bite will prevent injury to that person or dog. The best way to do this is by getting her socialization with other puppies or appropriate adults. When she bites too hard, the dogs will give a correction. Another way to do this is how you interact with her during play. If she’s calm and doesn’t get too riled up, continue playing. If she starts to get too rambunctious and starts to nip too hard, stop all play and walk away. Her bite becomes counterproductive to what she wants. You want to send the message “you bite too hard, we stop playing.”
Another beneficial thing to teach your puppy is handling skills. Grooming and vet appointments involve lots of hands-on evaluation and manipulation so it’s important your puppy is used to having every body part touched. Simply place your puppy in your lap, touch a body part and give a treat when she’s calm. If she gets squirmy and starts to protest, simply hold on and wait for her to calm down and try again. Touch everywhere! Start at the front and work your way back — eyes, ears, mouth, toes, tummy, butt, tail, everything!
The last thing every puppy should know is a simple sit. This is the most effective behavior to deter unwanted behaviors. After you teach your puppy to sit, turn the behavior into a manner. Sit = Please! Have your puppy sit for meals, the leash, during play sessions, for attention, for anything she needs or wants! The more you reward this behavior, the more your puppy will perform the behavior and less likely to perform unwanted behaviors like jumping up.
If you have any other questions or want to know more about what we’ve already covered, let’s set up a private lesson! Even if you haven’t gotten your puppy yet, it’s never too early to start off on the right paw! You can also check out some cool videos on my Facebook page.