By now, you are either really excited about your new puppy and having a great time, or you are wondering: "What have I done to my life?" In my business I've heard mostly these two extremes when people call for puppy classes or behavior work.
Having a new puppy is a lot of work!! For me, it's fun, rewarding and educational. There is always more to learn about puppies, no matter how long you have been involved with them. But if you don't know what you're doing, having a puppy can be very overwhelming. What makes things even more difficult and confusing, is that you seem to get advice from everyone who has ever had a puppy before. The value of that advice can range from completely inhumane to absolutely excellent!
Although all puppies have their unique characteristics, they all learn the same way. I want to help you to enjoy your puppy to your fullest potential. I want to help you prevent problems, too. I want to teach you do this in a gentle, respectful way. Our training method is positive reinforcement, but positive does not mean permissive. You'll understand this more as you read on and start applying these ideas to your puppy.
Prevention of problems is so much easier than fixing problem behaviors. In my classes, I stress prevention where ever possible. I call this being pro-active rather than reactive. Being pro-active about anything in life is always better than being re-active. For example, it makes so much more sense to prevent a fire in your home than it does to put one out and then replace what you have lost.
Before I brought up my own puppies, I had a series of shelter dogs. These dogs all came with some unwanted behaviors. Some problems were easy to fix, like housebreaking, and some dogs had problems that were more difficult to fix, like aggression.
When I acquired my puppies, I knew which behaviors I never wanted to see in them. So my goal was building what I wanted and PREVENTION of what characteristics I didn't want. I am going to tell you exactly what I did with my puppies to develop into the most fabulous pets.
First, before you even bring your puppy home, be prepared. There are some things you should have on hand:
You should also have a family meeting so everyone is on the same page about what will be allowed and what your goals are for your new family pet . Remember, your new puppy will become a dog and will hopefully be around for the next 10 to 15 years!
Pick a name that depicts a pleasurable pet. I see so many puppies live up to their name. In other words, one of my dogs is just a total pleasure to be with at all times. I named him Treasure before I even took him home. He has lived up to his name! Look out if you name your puppy Rowdy or Hectic!
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Let's talk about crating.
A crate is your absolute best management tool. I cannot imagine bringing up a well-behaved puppy without a crate.
Besides being crated at night which is a must!, here is my schedule. It may seem like too much for some people, but I'm here to tell you that this schedule will help you have the best behaved puppy because you will be acting pro-actively. When I can educate my clients in puppy classes about this schedule, they are very happy about the results.
Unfortunately many people feel that their puppy should be loose with them in the house whenever they are home. This may be because they feel guilty that their puppy has to sleep in the crate at night and is in the crate while they are at work.
I also meet many people who believe that once the dog is house broken, you no longer need a crate. This could be a mistake because there are so many behaviors that their puppy has not outgrown yet. Keep the crate around for awhile. A good goal would be at least until the puppy is 9 or 10 months old.
Please don't feel guilty. Here are all of the times your young puppy should be crated:
While you are preparing and eating your food
Sometimes when you are playing with your children
When you are doing housework or something that you cannot give your full attention to your puppy
Basically anytime you cannot give your full attention
Many people tend to use their crates only when they need to and by then the puppy has already made mistakes. Housebreaking accidents or chewing on the furniture are the first two that come to my mind. If you prevent housebreaking accidents ALL THE TIME, your puppy will understand it so much faster. If you prevent chewing on the furniture or other inappropriate behavior ALL THE TIME, your puppy will never learn to chew. The reason why is that puppies outgrow these two behaviors. If your puppy never gets a chance to chew on anything he shouldn't, by the time he is 9 or 10 months old, he won't even think about doing it.
Another great thing about a crate trained dog is just they are comfortable in a crate whenever they have to be in one. For example: where do you think your puppy will be when he is at the vet for spay/neutering or for some kind of emergency? Imagine how much better he or she will heal when they are comfortable in the crate. If you should go away, think how much easier it will be on your puppy or dog if he can go to someone's house to stay because he is so well crate trained. Or if you have to use a boarding kennel when you travel, think how much more content your puppy will be.
Another reason to use the crate is if you have an older dog that is trying hard to adjust to the new puppy, but is noticeably agitated by it. I try to explain to my clients that the first dog deserves time to himself and time alone with you, especially at first. Too many people shower their new puppy with attention. What they don't realize is that the older dog is being put on a lower pack status than the puppy. Be sure to give your first dog lots of additional love and attention and spend some quality time with just him.
Many people expect the same good behavior from the puppy that the older dog has. Your older dog is already housebroken, should already know the rules of the house and has outgrown the chewing stage. He deserves more freedom. The young puppy is not yet educated to all the house rules and he is just too immature to expect that good behavior from him. Set the new puppy up for success instead of failure. Keep him from getting into trouble. This really works!
Exercise and Management
Our motto is "A tired dog is a good dog." The times that you will have the most struggles with your new puppy is when he or she has not gotten enough physical exercise or mental stimulation. Although it's not a good idea to take your new puppy jogging, taking a long off leash walk in the woods would do him wonders. Just bring along plenty of good treats and make sure your puppy knows you have them. If you are uncomfortable with your puppy off leash, try a flexi-leash or attach a 10 foot clothesline rope or heavy string on his collar. This way, if he gets further from you then you are comfortable, you can easily re-gain control.
If you know someone else that has a small puppy or a gentle older dog that likes to play, set up lots of play dates.
Remember that activity does not have to be all about exercise. Think socialization and training and take your puppy to a busy shopping center or for a downtown walk. Bring lots of tasty treats and introduce your new puppy to as many people as you can. Don't let him jump all over people!!Teach him early on that the best way to get attention is when all four feet are on the ground.
This leads me to socialization of your new puppy! This is so important. Often times when doing behavioral consultation with a shy or timid young puppy, it is not unlikely that I learn that the puppy was at the breeder's house or at a pet store beyond 3 months of age. The first 3 months of a dog's life is a critical time for socializing to other dogs, people, horses, cats and anything else in the world. The most difficult social behaviors to fix are those that relate to people or dogs. If someone brings a dog under the age of 6 months to me that is unsocialized, it is possible to fix that puppy but only by desensitization to whatever he is afraid of or unsocialized to. We have the ability to utilize our dog day care in this instance. Most people don't have access to a dog day care in their area but if you do, check it out. It could be the best money you spend on your puppy.
Here is where prevention comes in - proactive rather than reactive. Get your puppy out around lots and lots of people and other dogs. Bring along lots of wonderful treats and reward friendly happy behavior.
Don't forget to socialize to other things as well, such as your veterinarian's office and riding in the car.
What is the best way to play with your puppy? Play should always be considered training and training should be considered play. Interactive games are best-games that make you look like a trusted, respected friend. Retrieve games, hide and go seek and tug of war are all great games. Here's a little information about each of these games:
All puppiess can learn how to retrieve. What seems to be the most important thing is if they are interested in chasing and getting the object. The problem often becomes bringing the object back to you and dropping it for you to throw again.
Start in a small space (not outdoors) and have two equal value toys (two tennis balls, two squeaky toys, etc). Toss one of the objects a short distance. When the puppy chases and picks up the object, show him the other one and as soon as he drops the first object, throw the second object. Keep this up only a few times and quit before he gets bored. Also, VERY IMPORTANT, take those retrieve toys and put them up out of reach. These will be considered your toys that you let the puppy play with on your terms. In fact, every now and then take the toys down and play with them for a few minutes in front of the puppy. Then put the toys away. This will build his desire to have those toys and play with you.
Hide and Go Seek:
This is a fun game that not only builds on your relationship but also helps to work on getting your puppy to come when called.
Later, when your puppy knows "stay" you can play this alone with your puppy. I actually still play this game with my full grown dogs and they love it. I put them in a "Stay" and go and hide somewhere and then yell, "Find me!". I can hear them running all around the house looking for me, racing to be the first to find me.
With a puppy that does not know stay, you will need some help. Have someone hold the puppy while you tell the dog to "stay". Then go and hide, but make it an easy spot at first, like just around the corner. When you are ready call the puppy or say "Find me". Let the puppy find you and throw a party when they get there! Don't forget to hand out treats for their efforts. After a while, make your hiding places more difficult. Also, you can play this outside.
Tug of War: The controversial game!
Yes, I play this game with my pups. This can be a great game and it will not teach your dog to be aggressive. I may not play this game with a new shelter dog that I don't know well, but there is no reason not to play it with a young dog. The rules just have to be yours. YOU decide when to play. YOU decide when it's over. Just like the retrieve game, the tug toy gets put away when you are done. If you are really uncomfortable with this game-simply don't play it.
To play: Take the tug toy and hold it right in front of the puppy's face and say, "READY?" Then "OKAY!" or "TAKE IT". Tug for a couple of minutes and then use a neutral voice and say, "DROP" or "LEAVE IT" and push the toy towards your pup while you pull your puppy towards you with their collar. Keep pushing the toy towards him until he tries to spit it out. Then hold the toy again and say "READY?" When YOU are ready say, "TAKE IT". After a while you will not need to pull your dog towards you and push the toy toward them. They will begin to release the toy on their own as soon as they figure out that this is a game that you are both playing. Remember, quit before your puppy is ready to quit and put the tug toy away.
Feeding schedule of your new pup:
This is what I find works best:
When your puppy is younger than 5 months of age, it's best if you can feed him 3 times a day. If you cannot due to your work schedule, two meals will be fine.
Decide approximately what time he will be fed and stick to the schedule as much as possible. This will help with your housebreaking. My dogs (who are all adults so they are housebroken) eat anywhere from 5:00 to 8:00 a.m., and then again between 3:30 and 5:30 p.m.
When you are feeding your puppy, give him 5 to 10 minutes to eat. Whatever he doesn't finish, pick it up to feed it later. You don't want to leave food sitting around for him to nibble on. This is partly true to help you with your housebreaking, but also so your dog will recognize that he needs you to be able to eat.
Just one more thing about owning a puppy I would like to add:
Enjoy! I know it can be trying at times, but dogs have such short lives. Sometimes even shorter than we think. Do your best to train and be pro-active, but have fun! They are puppies for such a short time.
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