This weekend I took my puppy Journey hiking off-leash in Connecticut. I was amazed at how many people had their puppies there. It was so great seeing 8-week old and 12-week old puppies on the trail. This is a great experience for these puppies. It was so nice to see these owners were not nervous about allowing their puppies to explore the world.
This got me thinking about the things puppy owners should start doing as soon as they get their puppy. In this blog, I have created a list of my top 10 things that you should do with your puppy right away. There are a lot of additional links attached to this blog because I have so many other blog posts with helpful information. Take the time to look through all of the links and read the rest of my blog here!
Below are the 10 things that I feel are the most important based on the needs and expectations of my clients. I hope you will find this information helpful.
1. Socialize Your Puppy
Socialization is the process of introducing a puppy to the world. The most critical socialization window is before 12 weeks of age but can last as long as 16 weeks in some puppies. This is the most impressionable time in a dog’s life, where s/he can learn to love, hate and/or be afraid of anything. Memories, associations, social bonds, and relationships are forged during this time in a dog’s life, which can affect the way she interacts with the world. Early experiences have the power to influence a dog’s life. Puppies should be encouraged to explore and investigate their environment and the things in their environment. During this time puppies should be exposed to as many new people, animals, environments, objects, textures, sights, and sounds as possible.
That being said, do not just place your puppy into these situations. Make sure your puppy is comfortable and enjoys each socialization exposure. These need to be positive experiences.
Do not bring your puppy to places that might be scary like loud family gatherings, parties, etc. Start out in more controlled environments like the homes of friends and family or a quiet public setting at a distance. Make this fun by using food, toys and play. Over time, you can increase the intensity with more stimulating environments like public places. Hiring a qualified positive reinforcement trainer is a great way to get help with this process.
Last but not least, attend puppy playgroups (not the dog park!) Find playgroups that are run by positive reinforcement trainers. These help your puppy learn how to properly socialize with other puppies. I also encourage people to socialize their puppy with polite, well-mannered mature adult dogs as well. Doing so can help teach a puppy how to behave more politely.
2. Prevent Separation Anxiety
Avoid separation anxiety and isolation distress by introducing alone time gradually. Using a crate and/or exercise pen during this process is important. However, you must train your dog to enjoy the crate and pen.
Plan to take at least a few days off from work after your puppy arrives, so you can help him/her get accustomed to longer and longer periods alone. Play with him/her first to get him/her tired. Next, take her out to eliminate, and then put her in her crate or pen with a food-stuffed toy like a West Paw Toppl, a bully stick or some other enjoyable chew.
Afterward, sit nearby, reading or working on your computer. Slowly increase your distance from the puppy. Then start leaving the room for short periods of time. As long as the puppy is calm, start leaving the house for short periods of time, slowly building on the duration of time s/he is alone. If you need to, you can also turn on the TV or calming music at a low volume so that there is some noise in the background.
For homes that have multiple dogs, it is important to give your puppy alone time without the other dog(s) in the home. You want your puppy to learn to be independent so that she does not need to rely on the other dog(s) in the home.
Teach your dog where it is appropriate to eliminate. Housetraining requires a lot of consistency and management on the owner’s part. Young puppies should be taken out every 30 minutes to 1 hour during daytime hours, and may also need one overnight elimination break. If your puppy eliminates, give her some freedom in a puppy-proof area to run around for 15-20 minutes.
Over time, as your puppy starts to become house trained, you can increase the puppy’s free time. If your puppy doesn’t eliminate, bring her back inside and place her back in her crate for 10-15 minutes and then try again. Make sure to also teach your puppy an elimination cue like “get busy, go potty,” etc. and then reward right after the puppy eliminates.
4. Allow Chewing
Puppies need to chew because they are teething. Allow your puppy to chew on her own safe, designated chews. Each dog enjoys different chew toys. Some love bully sticks, some like pigs ears, others like food stuffed toys like a West Paw Toppl. Provide your puppy with many different textured chew toys. Chewing is a natural behavior for dogs, so provide appropriate chews. Always supervise your puppy with chew toys.
5. Teach Puppy to Maintain Position
Teaching a puppy to sit or lay down is great! But can your puppy maintain that position until you release him/her? This is extremely important as it can build better self-imposed impulse control. In turn, this can help your puppy learn other behaviors down the road. I love teaching a puppy to maintain a sit and down position as we can build on these skills. Take your time with this and don’t force or stress the puppy out. When teaching this it must be a fun and enjoyable experience for the puppy.
6. Possession Prevention
Possession behaviors, also known as “resource guarding,” is a natural survival behavior that can escalate and become quite dangerous if not addressed appropriately. Prevent this behavior by NOT reaching toward your puppy’s bowl of food while s/he is eating, or chewing a bone in his/her possession.
Despite what you might hear or read, reaching towards your puppy while eating or chewing on a bone can in fact cause more harm than good. Doing so can teach a puppy to take an item and run away with it in order to protect their valued item. In addition, it can cause your puppy to growl, lunge or even bite as a way to keep that item. Do not tease or provoke your puppy as this makes things worse.
My blog on the topic of possession prevention in puppies goes into more detail and is worth reading. It even has an instructional video attached to it.
7. Teach a Recall Cue
Teach a recall that is fun for the puppy so that the puppy continues to respond throughout its life. Make returning to you the best game ever; using rewards such as food, play, praise and games. All of these can help reinforce this behavior.
Pro-Tip: Never use a recall as a negative thing or punishment!
8. Human Touch = Love
Teach your puppy that touch is a good thing. Do not over touch or restrain your puppy unless necessary. Teaching your puppy to enjoy handling and touching is important! Your puppy will need to learn about handling and restraint for situations like vet visits and going to the groomer. Acclimating your puppy to touch and restraint needs to be fun and enjoyable.
Pro-Tip: It is also important that if you have young children that they learn how to properly pet and handle the puppy so that they don’t frighten or annoy the puppy.
9. Enjoying the Car Ride
Introduce your puppy to a car with the engine off. Let your puppy play in the car with toys, and use treats to create a positive association. Next, turn the car on and do the same. Over time slowly move the car a foot, 5 feet and so on. Do not make the first car ride a traumatic experience like going to the vet or groomer. Instead, go to the park, go for a hike, visit grandma, etc.
10. Creating a Relationship
Positive training methods help build confidence and a relationship between owner and dog. Training, playing, and spending time with your dog helps build a strong relationship. Doing fun activities that you and your puppy mutually enjoy is beneficial. Doing this will help create a more attached and responsive puppy.
Activities can include:
- Taking a group class
- Going for a walk or a long hike
- And much more!
Pro-Tip: Furthermore, be your dog’s advocate and don’t let friends, family, neighbors and other trainers try to change what you are trying to accomplish. You are your dog’s advocate, be your dog’s voice.
About Anthony De Marinis, CDBC, ADT, CBATI, VSPDT
Anthony De Marinis provides private in-home training and behavior modification solutions using humane positive reinforcement methods. He also provides video consultations remotely as he has many clients across the United States. Anthony has 6 professional certifications which include: Certified Dog Behavior Consultant from the International Association for Animal Behavior Consultants, Certified Graduate of distinction from the Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training & Behavior, Certified Behavior Adjustment Trainer, Certified Victoria Stilwell Licensed Positively Dog Trainer, The Third Way Certified Trainer and is a Fear Free Certified Animal Trainer. Currently, Anthony has a young Australian Kelpie named Journey.