New Puppy Tips
by Robin MacFarlane
You just brought a new puppy home. Now what?
If you just brought a new puppy home or if you have one on the way, now is the time to start doing some training.
For some that advice may come as a surprise, especially if you were raised in a time where the adage was "you don't start training a dog until 6 months to a year of a age." I remember that being the advice dispensed by the vet when I took my first pup in for vaccinations. My family had Beagles and various other dogs, but Bandit, a true Heinz 57, was the first puppy that was considered mine. I must have been 8 or maybe 9 years old.
Apparently I never took the advice to heart. I distinctly remember teaching Bandit to climb a ladder when he was maybe 3 or 4 months old. It was inevitable that the dog learn stuff because we were pretty much inseparable.
I took him everywhere: the woods, around the horses, digging for treasures in my dad's old storage shed, and up on the roof, which is why I wanted him to learn to climb the ladder. I knew he'd end up around 50 pounds some day and I wouldn't be able to carry him at that point. I don't remember why l liked being on the roof, other than you could see a long way and I thought it was really cool at the time.
It wasn't until the early 90's that I heard about the concept of "puppy training." I'm not suggesting it didn't exist but it wasn't commonly discussed, at least not in the circles I was in.
Now days, I think most of us understand the importance of starting early, but just in case we need a refresher, remember that our dogs are learning all the time. They are either learning what we want them to know or what we don't want them to know.
We may as well start out teaching the things we want rather than leave the learning to chance. There is too much risk that the habits developed by chance will be habits we don't want to live with long term.
With this early intervention concept in mind, here are some things I suggest you start on as soon as your pup comes into your home.
1. Expose the pup to as many new people as you can.
One rule of thumb I've heard is 100 people in the first 100 days. But I believe you can do even better than that. It happened to be early May when I brought home my Duck Tolling Retriever pup. Since I love gardening and flowers in particular, I took her with me on her second day in our home while I pushed a cart through the local garden supply store. With her sitting in the basket she probably met at least 50 people in that one day alone. Early and frequent exposure to lots of people, including children, helps a pup with critical social learning.
2. Start shaping basic obedience like Sit, Down, Stand, Come and walking nicely on leash.
Using food to lure a pup is easy and quick. Don't get caught in a pattern of doing the positions in the same order each time, mix them up. Using short sessions to practice, most puppies catch on very quickly. You can add more duration and distractions as you go to build reliability, but remember to fade the lure early in the training so you don't build a dependence on it.
3. Allow your pup to spend supervised time around other well-socialized dogs.
I would suggest you form your own group with familiar canines rather than heading to the park to interact with strange dogs. We can talk about dog park protocol another time, but all too often people are not attentive enough to their dogs at these free for all type parks. The potential for your young pup to be bullied and develop later defensive behavior is too high. With your own group formed you can easily referee and intervene if needed. Other dogs with good social skills will help your puppy develop better bite inhibition as well as communicate if the pup crosses the line on too boisterous or offensive behavior.
4. Help your puppy develop confidence by taking on some physical challenges.
Just as we help our children develop confidence by teaching them to ride a bike, swim, or participate in sports, we can help our dog's development by creating obstacles for them to overcome. Teaching the pup to crawl under something, walk across a low balance beam, step and climb over obstacles, or even walk into the dark space of a closet or long card board box all help develop the dog's ability to cope with stress by building their confidence in conquering unknown situations.
5. Teach your pup to tolerate being alone.
Too many dogs show separation issues as young adults because they were never taught how to be alone as puppies. Acclimating your dog to a crate and having him spend time alone is important preparation for adulthood when you won't be doting every minute on him.
It is never too early to start educating your puppy. The combination of short practice sessions, good management to prevent bad habits, and exercises to improve confidence and ability to cope with stressors will help you create a pet you can live peacefully with for years to come.
Robin MacFarlane is a professional dog trainer and owner of Thatís My Dog in Dubuque, Iowa. Her best-selling dog training DVDs, JUST RIGHT and JUST RIGHT 2 have helped thousands of dog owners teach their dogs basic obedience and fix problem behaviors through a system of training that you can easily work into your daily routine.