I admit, I’m not a huge fan of “puppy obedience” classes – I think they sort of miss the point on puppyhood. While I do like to work on teaching puppies basic manners, I also feel that you have your dog’s entire life to work on that OTCH and you only have a few weeks during their infancy before critical windows of socialization begin closing. Here are five things that your puppy should learn before she reaches the age of 16 weeks:
- People skin is very delicate! Bite inhibition is the learned skill of controlling bite pressure. Allowing your puppy to stay with her litter until she is at least 8 weeks old (preferably older, IF the breeder is doing a great job socializing the puppies) and providing her with safe and appropriate play opportunities with other puppies and well-socialized adult dogs will help – other dogs can be consummate bite inhibition instructors, ending play quickly and immediately if she bites too hard. Singleton puppies (puppies born without any littermates) and puppies taken away from their litters too early often lack this critical feedback on their bite and need early and extensive intervention from an experienced puppy trainer. While other dogs will help with bite inhibition training, the puppy also needs to learn that human skin is very delicate – one of the most important exercises you will learn in puppy class is how to teach your puppy to use her mouth politely.
- Crates are great! Crate training is not just for puppies – it is a skill that will benefit you and your dog throughout her life. Regardless of whether you choose to crate your puppy or not, chances are that at some point in her life, she will need to be crated – this may be in a medical emergency, when she goes to get spayed, etc. Illness is already highly stressful for dogs and stress effects the body’s ability to heal itself. If your dog has to spend the night for her spay surgery, being left alone at the vet’s and being sore will be stressful enough for her without the added stress of being confined to a crate for the first time. Crating will also help with potty training for most dogs (with the exception of many puppy mill dogs).
- My owner is my advocate: your puppy needs to learn that you are her strongest advocate. This means that a) you will teach her to be confident about new things in her environment including various people, other animals, sounds, surfaces to walk on, etc., and b) you will not put her in situations where she feels terrified or frightened. Puppy training should be all about confidence-building; any training or experiences which make your puppy feel fearful will prove counterproductive.
- Everyone doesn’t want to steal your stuff. Dogs are fantastic, funny, and wonderful animals. However, one thing they are not naturally is generous – they don’t usually like to share. Puppyhood is a time for preventing behavior problems in adult dogs, and one behavior problem you’ll want to prevent is resource guarding items from humans. In our puppy classes, we do a lot of food bowl exercises to teach puppies that being approached and touched while they’re eating makes VGT (Very Good Things) happen for puppies. We also talk pretty extensively about what to do if your puppy, like many others, happens to like stealing shoes, socks, kids toys, cell phones, etc., and run around the house trying to find a place to settle down and chew her hard-won contraband. (HINT: Chasing your dog around the house yelling is not the correct response!)
- The world is full of wonder. Puppies must be allowed opportunities to explore. Because your puppy will not be fully vaccinated until those critical windows of socialization have already closed, you’ll want to be careful and avoid taking her to public parks which are frequented by lots of strange, potentially unvaccinated dogs. But there are lots of other places you can take your puppy and expose her to the world – local home improvement stores, friends’ houses, puppy class, “fun visits” (no “bad stuff” happens, just lots of fun and treats) to the veterinarian’s office, groomer’s shop, a trip to the pet store (your puppy should ride in the cart rather than walking around on the floors), etc. Let your dog explore at her own pace – reward her for signs of bravery, curiosity, initiative.