Did you know today is National Puppy Day? The day honors the idea of adopting a puppy in need from a shelter and we at Dogster are squarely behind the idea of adopting needy dogs . . . but what happens when you get your new family member home? It’s worth your sanity and your pup’s life long happiness to invest time in “foundation” puppy training: putting a great foundation of wanted behaviors on your little guy now.
1) Potty training
Pack your patience because your new pup didn’t arrive knowing that we humans don’t like pee inside the house. Some dogs can take up to a year to master this important lesson while others may have a medical reason for soiling inside, such as a urinary tract infection. When I’m fostering a puppy, I clear my schedule to be with the pup every waking moment for three days (at least). I accompany the leashed dog outside after waking up (naps included), after meals and after play. I have tasty meat treats (mixed in with something healthy and yummy like Zukes) that I exuberantly dole out and praise after eliminating outside. In case I can’t be with the puppy every minute during this time, I limit her area after properly crate training her or putting her in an exercise pen. Never leave a puppy in a crate unattended for more than a few hours and only then if the puppy has been trained to love being in the crate. How long can your new cutie stay in her crate? Add one hour for every month, plus one hour; so a four-month old puppy can in theory hold her bladder for four hours.
Puppies are not robots, so they naturally will have accidents. When I catch the dog eliminating in the house, I say “UH OH!” and calmly and swiftly take the dog out on leash outside and wait for success that I then reward. My puppies make – on average – two mistakes. Isn’t it worth it to do this time intensive training up front? Don’t punish your dog for peeing or pooping inside (other than a noise to interrupt them) and it makes no sense to drag them over to their waste and rub their nose in it. Clean up the mess with an enzymatic cleaner (not ammonia).
Like human babies, puppies teethe. Their gums hurt so they chew as a way to get some relief. There are other reasons for a puppy to chew, including boredom, and as a way to explore their new world. The important thing is to show the young dog what he can chew on. I love Kongs, for example. I stuff them full of peanut butter or cream cheese and freeze them overnight. I make sure the teething puppy always has something appropriate to chew on. I don’t give rawhides unless I am there to observe as some can be a choking hazard. It’s equally as important to puppy proof your home: don’t let him have access to electrical cords or ANYTHING you don’t want teeth marks in. If you can’t be with your dog, then put him in a safe area with only the appropriate items you’ve chosen for him to chew on. Rotate these so they will not become boring.
If you catch your puppy gnawing on your favorite leather shoe, you have to look at how he got a hold it and the puppy paw points back at you. Offer an exchange: present something yummy you want him to chew on in exchange for that nice shoe. Never give your dog cooked bones because they can splinter inside of the dog. Ramp up exercise and mental stimulation as well because a tired dog is always a blessing. There are incredible dog-safe items you can purchase, such as this one: the Dog Miracle Puzzle.
It’s an often-misunderstood aspect of dog ownership. It means your new best friend must learn the way of his new world with you as his wise and patient coach. Perhaps this is most important obligation to your dog – introducing him to new sights, sounds, and experiences in such a positive way that his confidence grows. Many things can frighten a vulnerable puppy, including baby strollers, joggers, people wearing hats or big jackets, and other dogs. Puppies start learning from the moment they arrive and the breeder or shelter plays a crucial role in making the first few weeks of life an enriching experience. Once you get your puppy home, do not delay even a day. Get the first round of shots done and then attend puppy classes with professionals who are qualified positive reinforcement trainers. Find a great trainer through The Pet Professional Guild. Introduce your little guy only to well-adjusted dogs who match his play style. Proper dog-to-dog introduction now is among the most critical skills your dog needs to learn. The first three months of the puppy’s life experience set the tone for his entire life. This is why proper socialization is so very critical!
I don’t have human children of my own, so I take all of my friendly foster puppies near a school where young kids are playing. I leash the dog with a harness (my favorite is the Freedom Harness but there are many quality harnesses on the market) and we begin at least 100 yards away at first. I feed meat treats to the dog just for hearing and observing the children from that distance. We slowly move closer over time (it takes as long as it take as dogs are individuals) and the dog learns to associate running, playing and loud kiddoes with great food treats. I work independently with dog-savvy children in my home or theirs to allow the puppy to have terrific hands-on experiences with kids. If a puppy reacts to something new with hackles raised, wide eyes or barks or growls, I calmly back up. Once we are a safe distance away, I resume the treats just for the dog being in the same general location as the object. It really is as simple as this!
Sometimes a new dog owner does everything right but the dog still exhibits unwanted behavior, such as separation anxiety. If you worry that your dog suffers from separation anxiety –the dog panics when you leave or becomes extremely destructive – this calls for an onsite, qualified dog training professional. Look for extreme behavior: screaming, excessive barking, drooling, chewing even walls, and obsessive behaviors such as circling or self-gnawing. If you see these kinds of things, call in a trainer who specializes in behavior modification and positive reinforcement training. Punishing such anxiety-laden behavior will only increase the dog’s problems (and then your own).
Remember that you only have one shot at quality puppy training. They grow so quickly and dog trainers are so busy trying to play catch up with dogs who missed this early and critical training, so don’t delay – start today!
About Annie Phenix: Positive-reinforcement dog trainer and author Annie Phenix never met a mountain she did not love. This explains why she lives in Colorado. She is a member of the Pet Professional Guild and the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She and her husband share their lives enjoying mountains with their five well-trained dogs, including a rescue Border Collie who is a Certified Therapy Dog.
To read more from this author, check out:
- Dogster Interviews: We Chat with Dog Trainer Pat Miller
- This Psychologist’s Border Collie Can Put Away Her Toys by Name — All 1,022 of Them
- 8 Ways That I’m an Admittedly “Soft” Dog Trainer
- A Trainer’s Wish List: The 5 Things I Want Most for Dogs in 2014