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Puppy Basics – tips for a good start

Posted by Jennifer on November 10th, 2009

why puppy-proofing is importantGetting ready to adopt a new puppy? These guidelines are not a complete guide to raising a puppy (there are entire books devoted to that topic!) but will give you some of the basics, to help you prepare for the arrival and first few months of your new puppy. This basic training, socialization, and guidelines can be used starting at the age of 8 weeks, the earliest age at which most people would be bringing a puppy into their home. If your puppy is slightly older, as long as they are under 6 months old, these steps can still be followed. For puppies older than 6 months, many of these tips still apply, but start with our 10 Tips For Welcoming Home Your Newly-Adopted Dog blog article, and stay tuned to this blog for future older puppy & dog training articles here too.

Prepare for puppy’s arrival

Being prepared can mean the difference between getting a good start, or getting started off on the wrong paw. A puppy needs a safe, warm environment. Being raised indoors with as much human contact as possible is critical at this stage.

* Puppy-proof a play area. Puppies will chew everything, from electrical wires to socks and shoes. You need a secure, puppy-proof, enclosed area and a crate for those times you cannot directly supervise your puppy (see our article about crate training for tips). Puppies typically are not housebroken, and should be kept in an area when it is ok to have accidents.

* Establish a daily routine from day one. A puppy feels secure having dinner, playtime, lessons and walks at the same time each day. Also, being left alone all day on Monday after having spent his entire first weekend with you can cause lots of anxiety! If you do bring him home on a weekend, leave him alone for progressively longer periods of time. Schedule your puppy’s feedings so that all meals are fed by 5-6 pm (if you go to bed at 11), and so your puppy drinks very little water after that. Be regular about your (and your puppy’s) bedtime and time getting up in the morning to help your puppy learn to hold it through the night.

* Establish your house rules. If you do not want your adult dog on the furniture or jumping up, do not allow the puppy on the furniture or to jump up. Ask all visitors (and family members!) to follow your house rules. No matter how cute it is when he’s tiny, most people do not want their full grown dog jumping on everyone.

* How you deal with crying, whining and barking. This depends your puppy’s age, temperament and experiences. There are preventative steps you can take for training your puppy not to cry in his crate during the night (which we will detail in our future crate-training blog article) but we’ll mention a key point: The worst thing to do is to let the puppy cry and bark for a long time, and then go get it out or give it attention. When you do that, you teach the puppy to PERSISTENTLY make noise in the crate, because you have shown the puppy that persistence pays! You don’t want to respond quickly to a puppy making noise in the crate, provided you are sure the puppy’s needs have been met.

Teaching basic commands

At the minimum, your dog should learn to come when called, walk on a leash and sit/stay.

* Never repeat a command. Repetition is dulling, and having the puppy ignore you when you say “come here come here come here” is training him NOT to come when called.

* Try saying “come here” in a fun, high tone of voice every time the puppy starts running towards you,and give the puppy lots of rewards/tummy rubs/verbal and food treats whenever he comes running to you.

* Say “Good sit!” every time the puppy sits for the first week. Then begin asking for a sit, and use a treat to lead the puppy by the nose toward you, then put your hand over the puppies head to so he looks up, and backs into a sit (this can take some practice – on your part!). You can also use your other hand or a wall to gently stop the puppy from backing up as you lead the nose up and back. Do not push down on their behind to ‘make’ them sit. You want to teach them to sit on their own!

* If the puppy does something undesirable, you can use a calm, firm “no”, but avoid a harsh tone and never yell and NEVER use physical punishment. Punishment and yelling serve only to make your puppy afraid of you. Cowering does not mean your puppy ‘knows’ he did something wrong, he is just reacting to your voice right at that moment and showing submission. It will not help him learn what is the right thing to do. If your puppy is cowering when you are verbally correcting him, use a softer tone of voice, and focus on rewarding the positive and avoiding/redirecting negative behaviors.

* Be consistent. Always use the same command to elicit the same result. Don’t use the same word to mean two different things. When you say “down” do you mean lie down or get off the counter? When you clap, does that mean “come here” or “stop chewing on that sofa leg”?

* Socialization during a puppy’s early months is critical. Time spent with the family means the puppy will become comfortable with the sights, smells and sounds that people make, and grow up accustomed to them, rather than afraid of them. Puppies can usually be left alone in a puppy-safe area (crate, kitchen, puppy run) for 1-2 hours for every month of age (i.e., a 2 month old puppy can be alone for 2-3 hours). Leaving young puppies alone for too long means they are not being properly socialized. Try to plan your absences during naptime, or play with your puppy to tire him out before leaving. Using safe toys to entertain while you are gone, such as rubber toys stuffed with goodies, can make time alone easier. Crates can make being alone less frightening as well, by giving them a small secure “den”.

What’s next?

With the basic guidelines above, you are off to a good start getting ready for your new puppy! You’ll want to read up on housebreaking, teaching bite inhibition, possibly crate training, and when your puppy is fully vaccinated (usually at 4  months old), walking on leash and exploring the world outside your home. Enroll your puppy in a puppy socialization class, and then follow up with  a good dog obedience class. Dog training and socialization are an ongoing process usually throughout a dog’s adolescence, and are a wonderful way for you and your dog to enjoy time together, and with other dogs.

 
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