Getting a new puppy is exciting! But, it can also be incredibly overwhelming. For weeks you dream of the perfect puppy, and then from the moment you bring them home you suddenly realize just how much work actually goes into raising a puppy.
As a trainer here is what I see us do all too often:
We’re so excited to start this new journey, all the while being overwhelmed at the same time. Life is busy. We still have work, chores, and a life outside of our new family member, We feel so rushed to teach them everything, that we dive right in and start…. But, unfortunately it usually ends in us being exhausted, our puppy frustrated, and we only taught about half of the things we wanted to. Then we lose motivation, and the next thing we know two years have gone by and we haven’t trained anything that we meant too…. Sound familiar?
Puppyhood should be fun. It should be rewarding. Sure, there’s bound to be some frustration and hiccups along the way. But overall you should enjoy the time you have with your puppy. After all, they won’t be a puppy forever and one day you’ll miss those days of innocence and discovery.
Here’s the catch though.
No pressure or anything…. But your puppy is going through some critical learning periods in those first few months with you. There’s no better way to set your dog up for lifelong success than by setting a good foundation in these crucial months.
But, your work schedule is hectic right now,
The kids need help with their homework.
You need to go get groceries,
The laundry needs to be done.
You can’t sacrifice making a healthy meal, again.
You’ve been running around like crazy all day and you just want to sit down.
You’re utterly exhausted.
So, how do we keep the magic of puppyhood alive and fun while still making the most of our time? It’s all about balance. We need to make sure we don’t tackle too many obstacles, and make sure the ones we do decide to conquer are worth it.
Here’s what you should start with your puppy right away… and what you should hold off on.
If you follow my blog posts I’m sure you’ve heard me say it a million times, but trust me. Crate training is more important than almost anything else. It’s so important that we’re going to count potty training into the same category.
Why? Because potty training a puppy is exponentially more difficult without crate training. Puppies have a natural instinct to not relieve themselves where they sleep and where they eat. Having them sleep and eat in a crate helps you predict and control when they’ll need to and when they’ll have the opportunity to go outside. You’ll have much less cleaning to do and your puppy will be house trained in no time.
Crate training, when done correctly, also helps prevent separation anxiety or can help fix it if it’s already forming. It also helps your puppy learn housemanners by preventing bad habits, such as chewing furniture or shoes, from starting when you aren’t able to supervise.
Okay, you may be asking “what’s a marker word”? Marker words are fancy trainer jargon for the words you’ll use to tell your puppy they did something right.
We usually start right away with teaching things like “sit” or “lay down”. But, if we want to communicate as effectively as possible with our dogs we need a way to tell them that they did something right in a way they clearly understand.
The two most common words we often use as markers are “good” and “yes”.
These are the first verbal things I teach my dogs. When I use these words here is what they mean.
“Good” means “you’re on the right track, keep it up”.
“Yes” means “That’s exactly what I wanted and now you can come get your reward.”
This is the perfect place to start when it comes to teaching obedience cues. Think of it like your stepping stone to everything else.
As soon as I bring a new puppy home, we start practicing essential skills they’ll need to be groomed or examined in the future.
We start getting them used to having their paws touched, their ears cleaned, being brushed, and being held.
Odds are, your puppy won’t need to have any of these things done right away. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start anyway. And you shouldn’t wait to start practicing these skills regularly. Make it fun. Use lots of treats and praise.
When their nails don’t need to be cleaned, this means you can get them used to the clippers at a pace they’re comfortable with.
When their ears don’t need to be cleaned, this means you can make the experience light hearted and fun.
When they don’t need to be brushed, you can go slow and reward them often, stopping before they’re overwhelmed which makes them less likely to be resistant next time.
And getting them used to being held for examination when they’re small makes it so much easier when they get bigger.
These three things, crate training, marker words and grooming skills, are three of the first things you should start teaching your new puppy. But, they don’t have to be the only things. Training can start as soon as you bring your puppy home, and if you have the time and patience definitely move on to teaching obedience, impulse control, and house manners.
But, with that being said, is there anything you hold off on teaching?
I’m sorry, excuse me? Did I just say what you think I just said?
Yes, hold off on teaching a perfect loose-leash walk!
It’s not that I don’t want your puppy to walk nicely. As a matter of fact, I think it’s vital that your dog walk politely on a leash. But, I think it’s more important that we allow our puppies to participate in proper socialization and exposure while they're in the developmental stages mentioned earlier.
Most of us tend to think the most important thing we can do for our puppies is to “socialize” them by having them meet and interact with as many people as possible. It’s not. Actually, I’d advise against this.
What we actually want to do is to practice exposure training. We want to give our puppies the opportunity to experience as many new smells, sounds, textures under their paws, and experiences as possible in a neutral or positive manner.
The more of these our puppies experience in their developmental periods of puppyhood, the more confident they will be as adults. And what better way to do this than on our daily walks.
I usually don’t start teaching walking on a leash until our puppies are 6 months old. Before 6 months, I encourage them to sniff new smells, walk on new textures, and observe the world around them. Our daily walks may seem boring to us, but to them there’s a whole new world to explore. Pay attention to what’s around you on your walks. Go out of your way to find new flowers to smell, walk around the playground and let them walk on a surface that’s otherwise foreign to them, find a large rock and practice having them climb all over it. All of these new experiences are huge confidence builders for them.
Will they learn some bad leash manners in the process? Maybe. But, it’s much, much easier to teach leash manners later than it is to build confidence in a dog who wasn’t able practice these confidence building exercises as a puppy.