A little education will help you avoid these common mistakes when bringing your new pup home for the first time.
by Good Dog - Staff
Even if you’ve read all the puppy ownership books and watched all the obedience training videos YouTube has to offer, you’re bound to make mistakes in your first few weeks of owning a new puppy.
Here are some of the most common mistakes to look out for and how you can prepare:
Puppies have an abundance of energy when you first bring them home — that’s why it’s essential to begin obedience training as soon as possible. During the puppy’s early developmental stages, it’s important to start socializing and teaching basic obedience cues. The first few months of a puppy’s life are crucial moments for learning and developing, so attending puppy socialization and obedience classes as early as 8 weeks can help you work towards a well-rounded, balanced life for your dog.
Crate training is an effective tool for house training your puppy. Dogs dislike soiling their dens, so it’s often a great solution for the early stages of house training while also being a safe and secure place for your dog to rest. In addition to house training, crate training can help act as a boundary while your puppy is still learning the rules of the house. The crate is supposed to be a dark and comfortable den for your dog — so be sure to make it a place that’s calming instead of anxiety-inducing. For this reason, never treat the crate as a punishment — instead of becoming a calm space, your dog will begin to fear going into the crate. Dogs should never spend too much time in the crate. Puppies can’t control their bladders or bowels, and older dogs learning how to be house trained won’t understand that they might have to hold it in.
Positive reinforcement, or reward-based training, teaches your puppy how to behave by celebrating the moments he is correct instead of focusing on his mistakes. Every dog is motivated differently, so the key is to find out what your dog is willing to work for — it could be treats, kibble, a toy, affection, or playing. Be sure to “mark” your puppy’s correct behavior with a clicker or a short word such as “yes” or “good,” then follow it up with the reward. Soon, your puppy will associate your “marker” with their reward — leading to positive behavior. Training a puppy takes a lot of time, effort, and patience on both sides, but using positive reinforcement will lead to a strong foundation of trust between you and your puppy.
Up until around three months of age, puppies go through a stage in which they are “primed for bonding to other animals and individuals, for learning that objects, people, and environments are safe” says Dr. Sophia Yin. This is the most crucial period for socialization in a dog’s life, and if a puppy is not properly socialized during this time it can lead to dogs being fearful or defensive as they get older. Puppy socialization classes can help expose your puppy to new experiences and make them more confident. The key is to be consistent, keep it positive, and expose your dog to as many new people, children, animals, surfaces, and places as possible during this time.
A happy, confident dog will easily and calmly adapt to new people and new situations — so as a new puppy owner, it’s essential to take the necessary steps to help get your dog to that place.
It’s best to keep your puppy in the routine of eating out of her bowl at consistent times every day. For that reason, you should never feed your puppy from the table or positively reinforce any kind of begging while you eat. Food is naturally a positive reinforcer for dogs, so if they get any snacks from their begging — they’ll keep doing it. The best thing you can do to ensure your puppy has polite manners around food is to establish boundaries and avoid positively reinforcing begging behavior.
While you’re at it, make sure you know what “people food” is safe for dogs. On the good list? Carrots, peanut butter, eggs, salmon, blueberries, watermelon (minus the rind), blackberries, and sweet potatoes. Alternatively, keep your dog away from grapes, raisins, dairy products, xylitol, yeast dough, nuts, chocolate, coffee, caffeine, onions, garlic, or chives. It’s important to give your dog any kind of food in a responsible manner and environment; they may still be getting “people food,” but they can earn it in other ways that aren’t associated with your dinner time at the table.
Puppies can have growth spurts on an almost weekly basis while they’re still young. Beyond that, puppies are playing and using tons of energy constantly throughout the day. They’re processing new information at a fast rate any time they have a new experience. For this reason, make sure your puppy has a place to sleep throughout the day completely undisturbed. This can be a crate or a quiet room — the key is to never wake up your puppy while he is sleeping.
Dogs thrive on structure and consistency so try your best to follow a schedule and you may start noticing that your puppy will get into the habit of napping after playing or going outside for a walk. Just like eating and house training, napping and bedtime can become part of your puppy’s daily routine.
Puppies can sleep as much as 18-20 hours a day, so make sure your puppy has a dim and quiet place dedicated to napping. Over time, he will start to associate his crate or bed with sleeping. A puppy with a consistent routine grows into a happy and well-rounded dog, and it will help you both build a foundation rooted in trust and consistency.
Leaving too many cords, shoes and other interesting things to chew around your house is a recipe for disaster. If you end up having a more curious pup than you bargained for, you may even need to invest in childproof locks for your drawers and cabinets. The time before you bring your puppy home should be an opportunity to look at your home on your puppy’s level (yes, getting on your hands and knees) and seeing what kind of trouble they’d be able to get into -- then, find ways to prevent said trouble.
A few quick things you can do right away is cover your trash, conceal any cords or chargers, hide any medication or cleaning products, and clean up any small or sharp objects hanging around the house.
If you have a yard, it’s best to make sure it’s fenced in with no easy escape routes for a curious puppy. In addition to that, be on the lookout for ticks and don’t let your puppy outside if you’ve recently treated your lawn with insecticides or pesticides. Lastly, never leave your puppy outside unsupervised for too long. Even if you’ve completely puppy-proofed your home and yard, it’s easy for them to find a way to get into trouble.
Coming home to a puppy who is thrilled to see you can be exciting. You might even feel better about leaving your dog if you shower them with treats and affection right before you head out the door. Unfortunately, the more you do that, the more they will learn that leaving and coming home is an emotional moment, and they’ll treat it as such. This will make the door to your home a place for drama, anxiety, and potential barking. Establishing this as a calm space can help avoid issues with separation anxiety down the line — if you don’t make arriving and departing a big deal, your dog will treat it as no big deal, too.