By Sara B. Hansen
When you bring a puppy home, you start with a blank slate. That means you have the awesome responsibility to form your cute ball of fluff into a well-mannered dog. Use DogsBestLife.com’s Puppy 101 guide, to help get your puppy started on the right paw.
The first thing you need to know or remember is puppies — and dogs — are a lot of work.
“Don’t just go based on how cute they are,” she says. “You need to be honest with yourself and decide truthfully whether you are more active or sedentary and get a dog that will work with your lifestyle. You don’t want to end up with a dog who has behavioral issues because they aren’t getting the exercise they need.”
Tiana Nelson, president of PawsCo, says it’s important for people to fully understand that getting a pet is a major commitment. PawsCo is a Denver-based nonprofit dedicated to reducing pet overpopulation.
“Bringing an animal into your life is a big step, and it requires transition time for both the human and the animal,” Nelson says.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed when you start out with a puppy or a new dog. Don’t get stressed out — this should be a fun time for you and the dog.
That’s why we’ve created Puppy 101 — a guide designed to help you create a plan that will work best for you and your dog.
Puppy 101: Bond
Thorpe recommends new dog owners take plenty of time to bond with their dogs before they start anything else.
“I get calls asking about training before people even bring the puppy home,” she says. “Slow down. Take a week or so to let the puppy get acclimated to you and your home before you start taking them out. Give yourselves at least a week to bond.”
Nelson agrees. “It’s important to remember that you’ll both be getting used to each other – and your new routine – for several weeks to several months.”
As part of the bonding process, I recommend spending lots of time petting and holding your puppy.
Browning loved to be held like a baby. He’d rest his head and front paws on my shoulder and stretch his (then) little body along my chest and prop his back paws against my waist.
Sydney has always liked curling up in my lap while resting her head on my arm. She seems to like the added security of having my arms around her — even at age 8, she likes to be held and cuddled.
Dogs — especially ones that are coming from a breeder or even ones that have been adopted from a shelter where they’ve been kenneled with litter mates or other puppies, are used to lots of body contact. They love to snuggle and it is any easy way to let them know you are someone they can trust.
Puppy 101: Socialize
After you bond with your puppy, start working to socialize her.
Thorpe urges dog owners to focus on socialization first and then worry about obedience training.
“Many people are over-achievers who really want to get off on the right foot and they want to rush into obedience training,” she says. “I suggest they start with socialization because it’s much more important. Up to 16 weeks is when the puppy is creating or developing their personality. That’s when it’s important to expose them to new people, experiences and other dogs.”
Nelson recommends new pet owners think about socialization using a stair-step approach.
“It will pay off to be intentional,” she says. “Introduce your new pet to new situations in slightly predictable environments, and provide them with lots of positive reinforcement, praise and treats. Your animal is reading your confidence, so choose situations you are comfortable in, and that set your animal up for success are helpful.”
Courtesy: That Dog Geek
For the first 16 weeks, puppies are creating or developing their personalities, Thorpe says.
That’s why it is critical to expose them to lots of people, different kinds of experiences, other dogs and car rides. Take them with you when you run errands, invite friends who have vaccinated, well-behaved dogs over to your home.
“Get them out to see the world,” Thorpe says. “Reward them for their good behavior with praise, petting and treats. You don’t want to force new things on them, but you need to get them out.”
Socializing puppies helps build a foundation that will allow them to be successful for the rest of their lives, Nelson says.
One great option is to look for a puppy kindergarten or puppy socialization class, Nelson says. The classes offer a chance for the puppy to meet new dogs and new people — all with the oversight of a trainer.
“It’s a great first step,” she says.
At Paw School, the puppy socialization classes are a mix of play with interruptions to work on skills such as walking on leash and learning to focus on their owners, Thorpe says.
Puppy 101: Potty training
One of the first things most new dog owners want is to quickly and effectively potty train their dogs.
And the key to that is to set a strict schedule of feeding and getting the puppy outside for a potty break. Thorpe recommends getting the puppy outside every two hours in the beginning and then working to extend the time between potty breaks.
“Unless they have some sort of infection, most dogs will be house trained by the time they are 5 to 6 months old,” she says.
Courtesy: That Dog Geek
Because your dog wants to please you, Nelson suggests associating potty breaks outside with positive things — such as praise and treats — from the first day.
“Create boundaries and a routine for them,” she says. “Don’t give them access to the entire house initially. Maybe make them a cozy place in the kitchen or work with them on crate training. Be sure to let them outside or take them on a walk before you leave and then immediately when you return. Making sure that a new pet learns that going to the bathroom when they are outside gets them lots of positive rewards is key.”
Thorpe says most dog trainers consider crate training a positive because it gives the dog a safe, secure place to be. The key is not keep the dog in the crate for too long and to never use it for punishment.
I’m a big believer in the power of crate training. I’ve used it with my three dogs and it works. How long the dog needs the crate will depend on you, your schedule and your dog.
Browning, my beagle-labrador mix, slept in his crate until he was about 10 months old. Then, like a baby who outgrows a crib, he didn’t want to sleep there any more and was quite vocal about it. I got Finley, a beagle-cocker spaniel mix when he was 4 months old and he never really got attached to his crate.
But Sydney, my Australian shepherd-corgi mix, is now 8 and still loves her crate. She sleeps in it every night and it’s her safe space. I often find her curled up there taking a nap.
Puppy 101: Obedience
Thorpe encourages owners to wait until their puppies are 12-15 weeks old before starting formal obedience training. She also suggests they attend four or more puppy socialization classes and start working with their puppies at home before attending obedience classes.
The lessons at home can as simple as helping your puppy learn to control her bite. Puppy teeth can be razor sharp and as they start teething puppies want — and need — to use their mouths more because they hurt.
It’s important for your puppy to understand they can never bite or gnaw on you, Thorpe says. When puppies play with their litter mates, if they bite too hard, they get a yelp in return.
Dog owners need to do something similar if a puppy bites, Thorpe says. “Pull your hand away and say, ‘Oww.’ If the dog bites again, say ‘oww’ and then walk away.”
Removing yourself — for 30 seconds to a minute — sends the message to your puppy that if I bit too hard, mom goes away, she said. “You want your dog to understand how much is too much.”
Training can begin as soon as you bring your new pet home, Nelson says, and there are opportunities for training everywhere.
“Another word for training is teaching, so recognize that your new pet is looking for your guidance and praise — you can begin working with them right away.”
Another valuable early training step is getting your puppy used to walking on a leash.
In the beginning, you won’t be able to go too far because puppies don’t much stamina. When I first got Sydney, a walk around the block would exhaust her.
Thorpe says that’s pretty typical and you should consider your early leash walks more for exposure than exercise. “They just won’t walk very far. They’ll stop and become little cement posts. It’s just a puppy thing. Most of them time they love to play and bounce around, but when you put a leash on them they will just want to stop.”
It’s also important to not let your cute little puppy pull you around.
“Puppies want to explore and although it’s cute when your puppy pulls on the leash, someday your 10-pound puppy will be 75 pounds and they will want to repeat that behavior,” Thorpe warns.
“When they start pulling, you should stop and wait for them to realize you’re not moving. What you’re telling them in non-verbal way is if they get to the end of leash and pull, we don’t go forward. When they relax and let the leash loosen up, then you go forward. You’ll end up with better leash behaved dogs in the long run.”
For bigger dogs — or especially obstinate leash pullers — consider using a training tool like the Trip Less Trainer, a shorter leash that the human holds using a thumb tab. The shortened leash prevents either the dog or the owner from tripping or getting tangled and allows the owner to quickly correct behavior issues.
New dog owners always need to remember that puppies have short attention spans and do best when you keep training sessions short and mix obedience training with playtime.
And there’s no ideal time when you have to start dog training. Dogs love to learn and it’s never too late to start training.
Puppy 101: Vet care
Part of being a good dog owner involves making sure your dog gets proper health care. If you don’t know a veterinarian, ask friends or family members for recommendations.
Don’t be shy about asking your vet questions or doing your own research.
I also recommend getting pet health insurance to help cover some of your major expenses. Dog owners can buy policies for both general health coverage (which helps with costs like vet visits, vaccines and spaying or neutering) and catastrophic care in case of emergencies.
Puppy 101: Handle with care
Be sure to touch your dog a lot when she’s little. Stroke her ears and hold her tail and paws. Brush her coat and teeth.
“Helping your new pet become comfortable with handling will help when it comes to a lifetime of brushing their teeth, having their nails clipped, and going to the vet,” Nelson says.
She suggests touching your puppy’s ears, mouth, tail, and paws daily.
“Always do so with a gentle demeanor since pets can read our emotions well,” Nelson says.
She also suggests giving your dog treats and always speak in a calm tone so your dog has a positive association with handling.
When I got Sydney, I wanted to make sure I did a good job brushing her teeth each day. She has never enjoyed having her teeth brushed, but she loves having her coat brushed.
So, I decided to make it all a process. I get her hair brush out when I get her toothbrush and paste out. After making sure she sees the hair brush, I brush her teeth. When I’m finished, I brush her coat. Giving her a treat after brushing her teeth defeats the purpose, but brushing her coat gives her a reward she enjoys and provides some basic grooming.
Puppy 101: Establish a routine
Providing structure and lots of positive reinforcement for a new pet is important – they need to learn how your world works and what expectations you have for them, Nelson says.
It’s also helpful to learn some canine body language so you can determine how the new pet communicates with you, and how you can best communicate with your new pet, Nelson says.
Thorpe warns dog owners that training is a lifelong process and that some dogs can be more difficult to train than others.
“Say you have a chocolate lab, you might wonder why he’s still acting so crazy after months of training. It’s not that he’s not learning, he’s just still very young. You’ve got to stick with it.”
Puppy 101 guide
Bottom line: Use our Puppy 101 guide to create a plan that works for you. For successful puppy training, it’s all about building a routine. Dogs love routine. They like to know what you expect from them and they love to please you. Help your puppy learn how to do that and you’ll have a long, happy, productive relationship.
Sara B. Hansen has spent the past 20-plus years as a professional editor and writer. She decided to create her own dream job by launching Dog’s Best Life. Sara grew up with family dogs and since she bought her first house, she’s had a furry companion or two to help make it a home. She currently shares her heart and home with Sydney, an Australian Shepherd-Corgi mix. You can reach Sara @ [email protected].