Giving your puppy a proper education
As well as socialising your puppy, you’ll want to spend lots of time teaching them how to behave appropriately, both inside and outside your house.
Dogs that are well behaved are a pleasure to be around and they’ll often be able to join you on days out. They’ll get to enjoy the freedom of going off lead if they have a reliable recall and if they walk nicely on the lead, then you’ll also love taking them on long walks!
Although you can teach puppies and dogs a great deal (the list is endless!), the most important are the basics, some of which may even save your dog’s life one day.
Keep sessions short. Pup-pies, just like young children have short attention spans and tire easily.
Make learning fun and exciting. Dogs who enjoy learning new things are much keener students than those who find learning stressful or scary. Don’t be disappointed if your puppy gets it wrong or tell them off – just think of ways to help them get it right next time!
Dogs learn by association and tend to repeat the things they find rewarding. Reward good behaviours using praise, titbits or toys (whatever your puppy enjoys the most) and you should see that your dog will repeat them more fre-quently. You can ignore some behaviours you don’t want your puppy to repeat, but this might not be sufficient enough to prevent the behaviour from happening – so teach an alternative behaviour instead.
The majority of dogs love to play. It’s lots of fun for them and it’s also a fantastic outlet for their natural behaviours – dogs who don’t have the opportunity to play safely might find their own ways of meeting this important need which can be problematic and sometimes dangerous.
Playing with your puppy regularly will also teach you about your dog’s personality, their preferences for games and also strengthen the bond between you.
Some puppies get overs-timulated and boisterous during play sessions – inters-perse play with calm training (using food and praise), so they get used to ‘switching off’ regularly
Teach your dog to let go of items when asked to. This is a really important skill and helps to keep play safe!
All puppies can be excitable, lively and boisterous. However some are more so than others – these puppies may play-bite more often or harder, or they might cons-tantly be looking for something to do, often getting themselves into all sorts of trouble! Your puppy won’t always be this much hard work, but they will need lots of your patience and guidance to help them (and you!) get through this some-times challenging time.
Try to manage your puppy’s environment so that they are far more likely to develop habits you want than habits you don’t want. An example of this is when you’re not able to actively supervise – pop them behind a stairgate with a chew or stuffed Kong or in a crate (if they happy using one). A puppy who has free run of your house unsupervised is much more likely to get into mischief and develop behaviours you don’t want (eg raiding the bin, chewing electrical wires or your socks).
When your puppy is in an excitable mood, try to channel their excitement into a play or training session. This will help provide them with the mental stimulation they need. Clicker training is great for bright puppies and something you can both have a lot of fun doing.
Encourage cooperative behaviour and self-control before you train, play with or feed your puppy – this helps teach them that all good things come to those who wait calmly. Ensure that your puppy gets lots of quiet time. Puppies need to sleep and rest a great deal, and a tired puppy can be irritable or overstimulated, just like a person can be. Make time in the day for your puppy to have regular breaks, with a chew and a comfortable bed. If your puppy finds it difficult to switch off, then popping them behind a stairgate or in a crate should help with this.
‘Puppy proof’ your home to make sure your puppy doesn’t get the opportunity to pick up too many items that you’d rather they didn’t. Puppies are naturally curious so don’t punish them when they do pick up things you don’t want them to (this may frighten them and cause defensive behaviour which should be avoided) – calmly remove the item from your puppies mouth and reward them with a titbit for releasing. Avoid chasing your puppy in this situation, as most puppies will think this is a fun game – they may learn to enjoy stealing as it results in lots of attention from you. Provide lots of items that you are happy for your puppy to explore and pick up and it’s a good idea to teach an ‘off’ or ‘leave’ command which you’ll be able to use for the future.
Avoid punishing your puppy for mischievous behaviour. Quite often they won’t understand what it is they are being punished for, only that you get angry sometimes. This won’t be good for your relationship as your puppy might begin to fear you. It’s much better to show your puppy what it is you want them to do and manage carefully the things you’d rather they didn’t.
Jumping up is a very natural behaviour for puppies. Most just want to say hello and they quickly learn that this is a great way to get attention! Many people don’t seem to mind a small and cute puppy jumping up so it’s easy to see how this can become a strong habit for the puppy. It’s only when the puppy gets bigger that it can be an issue, so the best advice is not to encourage it in the first place. Try to give your puppy lots of praise and attention when they have all four feet on the floor when greeting you, and ask anyone interacting with your puppy to do the same. Turning your back on a puppy can lessen the jumping up, but it may also cause them to become frustrated. Teaching them an incompatible behaviour (to jumping up), such as a good ‘sit’ is often easier for the puppy to understand.
Behaviour around food
Food is extremely important to your puppy! Dogs have evolved from a species that hunts and scavenges for survival, so they come pre-programmed with a strong desire to seek out food where ever it may be. There will be a huge variation in appetite and ‘scavenging’ behaviours which will depend on various factors such as genetics and very early puppyhood, but what it certain is that for most dogs, eating is one of their favourite pastimes!
Managing your puppy’s environment
Using their incredible sense of smell, puppies will naturally be drawn to bins, cat food (if you have one), dropped food and so on. Try and keep temptation out of your puppy’s way as you’ll not want them to develop a habit of raiding bins or stealing the cat food – remember that dogs repeat things that are very rewar-ding so if your puppy is very successful at acquiring food other than what you give him, he will get very good at it! It’s also very difficult to teach your dog not to take food when you are not there (as for a dog there is no such word as ‘stealing’ – they are just doing what comes very naturally to them) and they may end up eating or choking on something that is very dangerous.
It’s nice to have a dog that sits calmly before their dinner is given or a treat is offered, so once your puppy has mastered a ‘sit’, always ask for one before you give food. This way your puppy’s default behaviour when being offered food is to sit calmly. It also reinforces the important lesson that all good things come to those who wait patiently!