New Puppy Checklist!
By Hayley Griffen
The decision to adopt a new canine family member should never be made impulsively. When you make the decision to bring a puppy into your home, you're making a commitment to a creature who could live anywhere from six years to their twenties, depending on the breed/health/genetics of the dog. This pup will be fully dependent on you for the basics like food, water, and shelter, and not to mention love and affection, appropriate training, regular veterinary check-ups and care, and daily structure and exercise activities, among other things! For those who have experienced it, the love and companionship you receive in return is more than worth it! In this article I'll cover some of the most asked about and important training concerns for owners with a new puppy in the family!
Set your puppy up for success! As a new creature to this world, not just to your family, your puppy is a sponge for information. Housetraining is not exactly natural for a dog, so we cannot blame them for doing something that comes naturally to them. However, if given the choice, a puppy prefers not a soil an area they eat and/or sleep within. This gives us the opportunity to limit where they stay in the house until they are trained (i.e. only in smaller spaces where they sleep/eat until they are reliable).
Puppies have very small bladders and have not yet developed the physiology to control them fully. Expect to be letting your puppy out every hour or two in the beginning, and especially after they:
- eat a meal
- drink water
- finish playing
- get excited about anything
- wake up from a nap
- meet a new person
- meet a new dog
You must be ever-present and ready to take your puppy outside when they show signs of needing to potty (wandering off, sniffing around at the floor, circling a particular area, etc.). If ever you are unable to be hawk-like in your supervision of the puppy, be sure to confine them somewhere safe and comfortable, such as a cozy crate or puppy pen, or even a gated off laundry or bathroom. Simply don’t give your pup the opportunity to potty in inappropriate areas until they are fully potty trained, and you’ll be setting them up for success! Also, remember to reward them heavily (treats & praise) when they do eliminate in the right place; focus on the good behaviors, and you’ll get more of them!
This is a big one, and one that is often overlooked or under-trained. Your puppy may have an excellent temperament and great bloodlines, but without proper socialization you may run into behavioral issues in the future.
According to Dr. Ian Dunbar in his book "Before and After Getting your Puppy;" your puppy should meet and have good experiences with at least 100 different people by the time they reach 3-months of age. This is because the “imprinting” phase of brain development for most puppies starts at around 6-8 weeks, and starts to end at around 12 weeks, so time is of the essence to getting your pup comfortable with people!
Puppies should meet people of all different genders, ages (lots of children), sizes, ethnicities, and personalities. Introduce your pup to people wearing hats and sunglasses, people jogging/running, people on bikes and skateboards, baby strollers, and people playing rowdy games (like soccer/basketball). At this age your pup is more open-minded and receptive, so-to-speak, to new experiences. Nonetheless, strive to make each meeting a fun experience so that they create a positive association with meeting people. Use a happy tone of voice, have the stranger give the pup praise/petting/treats, etc.
It is also important to introduce your pup to new environments: expose them to walking over gravel, grass, concrete, metal grates, up/down stairs, rides in the car, trips to the vet, etc. Also, expose them to as many friendly, healthy dogs as you can. There are also many opportunities for free puppy socialization groups and meet-ups in most cities; just be sure to keep your puppy from getting overwhelmed. You want ultimate exposure without scaring them--so always bring treats, praise, and play!
This topic is close to my heart, as sadly I have seen many shelter dogs in shelters sometimes primarily due to this issue. Bite inhibition is a skill many puppies learn from playing with their littermates. When one puppy bites too hard, the other puppy will “yelp” and stop playing the game. The biting offender learns, quite quickly, that biting too hard makes the fun stop, so they learn to inhibit how hard they nip. This is an incredibly important skill, one that is sometimes hindered by well-intended rough housing play with excited new puppy-owners. Rough housing with your pup is encouraged and is an excellent way to bond with your pup, but be sure to not reward biting behaviors, or teeth-on-skin. Many dogs, especially larger breeds, will grow up thinking that it’s okay to mouth and use their teeth on skin. This can, unfortunately, turn into rude nipping/biting behaviors that are simply not as cute, and can be downright dangerous (especially with children) once a dog is full grown.
If your dog is nipping/mouthing while playing, keep a bite-appropriate toy close at hand to replace your hand/arm for when they get that way. Reward them for biting the toy, and stop playing or calm the play down if they touch teeth-to-skin. Be consistent!
Obedience training is an excellent way to bond with your pet and set them up for success in the future. It increases your ability to communicate with your dog, therefore avoiding behavioral issues that can occur due to us just expecting dogs to know what we want. They aren't mind readers, and as human like as they may be sometimes, they aren't human, either! When we learn to talk to them in their language and respect their dogginess, we increase the likelihood of a successful and communicative lifelong relationship with them.
Positive reinforcement training is a great way to build a relationship with any dog. It is based on learning theory described by B.F. Skinner, and works on people and other animals as much as it does with dogs. It’s scientifically based, and best of all, a humane and effective way to train. The essence of training is to teach your dog that when they perform a behavior that they like, they will get rewarded for it. When they perform behaviors that you dislike, they will not get any rewards to speak of. This requires identifying what things your individual dog finds to be rewarding; be it food rewards, exercise, love, play, etc. Identify what your dog finds rewarding, and use that to your advantage!
Adding a puppy to your life can be one of the most exciting, rewarding experiences of one's life, if done right. We hope you enjoy your time with your new addition!
Burch, Mary; Bailey, John
How Dogs Learn Howell Book House, NY, 1999
Before and After Getting Your
New World Library
Which Dogs Live Longest?