What Every Puppy Owner Needs to be Training Right NOW!

The truth is in the teeth.  Your puppy is an impres­sion­able, harm­less, help­less lit­tle crea­ture until those lit­tle pointy puppy teeth fall out and are replaced by full-sized adult ones at about six months of age.  Once those adult teeth come in, your puppy’s gen­tle mal­leable behav­ior solid­i­fies and become much much much harder to change… and there are some things that once done, can never be truly undone.  These few crit­i­cal behav­iors, although unas­sum­ing (and even irrel­e­vant) as they may seem, need to be our focus dur­ing these pre­cious few months.  Here they are…

Bad habits in the home.  Pup­pies will cause may­hem around the house: things will get chewed, impor­tant items will be destroyed, con­tra­band items will be stolen, this is all nor­mal.  But if we as own­ers don’t learn from these expe­ri­ences and improve our man­ag­ing of our pup­pies around the home, putting destruc­tibles out of reach and restrict­ing access to prob­lem areas, our pup­pies will grow into adult dogs that counter surf, destroy fur­ni­ture and per­sonal items, raid trash, and most impor­tantly can­not be trusted around the home.  So what can we do about it?

Puppy proof the home.   Put all destruc­tibles out of reach: secure trash cans, remove any food items from coun­ters, store away socks and shoes, use closed doors and puppy gates to limit your puppy’s access to areas of the home that are not puppy-friendly.

Pro­vide ample appro­pri­ate toys and chews.  Your puppy has to do some­thing all day.  Make sure you are the one who decides what they do, do not let them choose.  One way to do this is through leav­ing mul­ti­ple dif­fer­ent toys and chews around the home.  Keep the vari­ety going by rotat­ing toys out regularly.

Inter­rupt and redi­rect unwanted behav­ior.  When you catch your dog doing some­thing unwanted, inter­rupt and give them some­thing appro­pri­ate to do.  This is where the “ample toys and chews” comes in.  Catch them and guide them away from the unwanted item pro­vid­ing an appro­pri­ate one instead.

Socia­bil­ity and friend­li­ness.  Most pup­pies are friendly and wel­come new expe­ri­ences (with a lit­tle cau­tious explo­ration) but, as you may have noticed, not all adult dogs are the same way.  This change starts in ado­les­cence (when those adult teeth come in) and con­tin­ues to about three years of age.  Unfor­tu­nately for us, once we see teenage dogs become shyer, more hes­i­tant about new expe­ri­ences, or even react aggres­sively to some­thing for the first time, the dam­age is mostly already done (for some breeds and per­son­al­i­ties more than oth­ers).  The good news is that this is all of this doom and gloom is com­pletely pre­ventable because if we lay the social­iza­tion on thick dur­ing these few short months, we are pretty much set for life.  It’s a dou­ble edged sword; if we do things right, it’s right for life.  Unfor­tu­nately the same goes for wrong.  Tar­get these few areas to avoid the dark side.

How to speak dog.  Dog lan­guage has to be learned (even for dogs) and it takes a while and a lot of prac­tice to become flu­ent.  Most impor­tantly it takes talk­ing to a lot of dogs, all dif­fer­ent dogs to be exact.  Just like it took you many years and many exchanges with many peo­ple to develop the flu­ency and vocab­u­lary you have today, the same applies for your dog.  Your puppy will have to speak with all kinds of dogs.  They will have to speak husky with their erect ears and per­pet­ual tail-over-back posi­tion (which would oth­er­wise be an intim­i­dat­ing ges­ture in another breed).  They will have so speak bull­dog with their big eyes, immo­bile corkscrew tail, uncom­mon expres­sion, and snor­fley sounds. …To speak doo­dle and poo­dle and sheep­dog with their long flow­ing hair that exag­ger­ates and con­ceals their move­ment and expres­sion.  …To speak grumpy dog and friendly dog and crotch­ety old dog and there’s-a-screw-missing-dog in order to be fluent.

How to speak human.  Now this is where it gets really con­fus­ing because the way we humans com­mu­ni­cate is pretty much the com­plete oppo­site of how dogs com­mu­ni­cate, and by oppo­site I mean rude.  Dogs avoid eye con­tact and frontal greet­ings and acts like hug­ging and leer­ing over one another are pretty much an obscen­ity as far as they’re con­cerned.  But, for our dogs to feel com­fort­able nego­ti­at­ing our human world, they have to learn how to speak peo­ple, and thank­fully they’re pretty good at it.  And just like with speak­ing dog, the more peo­ple they meet, big bearded peo­ple, funny smelling peo­ple, coming-on-to-strong peo­ple, scared-of-them peo­ple, peo­ple wear­ing cos­tumes, tod­dlers, and peo­ple on wheels, the more they will be able to nav­i­gate our world and our lan­guage with ease and confidence.

New and strange expe­ri­ences.  A puppy’s world is full of bizarre and some­times fright­en­ing expe­ri­ences.  Just like human chil­dren have to grow accus­tomed to (with gen­tle guid­ance and sup­port from their fam­i­lies) noisy trucks, unpleas­ant smells and tastes, and over­whelm­ing expe­ri­ences, so do our dogs.  And with very dif­fer­ent sen­sory skills than us, some of our dog’s biggest chal­lenges might come as a sur­prise.  At the very least our pup­pies need to become com­fort­able with basic han­dling and restraint required for groom­ing and vet­eri­nary pro­ce­dures and the sights and sounds that might occur on a reg­u­lar neigh­bor­hood walk.  But if we want a dog that can tackle life’s adven­tures, our pup­pies must also become com­fort­able with strange sur­faces, loud noises, bizarre objects like bal­loons and stat­ues, auto­mated con­trap­tions like car washes and motion acti­vated doors, and much more.

The great news is that social­iza­tion works expo­nen­tially.  Not only are most of these things pretty easy to find on a nor­mal walk through an urban area, each new expe­ri­ence makes future expe­ri­ences expo­nen­tially eas­ier to nav­i­gate.  Every new and strange expe­ri­ence you expose your puppy to will have a rip­ple effect, mak­ing your dog more and more capa­ble of mov­ing flu­idly through the next chal­lenge that comes their way.
Bath­room eti­quette.  For the most part potty skills can be improved upon and tweaked almost any­time in life.  There are how­ever two big pot­holes to look out for…

Being left in their mess.  Pup­pies are gross and not very aware of their own acci­dents so no need to panic if your puppy gets a pee-soaked paw here and there.  If how­ever, a puppy fre­quently soils its crate, bed, or liv­ing area and has no way to avoid stand­ing in it, this can truly spell dis­as­ter.  All of potty train­ing revolves around dogs want­ing to avoid their own mess.  Once a puppy has learned to be okay with liv­ing in a bath­room, it is a hard long uphill road towards any sem­blance of potty skills.  If a puppy is fre­quently soil­ing their crate or ken­nel, it’s time for a new set up or more fre­quent potty breaks.

Fre­quent acci­dents in the home for a pro­longed period.  Pup­pies have acci­dents, they’re learn­ing.  But if they are hav­ing fre­quent acci­dents and those mis­takes are not being imme­di­ately caught, inter­rupted, and redi­rected to a more appro­pri­ate place, train­ing really starts to slip.  If this goes on long enough to become a habit, it can stay a habit.  And while there’s a lot we can to fix this later in life, those dreams of hav­ing a dog that can hold it all day while you are gone at work will likely remain dreams.

User’s guide to mouths.  This is eas­ily the most over­looked aspect of puppy train­ing because it seems irrel­e­vant… there’s a rea­son I saved it for last.  No one envi­sions their dog get­ting into a fight with another dog, nip­ping a child too rough dur­ing play or, even more unspeak­ably, bit­ing some­one.  But in a doggy world with­out lawyers, police offi­cers, and for­mal com­plaints, some­times when the going gets tough, the tough use their mouths  It’s really much more com­mon and nor­mal than you might think (just work at a groom­ing salon or vet for a day where nail trims and injec­tions flow abun­dant).  As unlikely as it may seem, this is the one area of dog train­ing where us train­ers have to throw in the towel.  If a dog hasn’t learned how to use its mouth gen­tly with other dogs and peo­ple by the time those adult teeth grow in, there’s noth­ing we can really do to fix it.  Mean­ing if a dog does dam­ag­ing bites at a year of age, they do them for life, no mat­ter if it’s for nail trims, when a super-rude dog tries to hump them, when a vet has to per­form an uncom­fort­able pro­ce­dure, or when you step on their tail.

The great news is that this is super easy to avoid with just a few sim­ple things…

Make puppy friends.  Make sure your dog has other dog friends to play with.  Every sin­gle mouthing and rough­hous­ing bout is another les­son in “the user’s guide to mouths”.  Most pup­pies from larger lit­ters get ample time to prac­tice this with their sib­lings but its a great idea to enroll in a puppy play­group (or sev­eral) or start min­gling with some fel­low puppy own­ers to ensure your pup’s mouth skills stay sharp (but not literally).

Fade mouthing out grad­u­ally.  Mouthing is a bless­ing as much as much as those awe­ful pointy teeth don’t feel that way.  Use those pokey teething ses­sions as a les­son from “the user’s guide to mouths” and fade them out over a few weeks start­ing with the painful bites work­ing your way down towards the gen­tle licks last.  Or if that’s not your cup of tea, try hand feed­ing your puppy their din­ner.  Any time you’re teach­ing your pup to inter­act with your hands and other body parts in a gen­tle way you are on the right track, and are doing oodles more good than ban­ish­ing mouth con­tact all together.

So there you have it; the absolute must-do for pup­pies… whew!  It may seem like a lot but it is only for a few short months and it is the eas­i­est, fastest, most fun, and most adorable time you will ever have doing it.  Then it will be over and you will have that well-rounded socia­ble gen­tle dog you hoped for when you picked out your lit­tle ball of fur.

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