All the things I wish I had known before I got a puppy

I know a couple people who have recently gotten a puppy, or are considering getting a puppy, or have already signed up for a puppy and are just waiting for it to be old enough to take home.

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Some have asked me for advice, knowing that I got a puppy about two years ago and have been through it all pretty recently.

Advice is hard to dispense, because:

  1. Yes, I have raised a puppy recently, but it is the only puppy I have ever raised, so my experience is very limited to this one puppy.
  2. Oh my goodness where to begin there is just so much to say.

I read a lot prior to getting Betsy, and I also read a lot in her early days with us, and I continue to read a lot now.

The Internet is a great resource, and while I know everybody likes to say, “don’t trust the Internet,” and it’s TRUE, DON’T but also DO because there’s lots of good stuff on there mixed in with the bad.

And if you’re smart & have a little knowledge, you can sift through the cruft and figure out where the good stuff is.

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On that note, allow me to start this post off with some links to some of my favourite dog websites. Favourites of my favourites get a 🌟 too. Got a good one I haven’t listed? email me, I’m always looking for more 😊

I will be the first to admit that in Betsy’s early days, I read some bad advice online & thought it was good advice. And Betsy had to suffer through my mistakes. Luckily I read more good advice than bad, and have gotten progressively better at solidifying what my own personal, “dog training,” values are. Hopefully with this post, I can help other people avoid some of the bad advice that I failed to avoid.

This topic is so open ended that it’s easy to get off track, so I’m going to break it up into some main important sections. But trust me, this is not a complete guide to puppy ownership. There is so much. So much! It’s a start though.

Socialization and Conditioning

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I think anyone will tell you that the key to raising a happy, well-balanced dog is to make sure they have tons of positive experiences with all kinds of things from as young an age as possible.

There’s a lot you can read up on here. Professionals like to talk about an established “set” of periods in a puppy’s life. “Critical Socialization Period” “Learning Bite Inhibition” “Fear Period” etc. You can google this, there’s lots of detailed information online, some of it better than others, of course.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s just say that what a puppy learns when it is very young will affect it for the rest of its life. It is a very important time. This means two things: Don’t let anything horribly traumatizing happen to your puppy, BUT ALSO, do not lock your puppy away. Puppies need to experience as many things as possible in as positive of a way as possible, in order to learn that world is a great and interesting place to be.

An under-socialized puppy is much more likely to grow up into a fearful adult.

I put this at the top of the list because I think it is the most important thing. Expose your puppy to the world! Go to the mall and watch people walk by. Go to (supervised, professionally run), puppy socialization classes. Introduce your puppy to calm, gentle, older dogs. Have your puppy practice walking on strange surfaces, like bridges and slippery floors. Expose your puppy (in a positive way!) to funny looking people wearing wide brimmed hats, sunglasses, and carrying umbrellas. Children! People with different skin colours! Men and women! Tall and short! Fat and skinny! This is such an important thing, do not skimp. Obedience and manners can be taught at any time in a dog’s life, but fixing a poorly socialized dog after it has already started to develop fearful behaviour is very challenging.

There are also factors that are slightly more out of your control, but you should keep them in mind: What was your puppy’s life like when it was still with the breeder? Was the breeder a responsible, conscientious breeder who handled the puppies daily and started them on a positive path to experiencing new things? Was the mother a stable role model or a neurotic mess? Did the puppy have many siblings with which to practice impulse control and bite inhibition? (Have you heard of singleton syndrome?)

This is one reason why it’s a good idea to go with a reputable breeder and not with a puppy mill pup or a BYB.

Recommended further reading for socialization:

Basic Manners

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I’d argue that manners are more important than obedience. If you have an extremely well trained dog who has poor manners and is only being “good” when you are managing him with obedience commands 24/7, that kind of sucks.

On the other hand, if you have a calm, well-mannered dog that doesn’t have a lick of obedience skills, well, you might not be in bad shape at all!

So what constitutes a well-mannered dog?

  • Doesn’t jump up
  • Doesn’t use teeth on people
  • Doesn’t bark/growl at people and other dogs when you’re out in public
  • Doesn’t chew up your belongings
  • Doesn’t beg for food
  • Doesn’t pace and whine endlessly
  • Doesn’t counter surf
  • Doesn’t dig holes in the yard
    … the list goes on.

And how do you get there? Well, the basic principle to keep in mind is: What ever pays off, a dog will keep doing. So you just have to make sure that “good” behaviour pays, and bad behaviour doesn’t. This can mean different things in different circumstances, for example:

  • Puppy jumps up, you turn away. Puppy puts all fours on the ground, you crouch down and pay attention and say hello.
  • Puppy uses teeth, you cut off the game or whatever it is you are doing with the puppy. Doesn’t have to be for more than a minute or two, just long enough for the puppy to learn that using teeth = stop the fun.
  • Puppy begs for food, you ignore it. Puppy stops begging and lies down quietly, you give it a treat.
  • Puppy counter surfs, you make sure that there is never anything rewarding on the counter for it to steal. You give it treats for keeping all fours on the floor in the kitchen.

The key is patience and consistency! They won’t learn over night, but with consistency, they WILL learn.

There’s no point in losing your temper and getting mad. Dogs do what is rewarding, and we just have to use this fact to our advantage. But keep the poor dog in mind! Of course a pup’s first instinct will be to snatch tasty chicken off the table. Why wouldn’t it be?! It has no idea that it is BAD, and the delicious reward for snatching the chicken sure makes it seem like a good idea to the dog! This is why we need to also use management: Don’t give the pup an opportunity to counter surf, and that way it won’t self-reinforce for doing the naughty deed.

Let me finish this with some thoughts on impulse control which can go hand-in-hand with manners in some situations. Young puppies have very poor impulse control, and while they will learn some on their own through life experience, you can (and should!) teach them a WHOLE lot more.

This means teaching your dog things like, “I want to eat that chicken but I won’t because I’m not supposed to.” “I want to chase that rabbit but I won’t because I’m not supposed to.”

I’ll include some links to impulse control articles and exercises below, I just wanted to quickly touch on it because it’s an important concept!

More reading on manners and impulse control:

House training

I recently wrote a post about crate training that also goes over house training, so check that post out if you’re interested.

Obedience

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I don’t think the goal with puppy obedience training is for it to have super awesome obedience, but instead teach it to enjoy and appreciate spending time with you and working with you.

Puppies have a short attention span, so don’t overload them with long training sessions. Pay attention to their body language, and if you are losing their interest, cut it short! Don’t force them to endure obedience training when their head is no longer in the game, this will just set them up to hate obedience training in the future, and you want a dog that thinks obedience is FUN.

I definitely think you can/should teach your puppy to sit, lay down, and even do tricks! but I also think that you should:

  • Keep it very short
  • Keep it very positive
  • Break it up with lots of play
  • Don’t push for too much too soon. Keep your expectations reasonable. Puppies are NOT adult dogs, so don’t expect them to be able to perform like one!

Practicing loose leash walking in the house, and then graduating to the driveway, is a big one. Teaching them to stay focused on you in all kinds of situations is also very useful. And of course, teaching them that staying near by and coming to you when you call is always going to pay off big time!

More reading on puppies and obedience…

Wrapping up

If I could leave you with something, it would be: Have fun with your puppy. Enjoy it, try not to lose your temper, be patient and kind and consistent, play and teach it how to fit in. Bring your puppy with you wherever you can to meet the world, and teach your puppy that not only can it can count on you to be there for it in times of need, but that you are a fun companion!

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