So you’ve decided that it’s time to get a puppy. You may have read some of the books and browsed a few of the websites. You may have even seen some dog training video tutorials, but what you’d like is to prepare yourself mentally so you can feel more confident in knowing exactly what to expect when you bring home that puppy, and how to deal with it. First of all, let me suggest that you thoroughly consider whether a puppy is the right thing for you at this time. Not only will this make you feel more self-assured as you take this leap, but it will also be in the best interest of your new friend. But assuming that after considering all other options, you have decided this is the path for you – let’s proceed.
Mistakes: The behavior of a puppy can be unpredictable, but the one guarantee I can almost certainly offer is that puppies make mistakes. It is important not to get caught up in the fantasy of owning an obedient and well-trained dog that understands house manners. While that is surely the goal, it is rarely accomplished without months of accidents. Accidents can and often do include: toilet training mistakes, play biting hands, chewing inappropriate items, difficulties getting along with other pets, anxiety and undesirable barking, and much more. Having said that, there are two particular goals to keep in mind during this early training phase:
1) Minimize the opportunity for accidents: Provide frequent toilet visits, teach and reinforce biting on appropriate items, limit access to areas when supervision cannot be provided, address daily physical and mental activity requirements, capture and reinforce positive behaviors correctly, utilize appropriate confinement areas, and discourage problematic behaviors correctly.
2) Create opportunities for success through training: instead of focusing on how to correct problematic behavior, pay attention to teaching suitable alternative and rewarding them. For instance, if your puppy likes to chew on the leash, show him how much fun it is to chew on his toys instead.
Frustration: If you are human (the chances of which are quite high), you will likely experience frustration during moments when your hard work seems to be falling short. Remind yourself that if you are doing everything that you know is needed to raise and train the puppy, you are on the right track. It sometimes takes time for the fruits of our labor to flourish. Share your concerns with others in your puppy training class, a pet trainer, or other people who have dogs (like on our Facebook page). It’s important not to be overwhelmed by this frustration to the point where it interferes with your ability to stay committed to your plan.
Attention: There is nothing more magnetic than the sight of a cute 12-week old puppy trotting along in an effort to keep up with their new parent. People will approach you and be interested in petting your puppy and talking to you. The reason this is worth mentioning from a dog training perspective is that these are opportunities for you as a trainer to conduct some real-life training. Be prepared for this ahead of time and ensure that it does not become an event where your dog is reinforced for unwanted behaviors, such as jumping up to greet strangers. If you find yourself unprepared or unable to manage the dog’s behavior at a given time, you may choose to politely explain that the dog is in training and your preference is not to engage in a greeting at this time. Also, there is no obligation to have your dog meet and sniff every animal they encounter on the walk. Socialization is extremely important, but it needs to be managed. You don’t want to set up an expectation for your dog that they need to greet every dog every time. That’s a pulling-habit waiting to happen!
Dog training classes:There is no substitute for a good dog training class. You can teach your dog hundreds of behaviors by yourself, but a solid group class will provide you the opportunity to work with distractions and properly socialize your dog in a controlled environment. Having said that, not all dog training classes are created equal, so be sure to do some research and ask questions before you enroll until you are comfortable that this will be a positive experience for you and your dog.
The thrill of success: Raising a puppy is an incredible experience and not without its magical moments. You will be amazed by how quickly and intelligently your dog learns new behaviors when we make the task of training fun and enjoyable. Remember that the effort you put into nurturing your dog during their first year with you will unfold long into adulthood.
In the case of puppies, the expectations we have are crucial. It is obligatory that we are holding ourselves and our dogs to a standard that is appropriate to their developmental level. While puppies come into our lives knowing what may seem like nothing, be assured that they are extremely capable of communicating, if we only take the time to establish clear lines of communication. They are pre-programmed to take cues from our non-verbal body language and emotional states. Therefore, if we want to truly raise a puppy to their full potential, we have to accept that 2-3 training sessions may total on average 60 minutes. But what are we doing to enable their learning the other 23 hours of the day?