Adding a new puppy to your family is very exciting, and also a big commitment. Dogs don't naturally know how to behave in modern society, and it's up to us to teach them what's acceptable and what isn't. The earlier you start, the easier it will be, and your puppy will grow up to be a sociable and well adjusted companion.
Please keep in mind that it's in your puppy's best interest to stay with its mother and litter mates until it is 8 weeks old. Puppies may be weaned before that age, but the social skills they learn from interacting with mum and siblings are invaluable and will have a big impact on how your dog interacts with other dogs for the rest of its life.
It is also not recommended to get puppies from pet stores, as these puppies were born and spent their first few weeks in a kennel environment with very limited socialisation, which can cause a lot of fearful behaviour later on in life. (More on socialisation below). Pet store puppies also live and eat in and around their own faeces, both in the kennel they came from and in the pet store, which makes housetraining a lot more difficult than what it needs to be. You'll be doing yourself and poor puppy farm dogs a big favour if you avoid pet store puppies!
To learn more about potential problems with pet store puppies, please click this link to read about a study done on pet store puppies vs puppies bought from non-commercial breeders. The study found that "The data clearly shows that dogs purchased from pet stores appear to be less psychologically sound overall", and concluded that: "until the causes of the unfavorable differences detected in this group of dogs can be specifically identified and remedied, we cannot recommend that puppies be obtained from pet stores."
Choosing a dog
Starting with the right breed and temperament is the most important thing to consider, and yet most people don't spend enough time considering these things. Choosing the right activity level and temperament will make your life a lot easier.
Avoid puppies that show these traits:
- physical abnormalities
Also avoid puppies whose mother shows any form of aggression.
Research the breed you're planning to get very carefully. A dog isn't just a dog. Most dog breeds originated to perform certain jobs. Border collies and cattle dogs were bred to work on a farm all day long, and so require a lot of physical exercise and mental stimulation. Terriers were generally bred for hunting and working indepently, so they are high energy and very independent and strong willed. Huskies and malamutes were bred to run for long stretches every day. They need to run every day.
If you're looking for a dog that will get one short walk a day and limited training, you shouldn't pick any of the breeds above. Check out the Animal Planet breed selector for hints on what type of dog would suit you.
Your puppy needs to learn to enjoy being handled by humans, and this is done by picking it up and touching it all over every day while it's a puppy. Check and trim the claws, have a look at the teeth, eyes and ears and run your hands all along the body, feet and tail. If the puppy struggles, just hold it tight until he relaxes. Only ever put it down when it is relaxed. Your vet will love you for this.
Most people think "socialisation" means to run around with other puppies in puppy class, or to play with the older resident dog. While this is a small part of socialisation, it's not the end of it by far.
A puppy needs to experience a variety of different environments and situations in the first few months of life. It also needs to experience being around other people and dogs without interacting with them, otherwise it will grow up thinking it can always meet and play with everyone, and will try to drag you over to other people and dogs every time it sees them.
"The rules of 12" is a good guideline.
Preventing guarding behaviour
A lot of people think it's normal and unavoidable for dogs to guard their food or toys from their humans. They resign themselves to keeping away from the dog's bone and keeping their children away while the dog eats. While "resource guarding" is normal canine behaviour, it's certainly not unavoidable or unfixable. In fact, if you start preventative measures from an early age, the dog won't ever feel the need to guard anything, and it can be taught to drop anything in its mouth on command.
When you feed your new puppy, sit on the floor and have the bowl in your lap while the puppy eats. If he's ok with that, talk to him and pat him gently. To be extra prepared, arm yourself with some really nice treats, something nicer than his ordinary food, and put some in his bowl while he's eating. That way he learns that your hand in his bowl is a good thing. Most puppies don't mind having their food and toys touched, or they stop minding very quickly when they learn there are treats available. The puppy should also learn to drop whatever is in its mouth on command.
If your puppy is already guarding his food when you get it, please book a puppy visit and we will show you some techniques to get the problem under control. Food guarding isn't something dogs grow out of, it's something they grow into. If left unchecked, the dog will develop a serious guarding problem, one that can result in people getting bitten.
Even if your dog will live outside most of the time, it's a very good idea to housetrain it. A dog that lives outside won't "housetrain itself"; all it learns is that "anywhere is good".
I am sure you have been told to "rub its nose in it and throw her outside" as housetraining advice. While this method might work for some dogs, it's a very unpleasant way to go about it which will probably damage your bond with the puppy, and doesn't usually result in reliable housetraining.
You will get much more reliable housetraining by teaching the dog where you want it go, not where you don't want it to go. If you think about it, there is a lot more places where you want her to not pee (bedroom, lounge, kitchen, any carpet/rug/mat, any woodenfloor etc) than where you want her to pee (grass)! So telling her off for peeing in the bedroom corner is telling her that she shouldn't use that corner. As a result, next time, she might try the bed instead.
Housetraining using rewards is very easy. Reward the dog anytime you see the puppy peeing in the right spot. Use 3-5 really nice treats, so it understands that peeing outside pays off more than peeing inside. As it pees, you can add a command, such as "go potty" or "empty". After it has learnt this, you can then tell the dog to pee before letting it inside, or before entering the vet's clinic etc. Very handy!
Also keep in mind that small puppies have limited bladder control until they are about 6 months old. The puppy isn't peeing inside to defy you, it does it because it physically can't hold it, no matter how much it would like to. So it's your responsibility to make sure the puppy is let out whenever you think it may need to pee. For young puppies this is after any meal, nap or playtime, and otherwise about once every hour when they are awake (more often for toy breed puppies).
If you catch the puppy peeing inside, scoop it up without saying anything and take it outside, and reward it for finishing outside. There is no point in yelling at the puppy for having an accident. It couldn't help it.
It's normal for puppies to bite and chew, they are teething and their gums are itchy and sore. It's also how they explore the world, much like a human toddler who puts everything in its mouth. Plus, chewing feels nice, it's like laughing for a human.
The puppy needs to learn "bite inhibition". This is where the dog learns that human skin is delicate, and inhibits its bite. While we don't want the dog to mouth humans as an adult, we can't guarantee that it will never happen. A dog might turn around and instinctively bite if someone steps on its tail, or it might get in a fight with another dog at the dog park. A dog that learnt bite inhibition as a puppy will usually do no or only minor damage in these situations, and is thus much safer to be around than a dog that simply learnt never to bite (by having its nose flicked or similar).
If you teach your dog nothing else, you need to teach it bite inhibition. This is done by letting the puppy mouth you during play. If the puppy bites too hard and it hurts, yelp or exclaim "ow!" and end the game for 10 seconds. Freeze on the spot, tuck your hands in and look at the ceiling. Then continue the game as if nothing happened. Repeat as needed. It can take several weeks to see any change, but the key is to stick with one method and be consistent.
Do not attempt this with an adult dog.
Dogs enjoy to chew, it releases endorphins. Some dogs continue to chew into adulthood. The key to saving your furniture is to provide appropriate things to chew on, such as bones, kongs, nylabones, treat balls etc. Rawhide should only be given under supervision, as it's a choking hazard.
Preventing problem behaviour
Your best bet in preventing problem behaviours is socialisation and environmental enrichment (bones, puzzles etc). As most dogs were bred to have a job, give the dog something useful to do, such as chewing and solving puzzles (e.g. treats inside a cardboard box to rip up). This gives the dog a sense of purpose.
The dog should also have basic obedience training. Early training sets them up to know how to make good things happen (e.g. sit at the door to be let in/out), and teaches it how to deal with stress. It also opens the line of communication between dog and owner, and the dog will be more responsive to future training if it has "learnt to learn" while young.
Recognise early warning signs, such as separation anxiety, reactivity on walks, resource guarding, fear etc. The earlier we start training, the easier the process will be, and we are more likely to succeed in fixing the problem.
Puppy training and visits
I offer puppy visits where I come to your house around midday to play with and feed your puppy for you. Perfect if you're at work 8 hours a day and don't want to leave your puppy home alone all day. During a puppy visit I cover all of the things mentioned above.
I also offer puppy training sessions, where I go over all of the above, and also help you get started with your dog's basic obedience training, such as sit and walking nicely on leash.
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