By Jennifer Kyzer, Master Trainer and Behavior Specialist
"I recently adopted a young puppy. She is very sweet and playful, and very mischievous! Without constant supervision, she'll chew on everything (shoes, fingers, table legs, even the sofa) and has pottied in the house a number of times. This is my first puppy, and I knew it would be a challenge, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into! I'd love some suggestions for raising her properly."
Puppies should be treated like toddlers, in the sense that they do need constant supervision, a safe environment, rules and rituals. There are several ways to have a pup under supervision. Utilizing the crate, gating and tethering the pup to you can all be used to help you keep a close eye on your pup. These will also significantly increase success with potty training.
Potty training is an important aspect of puppyhood. Having a consistent routine will speed up this process. At the door, develop a ritual. Start by having the puppy sit and/or ring a bell, praise with a treat, leash the pup and then go out the door. Once you are outside, use the potty command (do it, do your business, potty, etc…) in a higher, fun voice until puppy begins to potty.
Stop talking as they go, however, praise a ton (verbal, physical petting and treat) when they are finished. The puppy can then have free time inside or outside. If the puppy does not go potty - restrict freedom with tethering, crating or gating. Repeat ritual in 5-10 minutes, rewarding your pup for pottying outside by giving them a little freedom.
Tethering means to leash your pup and attach them to you for periods of time as you complete tasks unrelated to pup. This keeps the pup with you, following you, while not paying sole attention to the pup. The pup is secondary to your tasks. I often see issues when a pup is given too much constant, focused attention. Treating your pup with a matter of fact attitude is crucial in teaching your pup self-confidence.
Puppy or baby gates can also help keep your pup close by while allowing some independence. Gating the kitchen (or another room that is used frequently) is recommended. By keeping the puppy in the room you are in, while completing other tasks, you are able to keep a close eye on the pup, reprimanding or redirecting when necessary while allowing curiosity and developing self-confidence. This is all a balancing act- the balance of giving your puppy space to explore and learn while setting boundaries and rules.
Another one of the first things I teach to new puppy parents is the settle command. This is a gentle, yet firm hold to teach the puppy that calming gets rewarded. Begin with an already calm pup, and practice numerous times to "perfect" the hold. Practice quickly getting your pup onto the settle hold. This will ensure when the pup is escalated, you have the skills and precision to get the pup into the hold quickly, so as not to get any puppy bites. Hold the pup until they relax into your arms, taking deep breaths, calming yourself. No affection is to be given until the pup is completely calm. Allow the puppy to go free when they have calmed completely. A confirmation that you have "settled" the pup is if the pup walks away and lays down or stays in your lap. This command can be used when the “leave it” command is ineffective or behavior is escalating.
Puppies need time to recover, process things they are learning, and sleep to nourish their bodies. Often, puppies have rambunctious periods due to being overtired or overstimulated. Crate training is a great way to give puppies these time outs. Crate training, when done correctly, is the safest space to leave your pup. Crate training can also speed up the potty training and reduce/eliminate separation anxiety. Some great hints for crate training are:
- Never let him out of the crate if he is loud.
- Calm him before opening the door.
- Ignore him when you get home for up to 5 minutes, pretending you don’t have a dog and doing what you would normally do for a few minutes.
- Make entrances and exits as low key and calm as possible.
- Exercise him before he is crated.
- Do not talk to him while he is in the crate.
- Leaving a radio on with classical or calm music.
Recognizing that puppies have bursts of energy surrounded by naps is helpful in "scheduling" training times. Training times should happen often, be very short, fun and rewarding for you and the puppy. I recommend that "training" be added in to all activities, including potty ritual, feeding time, and play time. Exercise for the pup is also a great way to add in "training". Learning a disciplined walk is a good way to combine training into an activity.
Taking a puppy class to learn some basic obedience is also highly recommended.
Yes, a new puppy is a lot of work, but with the right dedication, training and love you will get through it! The first year of puppyhood is hard; however it develops a lifelong amazing bond.