Congratulations on your new or soon-to-be pup! You have many exciting milestones and memories to make together, and also many challenges to overcome. This guide will help you through these by giving you an overview of what you can expect and some tips for success.
You can begin training as soon as your puppy comes home. In fact, whether you have formal training sessions with your puppy or not, your puppy is learning at every minute of every day. Set a good example of which behaviours you appreciate by rewarding them with treats or some of his daily allotment of kibble. If your puppy gets into something inappropriate, redirect to an appropriate activity. Eg: give a squeaky plush toy in exchange for the slipper, or a Kong toy in exchange for the chair leg.
Socialization is about teaching your puppy what exists in his world. Socialization is your puppy’s social education, learning what is normal in everyday life, from strangers walking down the street, cars driving past, sirens, and more. Because of this, it is vital to take your puppy to experience as many different places, people, dogs, sounds, environments, and more as possible in a positive way. The more socialization a puppy gets, the more well-adjusted and confident a dog they will grow up to be.
Create as many positive experiences as possible by setting up interactions with calm, polite, vaccinated dogs as well as taking your puppy anywhere you can that will not be overwhelming or put your pup at risk (do not let your puppy explore areas that may have been visited by unvaccinated dogs until he is fully vaccinated). Take socialization at your puppy’s pace, taking care to not put your puppy in an overwhelming situation as much as possible. Bring lots of treats to give your puppy to build a positive association with the people and things he encounters.
Socialization is crucial, especially early on. You should focus on socialization extensively before 4 months of age, and regularly from then on.
Tip: You can get a sling carrier or dog stroller to safely take your puppy out before fully vaccinated!
Nipping and biting are completely normal behaviours for a puppy – it’s how they explore and learn about their world! While this may be completely acceptable behaviour with a chew toy, it is often considered a nuisance behaviour when items include furniture or people. For that reason, it is important that your puppy learns how to control the bite pressure as well as to not bite people or their clothes.
Bite inhibition is the process of developing of a gentle mouth. Your puppy will develop bite inhibition by playing with other dogs and puppies as well as from your feedback.
First, teach that biting hurts by saying “ouch” when your puppy bites at skin, clothes, or hair, and stopping play for 30 seconds. Do this until the biting becomes gentle mouthing. Then you can teach to stop biting by saying “nice”, followed by a food reward that directs your puppy’s attention off biting.
Tip: Be sure to provide lots of chew toys to satisfy your puppy’s chewing needs, especially while teething (around 3-7 months of age).
Before your puppy comes home, you should make sure that anything dangerous or potentially tempting to a puppy is picked up and put away where it cannot be reached. Puppies will go for just about anything while they are learning what they can and cannot play with.
You should manage your home environment to ensure your puppy does not get too much access too soon by using baby gates, puppy play pens, and leashing your puppy. Having your puppy attached to a leash during free time can allow you to prevent inappropriate behaviours, like chewing or jumping on furniture, jumping on people, becoming too nippy, etc. You can also consider attaching the leash to your belt (or get an umbilical leash) so your puppy cannot sneak off.
Crate training is the process of acclimatizing the dog to confinement in a crate. A crate, or even a dog playpen, is a great management tool for potty training, and also provides a safe place for your puppy to rest while you can’t actively supervise.
Create a positive association with the crate by giving meals and special treats in crates. Luring your puppy into the crate and rewarding is a great way to build confidence with the crate.
Consider placing your puppy’s crate not too far from the door you will take for potty breaks during the day so you can get outside as quickly as possible. Putting the crate in your bedroom at night will allow you to hear any whines to go out in the night. Some puppies appreciate having their crate by their owner’s bed for the first week or more as added comfort – the transition to their new home and lives can be stressful!
Tip: Puppies need approximately 18 hours of rest per day. A good rule of thumb is 2 hours downtime for every 1 hour of awake time while they are young. If your puppy seems extra rowdy or nippy, a nap may be overdue.
Getting a dog used to touch is vital for many reasons and can be lifesaving, with a dog that is easily handled for veterinarian and grooming appointments, and being comfortable enough to allow help in case of emergency. Doing exercises daily for the first couple of months will create comfort and calmness around handling as your puppy will learn that it is all normal.
Your puppy should work daily on becoming comfortable with having ears touched and examined, eyes examined, lips lifted, gums and teeth touched (and eventually brushed), paws and nails touched (working up to nail trims), tail lifted, and being restrained. These exercises will allow your puppy to comfortably have teeth brushed, nails trimmed, be examined by the veterinarian, and more.
Never scold your puppy for having an accident. This will make potty training more difficult as your puppy will learn not to go potty when you are nearby, or worse. If you catch your puppy going potty inside, try to interrupt (say puppy’s name or make a novel sound) and take your puppy outside to finish. Praise your puppy for going potty outside. You can even give a treat to show your appreciation!
When your puppy is outside of the crate or other confinement, 100% supervision will ensure there is no opportunity for accidents and there are no missed signs of needing to go out.
Tip: Take your puppy potty immediately after activity changes such as eating, drinking, sniffing, resting, playing, or training.
When you take your puppy out, set a timer for 5 minutes. If your puppy goes potty within 5 minutes, praise and set a new timer for 10 minutes. This gives the puppy enough time to completely eliminate. If your puppy does not go potty within the 5 minutes, return to the crate or confinement and try again in 20 minutes. Free time indoors requires an empty bladder.
Puppy potty pads should only be used if going outside is not practical, or if the puppy will be left alone for long periods of time. Otherwise, they can slow training down and become confusing for the puppy.
Tip: The maximum time a puppy should be able to hold its bladder is 1 hour per month of age plus 1 hour. This means an 8-week-old puppy should not be required to hold it for more than 3 hours. Overnight can vary; an 8-week-old should be able to hold it for approximately 4 hours, but if they wake up sooner, they may need to go out.