New puppy parenthood is an exciting, busy, occasionally exhausting time. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by their antics, the constant supervision, the frequent potty breaks, the puppy proofing, and the pressure to raise the perfect dog.
To remove some pressure, I’m here to tell you that there is no perfect dog! Puppyhood comes with it’s own challenges, as does canine adolescence, even adulthood. No dog is one thing all of the time. There might be days during their puppyhood that they’re bitey, in their adolescence where their ears seem to have stopped working, and days in their adulthood that make you think, “where did that behavior come from?” Luckily, we’re here to help at any age.
But it’s always good to get a jumpstart! Now is the time to start building good habits, strong behaviors, and setting yourself up to have the best relationship with your dog that you can. These 3 lessons will be sure to help you do just that.
Lesson # 1 - Variety is normal
You’ve definitely heard something like, you need to socialize your puppy, or socialization is key. And it is important for building confidence and preventing reactivity. But what does that mean?
It’s not just learning to play with other dogs, or greeting every person you see. It’s about how they perceive novelty. It’s not feasible to introduce your puppy to everything/everyone they might encounter in their life. It is, however, possible to expose them to enough variety in a positive way, that novelty isn’t surprising or startling.
But exposure alone is not socialization either. If they learn that different settings, sounds, sights, make good things happen, they’re more likely to feel confident in a new situation. Pair new things and people with tasty treats and play. Watch their body language and don’t force them into any situations they find uncomfortable.
There can be pressure to let everyone who sees them to get in their face, pet them, even pick them up. But it’ll pay off to let them make the first move. Be their advocate - they can approach if they choose to and it’s safe, but encourage and help them to move away if they get scared of someone or something.
Lesson # 2 - Do...nothing
This is a big one - and not many people think about it. It doesn’t have a cue, so we often forget to train it. But having the skill to relax when there’s nothing going on - and even in exciting environments is WAY underrated. It’s a skill that needs practice - and reinforcement!
What’s the first thing you do when you see your puppy lay down and relax? Probably relax, yourself! But if that’s always the case, they can quickly learn that the only way to make things happen is to get crazy. Try this instead:
Carry some low value treats around in your pocket or leave reinforcement stations around the house - little jars you can quickly access if you need to spontaneously reward good behavior. Tiny milk bones, kibble, or even cheerios are great options. When you see them lay on their bed or in their crate, or sit or lie down at your feet, toss a treat right between their front legs (so they don’t need to get up.) At first, they’ll wonder where it came from. They might wander around to find more, but eventually they’ll settle down again. Repeat. Soon, they’ll learn that relaxing makes treats fall from the sky - and voila! You have a dog who simply relaxes when they’re not sure what else to do.
If they’re remaining in that position, you can sporadically continue rewarding. More frequently while they’re learning or there are a lot of distractions around, and more randomly when it becomes a habit.
Lesson # 3 - Come RUNNING when called
Having a fast, reliable recall means you can give your dog more freedom and not have to worry as much about losing them or putting anyone in danger.
Puppies under the age of 5-6 months naturally want to spend time near home, and near the people or dogs they’re most familiar with. They also naturally become more independent and interested in exploring on their own when they’re older (especially during adolescence, 6-18 months.) So we might as well capitalize on that tendency to hang around while they’re babies.
Start by teaching strong name recognition. Pair their name with a treat 5-10 times (even if they don’t look at you.) Then let them get just slightly distracted. Say their name, and reward with a treat when they turn their head. If they don’t look right away, resist the urge to repeat their name. Give them 10 seconds to think about it before trying again!
After that step, use the skills in this video to easily teach a rocket-fast recall: https://youtu.be/ZmRu0ldzP7k
Successfully raising a dog requires you to do 3 things: maintain a strong bond, setting yourself and your dog up for success, and having patience - puppyhood and adolescence don’t last forever! While these foundation skills will help you achieve your training goals, remember that we offer in-person and virtual private lessons and group classes if you hit a speed bump. In fact, we can teach all of these things for you with one of our day training bundles!