Welcoming a new puppy into your home is so exciting! The big, floppy paws, the puppy breath and all that extra skin! What's not to love? I absolutely adore working with puppies, if I could, I would be a puppy nanny and take care of puppies all day! Every puppy is different. Sometimes you get the shy, maybe a little fearful puppy and it's so rewarding when they start coming out of their shell. There's the other extreme with the outgoing, fearless puppies who are ready to get out into the big ol' world! Either way, our training advice is the same across the board. It's important to start them off on the right foot and provide them with a foundation that will make living together so much easier.
Tip #1: Humane Training
Humane training methods means we do not use fear, force or pain while working with dogs. While some might have their reservations about using positive reinforcement, here's why I suggest it:
Humane training methods are just as effective as other methods in producing reliable results in training. How do we know? There was a study done on the effectiveness of different training methods and their impact on animal welfare. Owners had more positive ratings in their dog's obedience, when using positive reinforcement (without punishment)! (1)
In the same study, owner's using positive reinforcement also observed less problematic behaviour issues.
It's a great way to bond with your puppy! Using humane techniques are fun and enjoyable, not just for the dog but for us as well. It helps us focus on the positives of teaching our dogs, even when they do something we don't like. We can change potentially "bad" behaviour by teaching them something we like better!
Tip #2: Socialization Is Life Saving
The socialization period ends around 3-4 months old. During this time, puppies absorb all kinds of new information about their environment, which makes socialization extremely important. Puppies are curious, even when shy or fearful, and when using humane training techniques, we are setting our puppies up to better succeed in life. During this time puppies need to be exposed to a wide range of new experiences that include a lot of new people, animals and places.
"Humane training techniques and socialization go hand in hand."
Socialization is life saving because it helps reduce the risk of fear and aggression when puppies are older. New things can be scary but if your puppy has had a lot of positive experiences with new situations, they will be more capable of handling it when these situations arise when they are older. Of course it's important to know that it can't always be positive all the time, some situations may scare you puppy. In those cases, it's important to let your puppy move away from it and observe from a distance. Reward all curiosity and let them vote with their feet.
Humane training techniques and socialization go hand in hand. The best way to create positive experiences is through praise, play and of course, delicious rewards. Have fun finding what really motivates your puppy! I suggest deli meats and cheese for big ticket items!
With all that said, it's also commun to hear that you should wait for your puppy to be fully vaccinated before socializing. However, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior suggests that puppies 7-8 weeks old can participate in socialization puppy classes 7 days after their first round of vaccines, of course while keeping up with the rest of the vaccination schedule.(2)
Here are a few socialization ideas:
Taking your puppy out to run errands, especially when you go pick up their food from the pet store.
Going to a puppy class and puppy socials.
Car rides and people watching while in parking lots.
Happy visits to your vets office
Tip #3: Super convenient life skills
Loose leash walking
Good leash skills mean everything! The better leash skills your puppy has, the more enjoyable the walks will be. Which means, you'll want to go out for walks more often! It's a huge win for both of you. When we teach loose leash walking, I don't mean heeling. Heeling is fun for sports like rally-o but not useful in everyday life.
Walks are good for physical exercise but they are also super enriching to our dogs' lives. They get to explore their world through sight, sound and smell! Teaching our dogs loose leash walking means keeping the leash loose, no pulling and this can be done while letting them stop, sniff and explore!
Coming when called
This skill is life saving. Really. Sometimes stuff happens like someone left the gate open or your puppy jumped out of the car before you could grab the leash. In these situations, you would want a super reliable recall. Going with humane training techniques, we can train a dog to have a reliable recall (coming when called), it's all in the prep work!
Each time we call our dog, he learns something. When we use rewards like cheese and deli meats, our dogs learn that amazing stuff happens when he comes to us when we call. We are competing with everything out in the world and it's important to 1) teach him that only good stuff happens when we call and 2) we are worth leaving the squirrel for!
Sit for everyday life
It may seem obvious and everyone teaches their dog sit but it's a really useful skill to teach. Once a dog learns sit, we need to work it into everyday life, which is where some people have trouble. Teaching this takes time and lots of practice. Even though our dog reliably sits inside the house, does not mean t
hey understand it when around different distractions. Practicing sit and generalizing it to different contexts will help make it work when you need it to.
Here are a few applications of using sit:
Jumping up at guests
Eating their food or receiving a toy
When the door opens
When they see another dog in the street
To say hello to people on walks
While waiting in line at the store
Tip #4 Hiring A Certified Professional To Help Early
I love how motivated people are to take on training their puppies, and with so many resources, it makes the task a lot easier. However, sometimes we need help and put it off. Sometimes it's a money thing, and sometimes we have our personal reasons.
Hiring someone when your are encountering some tricky issues with your puppy will help save you from a lot of stress and frustration. Whether it's housetraining issues, obedience or even fear and aggression, it's important to seek help as soon as possible. Certified professionals have the education, experience and skills to help you through it. There are many certifications out there and each one should be very open on it's use of humane training techniques (and it's opposition to fear, pain and intimidation).
It may not be the first thing you look for, or seem obvious to ask. Those who have done a lot to continue their knowledge and experience with animals are very proud to show it off in their about me section. (i'm always weary when it's very brief). I encourage you to find someone who is educated, experienced and certified. Take a look at my About Me page on my website.
Dog Inspired online puppy course
If you are interested in helping give your puppy the best start in their new life with you, I suggest my online puppy course. It is a self-paced course with 5 weekly modules covering everything from house training, obedience, socialization and prevention. To learn more, follow this link.
(1)Dog training methods: their use, effectiveness and interaction with behaviour and welfare
(2) Position statement on puppy socialization by AVSAB link