Are you fully prepared for a puppy?
A while back a couple of first-time dog owners (with a toddler!) came to see me with their new Rottweiler puppy. They had brought him direct from a puppy mill to the clinic. They wanted a crash course in puppy behavior and training, along with buying a dog bed, food bowls, food, and toys, while debating whether a collar and leash were necessary.
Half an hour of hard talking, and I had a horrible glimpse into the future, where an undisciplined Rottweiler puppy growls at the toddler for pulling his ears, gets labeled aggressive and ends up in a shelter – or worse.
Deep breath and count to ten.
To do the right thing by your puppy means being knowledgeable about training and treats, and navigating through a bewildering array of choices.
Dominance theory is out, and reward-based training is in.
The latter relies on knowing how your dog’s mind works and is a much kinder, more fun way of forming a bond. If it’s a few years since you’ve raised a puppy, then catch up with what the buzz is all about by reading up.
Books I can heartily recommend include “The Happy Puppy Handbook” (Pippa Mattinson), “The Power of Positive Dog Training” (Pat Miller), “The Perfect Puppy” (Gwen Bailey), and “Don’t Shoot the Dog” (Karen Pryor).
The essence of reward-based training is reinforcing the behavior you want, such as “Sit” or toileting outside, with a treat when puppy does well. The key to this is finding your pup’s “must-have” treats.
Treats are one thing (along with praise and toys) that will hone puppy’s eagerness. Indeed, it’s a great idea to have a range of treats from averagely-interesting to will-do-anything-to-get to ramp up puppy’s motivation.
To find the treats that push your pup’s buttons, offer him a range of delicious morsels – only a little at a time, mind, you don’t want to upset his stomach. If your dog is greedy (i.e., a Labrador) he’ll work for regular kibble (heck, he’d work for cubes of cardboard), but other less food-motivated breeds take trial and error.
Consider the following:
With regard to potty training, get Mother Nature on your side and give your dog a den. A puppy’s instinct is not to draw the attention of predators by soiling his nest. A crate mimics this safe place, so pup tries to hold on rather than foul his sleeping area. This gives you the edge by allowing you to offer puppy regular chances to visit the toilet spot and lavish him with praise when he performs.
You will live with the crate for the duration of the dog’s life, so make sure it suits both the dog and your lifestyle. There are five types of crates:
Whatever your choice, the most common mistake is buying a crate that is too big for the puppy. With too much space, he loses his toilet inhibitions!
To avoid this, select a crate that allows him to stand up and lie down with his legs outstretched. If necessary, buy a large crate and improvise a partition so he only has access to part.
Last but not least, look for toys to help you train. The Number One secret weapon is the KONG, which when stuffed with delicious pate will keep puppy happy for ages. This is a great way to distract your pup when you leave, and it reduces the risk of separation anxiety.
Choose sturdy chew toys that allow the dog to exhibit his natural instinct to chew, but be certain the toy is big enough that it can’t be swallowed whole. Look for toys with different textures, such as smooth and knobby, as well as balls, tug toys, and cuddly toys, in order maintain puppy’s interest in play and develop a strong bond between you.
And don’t forget that the Number One magic ingredient is your time and patience. Lavish your attention in a positive way to help the puppy grow into a well-adjusted adult dog.