Bringing home a new puppy can be one of the most exciting days in our lives. It also can be the beginning of some very trying times. Baby animals are no different than human babies. They depend on their human family for their every need, and they don't come "trained". With patience and consistency you will create an enjoyable pet, and a love that will last a lifetime.
Early Training, Leadership, and Socialization
Because puppies are learning all the time training can begin as soon as you bring your puppy home. Start by helping your pet learn the house rules. Consider the size your puppy will be when full grown as it can be quite fun to cuddle with a 10 pound puppy on the couch, but not nearly as enjoyable to be sharing that same space with a 90 pound adult dog. What you teach your puppy in these early days will stick with them for life and it is MUCH easier to teach them to never get on the furniture than it will be later to teach them it is no longer allowed.
Puppies are easily motivated with strong praise or small tidbits of food ( using pieces of the puppy's kibble as a treat is an easy way to control the amount of treats and not overfeed your puppy). Due to puppy's short attention spans, training sessions should be brief but frequent. Family members can each establish control by teaching their puppy that each reward must be earned by following a basic command such as "sit", "down", or "stay". In the beginning to receive anything of value (affection, attention, food, play or walks) the puppy should perform a simple obedience task. Think of this as "doggy please", which allows the puppy to learn that rewards are earned and not given on demand. By controlling a puppy's behavior and resources an owner can become the "leader".
For example, when teaching "sit" for the first time stand or kneel facing your puppy. Have your treat ready and say the word "sit" loud and clear one time. At the same time bring the treat over the puppy's head, which will make them look up at the treat (as the puppy looks up it will naturally start to sit) and push down on the rump with your other hand - not hard just gentle pressure to encourage them into the "sit" position. As soon as the rump hits the floor give the treat and LOTS of praise! You will need to help your puppy in this way several times and then all of a sudden you will notice that you no sooner get the word "sit" out of your mouth and puppy is sitting and ready for his/her treat! You want to say the command only once because puppies will learn exactly what you teach them. If you do not "help" them to sit on the first word, but instead say the word sit several times until puppy sits you will then have trained your puppy that he/she is supposed to sit only after they have heard the word several times. By helping your puppy to complete the task quickly and correctly as soon as you say it you and puppy will both be successful in your attempts and understand each other better. Try to leave negative words out of training sessions in the beginning. A puppy should not be expected to do what it has not been taught.
Early socialization is extremely important in the development of a well-adjusted pet. The first 12-16 weeks are the most important time for your puppy to learn about their environments, but they will continue to learn throughout the first year of life. Controlled, positive, calm and measured exposure to new and novel things will help socialize a puppy and perhaps minimize fear reactions later in life. Insufficient or uncontrolled exposure to loud or tumultuous situations and things can result in timidity, fear and other unwanted behaviours. Puppies should be exposed to adults, children, bicycles, service people, vans, loud noises, large boxes, garbage cans - anything you can think of really. When your puppy reaches 6-8 months old you might notice new fears you have not seen before in your puppy. This is a normal developmental stage and social contact should be maintained or social skills may diminish and fear may escalate. Introductions can be made more pleasant by incorporating small treats and play sessions to make them happy occasions. Once your puppy is fully vaccinated, puppy socialization classes are a great way to help your puppy become adjusted to people and other dogs.
Feeding and Housetraining
The goal of housetraining is to encourage and reinforce elimination in the desired location(s). Good supervision in the first few weeks helps the puppy learn these lessons. Puppies will generally need to to go outside within 20-30 minutes after sleeping, eating, drinking or playing.
By meal feeding your puppy instead of leaving food out all of the time you can better guess when the puppy will need to go outside. Be sure to look on the back of your bag of food and find the recommended feeding amount. These amounts are measured with a standard 8 oz measuring cup and the amounts represent what the puppy should eat per day - NOT per meal. Depending on the number of times you feed your puppy in a day you will need to divide the daily amount into meals of equal size.
When it appears that the puppy needs to eliminate, it should be taken to the preselected location immediately. Giving verbal encouragement - such as "go potty" - may help. Once elimination occurs, the puppy should be praised immediately. You may choose to also use food rewards, but no matter what the reward is it needs to be given immediately after elimination NOT when the puppy returns to the house. Therefore, someone must go outside with the puppy to encourage and then reward elimination. By waiting for the puppy to return to the house for its reward you have just congratulated the puppy for coming inside. The reward will not be associated with going potty and that good deed will go un-noticed in the puppy's mind.
When used properly, a crate can be a helpful tool in raising a puppy. A crate should always be used in a positive manner, not as punishment. It can be used as a housetraining aid as well as a way to confine a puppy when no supervision is possible. For very young puppies it is essential that they get outside to eliminate and exercise after a few hours and not remain in their crates all day. If forced to remain in their crates beyond the time that they can reasonably be expected to hold urine and stool, they may be forced to eliminate in the crate. (At 3-4 months old a puppy can usually wait 4-6 hours before they need to eliminate). If a dog learns to eliminate indoors or in the crate, this can make housetraining very difficult. Try not to overuse the crate when you are able to be home. If you can't supervise puppy closely due to other activities you need to do try keeping the puppy with you using a leash for control instead of leaving the puppy continuously in a crate. When crating is overused it can lead to hyperactivity and attention getting behaviors.