I have often been called upon to help owners address their dog’s behavioral problems. Pulling on leash, jumping up on the company and mouthiness have commonly topped the doggie list of fun stuff to do, much to the chagrin of pet parents. What owners often don’t realize is that many of the behaviors that are considered problematic are rooted in things the dog learned (or did not learn) as a puppy. I know, look at that face, right? Who is going to tell that cute little fluffball not to playfully nip or to jump up for attention when it’s so darn adorable. Well, puppy owners ask yourselves, will that be adorable when you add 20, 40 or even 100 pounds to the dog? Will that enthusiasm still be endearing when it pushes your out of the way or knocks you over? Unless you are a glutton for punishment, I am thinking we vote no on that one!
In an effort to get things started on the right foot, I have come up with a list of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Puppies. Now don’t be deterred, ye owners of older dogs. Although the puppy stage may be long gone for your dog, you can still work to get your dog on track and moving forward, so read on and have some fun!
Habit #1: Knows how to use its mouth properly. A highly effective puppy should be taught early on that mouthing, particularly on human flesh, is not good. Instead of allowing it, give the puppy alternatives of things to chew on, such a Kong toys, Nylabones, and even some chewable toys. Just make sure the puppy remains supervised so that chewing doesn’t result in such destruction that the puppy can be harmed. You can also discourage mouthing by quietly putting the puppy up for a short time out if mouthing persists after a gentle “no.”
Habit #2: Jumps for joy, not for attention. Train a puppy to sit for petting as early as it can grasp the concept of sitting down. If it jumps, don’t reward it with attention and turn away (if it helps, think “oh my, how rude!” to add extra flair and fun to the turn). If puppy’s paws all land on the floor and, bonus points, it sits, give it lots of praise for a job well done!
Habit #3: Knows the leash and how to use it. Get your puppy used to a collar and leash early on. Even before you decide to embark on walks, you can place a leash on your pup and let him drag it around for a bit (under supervision please). You can also hold it for little walks around the house, if puppy will tolerate it, but don’t force compliance. At this stage, keep it fun and reward tolerance with lots of treats, petting and/or praise!
Habit #4: Understands the fundamentals of the training game. The “training game,” in this instance, refers to the fact that the puppy understands that what he does can generate rewards…especially if you ask for it. Work on short sessions of basic training with your pup on such things as sit, down, come, stay and heel. Help your puppy by asking for a behavior, showing him what to do, and then praising him/rewarding him for a correct response. Soon it’s possible he’ll be rehearsing for you to see what generates a treat.
Habit #5: Keeps and eye on its owner. Doggie attention on you is a great thing to reinforce as soon as the dog can focus on your for any length of time. When your puppy’s eyes are glued to you, make a fuss. Reward your dog. Share a hug with the canine. You can even throw a command on it (“watch me” is a favorite)! Attention is going to be a great resource when you start doing serious training with your dog, as it will help you override some distractions and allow you to help your dog get the message when you ask for something. Also, for some dogs that end up being reactive with other animals/people, you can use “watch me” to help doggie calm down a bit while he lays eyes on his favorite human. Of course, we are going to minimize all of the reactive business by instilling habit #6…
Habit #6: Loves being part of the community. Socialize, socialize, socialize. As soon as your vet says it’s safe to do so, take your pup out and about, and help him develop into a social butterfly! It’s imperative that interactions be kept as positive as possible, so a bit of planning may be needed to construct some puppy play dates, visit a local store on a not-so-busy afternoon, or go to the dog park when the crowd is manageable (and you feel comfortable with the play buddies present). Have various people give your dog treats, pet your dog, play with your dog and do other things that your pup just loves. Encourage polite interactions with other dogs and get excited about the fun. Also, as your puppy is out and about, have him encounter different surfaces and stimuli (mulch, gravel, sand, bicycles passing, lawnmowers in the distance, etc.). Pair treats with them to set up a positive association. It’s a fun world out there! Encourage him and reward bravery.
Habits #7: Marks its territory outside. This one really requires your help! Although there are some pups out there who will be quick studies when it comes to potty training, most dogs will require a good length of time and dedication to get this thing right. Make sure your puppy gets plenty of trips outside, particularly after mealtimes, after vigorous play, after long naps and before/after bedtime (as well as throughout the night as needed). Set up a potty spot where your pup will be encouraged to leave lots of presents. Call him Santa’s Little Helper, if that makes it more fun. Also, make sure your little dog is always supervised when inside, so that you can catch potential or occurring accidents and get your puppy outside, where he can do the right thing. Crate training is a great tool during this process, but never leave your dog crated for too long! If it’s practical, you can also tether your puppy to yourself to keep him close when you are occupied.
Having a puppy is a really exciting thing, and what’s even more exciting is knowing you can play a pivotal role in making your canine kid a well balanced, well adjusted adult dog! You just have to be habit forming!