Your new puppy – starting off on the right paw

Dog - puppy

Although dogs evolved from the wolf, they segregated as a separate species perhaps as long as 100,000 years ago. This means that dogs behave very differently from wolves. It is believed that they were first domesticated at least 12,000 years ago!

Dogs are very social animals and live in a social group. As with any group, there has to be someone (a leader, or organiser) who decides what the group should do at any given time and what is best for the group. Leadership is based on deference, not assertiveness or force. This means always giving your puppy kind, clear and consistent prompts to help them learn what is expected – right from the first moment you bring your puppy home. These cues need to be reinforced for the life of your dog.

Beds and personal space

Your puppy should have a bed of their own as it will be their personal space which provides a safe haven for the puppy. It is often a good idea to crate train your puppy. Crate training can:

  • Prevent damage if the puppy is destructive when they are investigating their environment.
  • Help with house training.
  • Be a safe area for the puppy when you are unable to supervise them.
  • Enable the puppy to be a part of the family when they may otherwise have been put outside and been excluded.
  • Help with future hospital stays and boarding.

Your puppy needs to socialise

Puppies have a sensitive period of development called the socialisation period. It occurs from about 3–12 weeks of age and any experiences the puppy has during this time can affect later behaviour. A well-socialised dog is a dog that accepts other dogs and people without becoming frightened or aggressive. It may not necessarily want to interact with all other dogs or people but copes well with these situations.

It is also important to expose your puppy to many experiences and things during this time in a non-threatening way so your puppy knows these experiences are just a part of normal life. Your puppy needs to learn to interact with other dogs and have contact with people other than your family, so take them with you when you visit friends and go out in public. However, your puppy should be fully vaccinated before you take them out into public places to prevent diseases such as distemper, hepatitis and parvovirus.

Puppy Preschools are a safe way of helping to socialise your puppy and start teaching them good manners.

Feeding times

Most puppies need to be fed around three times a day. It is best not to leave your puppy alone when eating so they learn that having people around food is a good thing. Putting tasty treats into your puppy’s bowl as they are eating will help your puppy look forward to people being around at meal times and help them become less protective of food. As your puppy grows the amount they are fed will need to be adjusted. Commercial puppy foods which provided balanced nutrition for a growing puppy will have guides on the bag / tin that will inform you of how much a puppy of a particular age and size is generally required to eat.

My puppy keeps crying at night

Your new puppy might cry at night when you first bring them home. You can help them settle in by providing them a comfortable warm bed of their own. Teaching them to sleep in a crate, can help make them feel more secure and using a synthetic pheromone analogue diffuser near their bed can also help them settle.

My puppy chews everything!

One of the most common complaints new puppy owners have is that their puppy bites and chews everything including hands, shoes and furniture! Puppies explore the environment with their mouth so it is important to provide lots of safe, size appropriate chew toys. Change the toys daily to maintain interest.

How can I stop my puppy biting me?

If a puppy wants to interact with us, then they must learn not to bite.

Puppies do not “grow out” of biting habits so what may seem cute and bearable in an 8-week-old puppy is definitely not when they have developed a full size set of teeth and powerful jaws.

One way puppies learn to inhibit their biting is by playing with other puppies. When one puppy bites the other too hard, play stops. No-one likes a bully! So the puppy learns if they want to continue to play, they must control their bite. We can teach puppies the same thing.

  • Encourage puppy to chew on safe toys that can’t be swallowed and cause damage internally.
  • Fresh raw bones can help exercise their jaws and also keep teeth clean. Care must be taken to ensure the bones don’t splinter as if swallowed they can become stuck within the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Never allow your puppy to bite, chew or mouth you, even if it seems to be in play.
  • If your puppy does bite, walk away and ignore them, DO NOT punish them.
  • Using your hands and waving them around may excite your puppy so if they are biting it is best not to use your hands to correct the behaviour. Slapping your puppy may actually make things worse. It makes some puppies hand shy while with others it actually encourages aggression.

How can I house train my puppy?

Puppies may not develop full bladder control until 20 or more weeks of age so be patient, the number of accidents your puppy has should reduce with time. Puppies develop preferences for toileting on particular surfaces when they are around 7–8 weeks old so during this time take them to the surface you want them to use later.

Puppies are most likely to want to empty their bowels or bladder when they first wake up, after eating and after play. It is in these times when it is most effective to house train your puppy. It is important to take them to where you want them to toilet, whenever you notice signs they may be about to toilet such as starting to circle or sniffing at the ground and also every few hours in between. Take them to the same spot each time and praise them profusely when they toilet in the correct location! Offering a tiny bit of food as a reward when they are finished, can help make the whole experience even more enjoyable for your puppy.

If your puppy has an accident in the house, never rub their nose in it or punish them later. Puppies only make an association if it is less than a few seconds after the act. If you do catch them in the act, making a sudden noise (that does not frighten your puppy) may help stop the flow. Then whisk your puppy outside and give them lots of praise and a tasty treat when they are finished.

Puppies love to dig in the garden!

Make sure your puppy has lots of toys to occupy their time while you are out so they do not have to make up their own entertainment, for example, by digging in your garden. For the dog who has to dig, a digging pit, similar to a child’s sand pit can be very useful. Bury their toys, bones or other tasty treasures there for them to find and it will occupy them for hours.

How can I train my puppy?

By the time they are about 7 weeks of age, puppies can learn the same things as adult dogs. The only difference is they have shorter concentration spans and are clumsier as their motor skills are not as well developed. Puppies can learn to “sit”, “stay”, “drop” and “come” on cue very easily when food is used as a reward. These words are really just good manners for dogs. Think of “sit” as really meaning “please”. Ask your puppy to earn attention or walks by sitting (saying “please”) first. This will help them grow up to be well mannered.

Teaching your puppy to settle or be quiet on cue is also very important to help manage your new puppy. By using short, easy steps and lots of patience your puppy will quickly learn what is expected of them. Training is forever. Your dog needs to exercise their mind as well as their body so regular training is needed in addition to physical exercise to ensure you have a well-behaved pet.

Training tips

  • Take time to spend 10–15 minutes each day training your puppy throughout their life.
  • Each lesson should be short and fun and always finish on something the puppy can easily do.
  • Daily leash walks when your puppy is old enough to go out are important to help them use up some physical as well as mental energy.
  • Use rewards and remember – there has to be something in it for the dog. Dogs, like people, learn fastest when the reward is given immediately, is very desirable and given every time. Once your dog knows what you expect of them, they will remember what is expected longer if you reward them intermittently.
  • Be consistent in your training. If your dog is allowed to jump up sometimes and not at others, it is very difficult for them to learn what you expect of them.
  • There is no need to shout if your puppy is disobedient. Their hearing is four times better than yours!
  • Every day try to touch your puppy all over. Look in their ears, in their mouth and clean their teeth so that they learn that these are tolerable, even fun, but certainly not frightening experiences. Reward them when they are relaxed. Remember, if they won’t let you look in their ears when there is no problem it will make it very difficult for you need to put eardrops in later.
  • When doing anything with your puppy be positive and use lavish praise and reward.
  • Most importantly, HAVE FUN and enjoy your new puppy!

By using short, easy steps and lots of patience your puppy will quickly learn what is expected of them, and remember, training is forever.

This content was originally published by Australian Small Animal Veterinarians (ASAV), a special interest group of The Australian Veterinary Association.