Introducing a new puppy into your home is a thrilling experience, yet it can also be quite overwhelming. The question that often arises is: where should one begin when it comes to training a new puppy? Is there a specific right or wrong starting point?
It's essential to remember that puppies aren't entirely blank slates; their genetics, early socialization experiences, and maternal influences all contribute to shaping their unique personalities. While each puppy is unique, there are some fundamental aspects to focus on when teaching your new furry friend, which can greatly aid their adjustment to your home and set the foundation for effective training.
Building a Strong Bond: You're the Source of All Good Things
While you might feel tempted to jump into formal training right away, it's crucial to prioritize building a strong, mutual bond with your puppy during the initial weeks. One of the primary lessons to impart to your puppy from an early age is that you are a reliable, safe, and the ultimate source of all things wonderful.
Here are a few ideas on how to achieve this:
- Involve all family members in handling your puppy during mealtimes and walks.
- Engage younger children in age-appropriate activities like helping pour food into the dog's bowl or delivering treats by hand.
- Reward your puppy for positive behavior, using a combination of food rewards and verbal praise.
- Remember that training, when made enjoyable, can also serve as an excellent bonding activity, even from a very young age.
Socialization: Teaching Your Puppy the World Is a Safe Place
The most critical socialization window for puppies typically closes at around 16 weeks of age. Thus, socialization should be a primary focus in the early weeks of your pup's life with you. However, it's not about the quantity but the quality of these interactions.
Here are some recommendations for what to expose your puppy to during this vital socialization period:
- People of varying ages, sizes, and appearances.
- Friendly, healthy dogs of different sizes and coat types.
- Diverse surfaces, such as slippery floors, grates, and wet grass.
- Moving stimuli like bicycles, cars, scooters, wheelchairs, and other objects.
- Animals they may encounter in adulthood, such as cats, horses, and birds.
- Noisy household appliances like vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, and washing machines.
Remember to avoid places like dog parks, daycares, and heavily trafficked pet stores until your puppy has received all the necessary vaccinations. If your puppy appears nervous during socialization outings, give them space to observe from a distance, and use positive reinforcement, such as treats, to create a positive association with new experiences.
For those concerned about how vaccinations affect the socialization process, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior provides a helpful position statement on this topic.
Potty Training and Crate Training: The Dynamic Duo
Potty training and crate training go hand in hand and are crucial initial lessons for your puppy. Proper potty training involves safely confining your dog for age-appropriate periods.
Here's a simplified breakdown of potty training:
- Avoid free-feeding your puppy; stick to a set feeding schedule unless advised otherwise by your veterinarian.
- Monitor your pup's activities, especially after eating, drinking, or playtime, as these often signal the need for a potty break.
- Watch for signs like sniffing, circling, or heading to another room.
- Initially, restrict your puppy's access to only a few rooms using baby gates.
- When you cannot supervise your puppy actively, they should be crated or penned.
- If accidents happen, interrupt them gently with a few claps and immediately take your pup outside. Always reward them for finishing their business outdoors.
- If you discover a past accident, clean it up without punishing your puppy.
Hand Targeting: A Fundamental Training Exercise
Now, let's delve into formal training! One of the initial lessons you should teach your puppy is the hand targeting exercise. This exercise helps your puppy become comfortable with a hand approaching their face, introduces them to the learning process, and is a favorite for kids to practice.
We've provided a video on teaching hand targeting below, along with a practical way to use it for preventing or modifying overenthusiastic greetings.
Coming When Called: Fostering a Lifelong Love for Training
We believe in teaching recall (coming when called) from an early age, as puppies tend to naturally follow us when they are very young. Recall exercises not only strengthen your bond but also in still a lifelong love for training in your puppy.
In conclusion, while every puppy has its unique quirks, these fundamental lessons can serve as a solid foundation for both bonding with your new furry companion and setting them on the path to becoming a well-trained and happy member of your family.