It is so exciting to bring a new puppy, or older dog, into your home for the first time! It’s all about cuddling, mutual appreciation, and warm fuzzies… right?
We may find, to our frustration and sometimes fear, a new pup is also a challenge at first. I remember the first two weeks of my daughter’s life as being intensely frustrating and scary. Most of the time, I just didn’t know what she wanted. Over time, we learned to trust each other and how to cooperate to our mutual benefit. The same principle works with our dogs though I’ve found it’s much easier with dogs!
In my experience dogs are a lot easier to communicate with than people. Maybe they try harder or their physical communication is a more accurate representation of what’s going on in their heads.
Puppies, and sometimes older dogs, try things that are best redirected quickly. If you know to adjust those things to your lifestyle, you will be more likely to enjoy the years ahead with your new canine companion.
BASIC RULES FOR YOU
Be Fair: “bad” things your dog does might just be your dog misunderstanding what you want.
Be Consistent: Once you create a rule, stick to it. For example, if you decide you don’t want your dog to jump up, don’t reinforce jumping up by pushing your dog back down or loving on her before you push her down. If you want your dog to jump up sometimes. teach a command for that. How about “hug”? Then don’t reward jumping up that hasn’t been invited.
Be Kind: the old saying “you catch more bees with honey” works with dogs too. Rewards are more powerful than punishment, especially when building a lifelong relationship.
Feed Good Food: a diet high in grain or ingredients to which your pup is allergic can cause hyperactive behavior, especially in female dogs. Read more about it in our article What Do Dogs Eat?
Exercise: Dogs need daily attention and mental and physical stimulation. If you don’t have time to make sure your dog gets enough of these things, don’t get a dog. Make daily exercise with your dog a routine for your health and your dog’s!
RECOMMENDED BASICS FOR SANITY & SAFETY
Crate Train Your Pup: Being in a confined space is comfortable for many dogs, perhaps because it feels like a den. This is a good time not to put yourself in your dog’s shoes, so to speak. On this humans and canines seem to have different needs.Having a pup who is comfortable in a crate gives you the best training tool money can buy!
Put Your Stuff Away: The only way to completely protect your precious things — shoes, clothes, and other valuables — is to put them where your dog can’t get to them.
Puppies bite each other almost from birth. They do it to learn. They even try it with mom, who stops rough play gently and firmly in the bud. Biting too hard causes a playmate to yelp and if not softened makes the other dog stop playing. The other dog may even go away. That’s no fun!
Many puppies are removed from their litter before they learn this lesson well.
I encourage you to let your puppy mouth for the first 4 months of life or when you first come into each other’s lives. Learning bite inhibition is likely the best way to keep your dog from injuring other dogs or you, even in a fight. If it gets too rough – leaving red marks or breaking the skin is WAY too rough – take the following steps in order of severity of the bite or refusal to quit biting:
- Yelp first if biting gets too hard.
- Stop playing, get up and walk away.
- Confine your dog in a safe time out; crates/cages are ideal for 99% of dogs.
- Get professional help from a positive reinforcement trainer.
Remember puppies are also teething for a time. Those puppy needle teeth are a menace! Make sure your pup has plenty of desirable chewing items that are safe for them. Desirable means your puppy wants to chew on it. All dogs are different. Take note of your pup’s preference and provide something compatible: soft toys, hard bones, teething rings, wood, and rope all have a different feel.
One clever customer gave her tough-to-please puppy an old shoe – with appropriate supervision, there may be lots of small parts on a shoe. She loves it! Is that confusing and does it put other shoes at risk? No, because the other shoes that are not for chewing are put safely out of reach in a closed closet. It’s too hard to communicate a list of appropriate chewing items to a dog. Just put everything else away. Your house will look less cluttered!
Dogs jump up on us to get our attention. In my experience, people don’t notice their dog soliciting attention until the dog jumps up. Then we wake up and yell “no” or push the dog off, Voila! attention for the dog. Dogs, like a publicist, demonstrate that there is no bad publicity, or attention.
For new puppies who don’t jump much, be aware. When your puppy comes to see you, lean down – safely to the side, an overhanging nose can be injured by a high jumping, powerful pup! – and give him attention. Or drop a treat at your feet when your dog comes to you and doesn’t jump up and say “good boy!” When he jumps up, ignore him. I see many mature dogs at daycare act suddenly as if an annoying playmate has blinked out of existence, POOF! ghost dog.
It’s amazing how often our dogs check in with us, with four feet on the floor, and we don’t notice.
If jumping up has become a practiced problem, pay even closer attention to reward the moment before jumping. CAUTION! Dogs can be confused, thinking “jump up then sit” is being rewarded. ONLY reward a clean approach with no jump before it!Ignore jumping up and use time outs if your dog gets too worked up. Stop other people from rewarding your dog for jumping up. Getting exercise for your dog before practicing the new rules will help you both succeed.
With my big dogs I reach down and out all the time as I walk, letting my fingers dangle so they can slide by and check in for a little scratch. We keep in touch all the time.
Some dogs are just bouncy. Some dogs are too rough when they jump up. Some people are too delicate to handle any jumping up. Sometimes the jumping up gets worse, not better. These are all good reasons to call a professional trainer for help.
Dogs bark for attention. Dogs bark to protect us. Dogs bark out of fear. There are many reasons why dogs bark. It’s important to know the reason your dog is barking when you’re trying to get it under control.
If your puppy is barking for attention, ignore her. Make an effort to play with your pup when she isn’t barking. Give her more attention. Find her playmates. If she comes to sit at your feet, lavish her with attention before she gets a chance to bark. When she barks at you she gets nothing. She is a ghost. If you can’t get away, use timeouts.
Puppies barking at the window, door, and fence should be acknowledged and given something else to do. “Whatcha got girl? That’s enough. Wanna play ball?” If your puppy is barking often in a guarding mode, manage the behavior when you are not available to correct it. Guard barking can be self reinforcing. The dog is nervous when a stranger approaches, she barks, and the person walks away — even if the person is just passing by the house.
If guarding behavior is out-of-control, don’t allow access to problem areas until you have time to work on the ideal of not barking there. At daycare I notice dogs who guard are often disarmed by a filter on the window. You can purchase and easily apply a semi-opaque, translucent filter that will let the sun shine in yet be easy to remove later when your dog is retrained… or you move out!
Simple rule for everyone with dogs: do not chase your dog. Encourage your dog to chase you, safely of course. Some dogs may be hard wired to go too far with a good chase, ending with overly physical play when they catch you. If this is the case, find a good trainer to help you asap.
If your puppy grabs something you don’t want him to have, make a game of following you and trading for something better, like food. Then put those things away in a harder to reach place. It’s called puppy-proofing.
When your puppy comes to you, and they all do at first, always reward him. Think big picture here. If you call your puppy to you and: confine him and leave for work, take something from him when he arrives, throw him in the bath, or take him to get shots it’s not working for your puppy to come to you!
Luckily, we humans can be devious. Be sneaky about getting your dog when you need him without calling him to you. Having trouble? Get professional help from a good trainer.
In an emergency you can use a puppy’s natural curiosity. As soon as you realize you can’t grab him and he’s outside and in danger, lie down on the ground and roll around. You can crouch down and inspect something tiny. You can also run or away from him. Remember to be devious. This tactic will only work once or twice. Keeping your puppy safe from getting loose in the future is the most important rule of all.
As a general rule, puppies have four months from birth to become socialized to your environment. Get your puppy out there often in that first four months! The more dogs see during that time, the better — umbrellas, hats, mustaches, different skin colors, different kids of hair, different sized people, children, wheelchairs, wild-acting people, loud noises, crowds, other dog breeds, cats, horses, etc.
Does each pup have to experience everything? Certainly not! However the more your pup experiences, the better. This is especially true if he is very sensitive and shy. Protect your puppy from being too afraid, but do not coddle him. Encourage him by talking appreciatively, “good boy!” when he’s brave and quietly move him away from the action when he’s too scared.
Signs of fear are: tucked tail, lowered posture, snarling, backing away, etc. If your puppy loses control of his bladder or other bodily functions, the fear is extreme. Avoid this reaction! That’s going too far. If relatively normal things cause extreme fear in your puppy, get professional help from a trusted trainer ASAP.
I hope you enjoy your new puppy or older dog. Being a companion to other animals has always enriched my life, and I’m grateful for their presence.