The First Steps With Your Puppy
To start this article, I want to just say that owning a puppy is a LOT of work. Owning a dog is a lot of work, but owning a puppy… it’s a whole different show. The amount of time needed to properly socialize and train a puppy is unbelievable. The good news? It’s worth it. The more time that you’re willing to put into a dog during this crucial developmental stage, the more you’re doing to notice a difference down the line.
There are so many different things to consider when talking about “puppy training”. I hope that in the near future I can write several more puppy training articles that I’ll be able to link to this page. In the meantime though, I’m going to cover four essential topics that I think every new puppy owner should understand. Those are: Building a schedule, imprinting, introducing the crate, name recognition. These four things will be the building blocks for all of your dog’s future training. I know it’s exciting and there is definitely a lot of work to be done; but remember to take your time and try to understand what your dog is telling you and don’t push things too fast, too soon.
Building a puppy schedule
Building a schedule is going to be one of the most advantageous things that you can do for your puppy. A written schedule will help to solidify rules and times that everyone in the household can follow. Even if you’re by yourself, I strongly recommend writing out the schedule because it can help keep you on track with goals and stay very constant. Dogs, especially those in the puppy phase, are habitual learners. So a constant and consistent schedule will make things like early training and housebreaking much easier.
Here’s a great example of how writing down your puppies feeding and potty schedule can help you out. Pretty regularly puppies eat three or four small meals per day, and we know that the puppy should be taken out within 15-20 minutes right after eating or drinking. If we are keeping track of the schedule, and there is an accident in the house, then we can mark it down and look back and see why the puppy wasn’t able to hold its bladder. Were they taken out after eating last? Did they eliminate the last time that they went out? How long ago had they been out? These are questions that can be easily answered if everything is written down. The best part about the schedule is that it allows US to learn quickly and adjust what we’re doing to prevent future accidents. Like I mentioned earlier, dogs are habitual learners, so if our puppy has several accidents in the house within a week’s timespan then they could be forming a habit that will be significantly harder for us to break.
Below are a few examples of puppy schedule print outs found online:
“Imprinting” really just refers to the act of us exposing the puppy to a large number of things that they may or may not be around throughout their life. Before we get into examples, I want to talk about the puppy’s state of mind. During this time of development in the dog’s life, they are significantly more resilient. We want to use that resiliency to help expose the puppy to various things that would initially be perceived as “scary”. The puppy might become scared and back away from a “scary” trash bag being opened; however, thanks to their natural resiliency at this stage, within a few seconds they are curious and willing to investigate. Because of this, we can give lots of encouragement and treats and get the dog used to tons of otherwise loud or frightening noises. Putting this effort in early will help you to have a much, much more stable and confident dog down the road.
Example noises to work with:
- Blow dryer
- Dropping metal utensils
- Loud trucks or trailers
- Dryer or refrigerator door slamming
- Front or side doors slamming
- Trash can rolling on the driveway
- Opening trash bags
- Shaking wrinkles out of clothes
Example surfaces to work with:
- Turf Grass
- Metal grates in the city
Getting your puppy exposed to these things early, to the point where they aren’t phased by them anymore, will help so much later in life. Your dog will be significantly more stable and comfortable in tons of environments. It is important to keep in mind though, that even though puppies are naturally more resilient than older dogs, they can still get stressed. Read the signs that your dog is uncomfortable and if it gets to the point that they don’t want to work with the particular noise anymore, that’s okay! Call it a day and come back later with lots of reinforcement and praise. Working through those bumps now will be more than worth it.
Introducing the Crate
I’m not going to go into too terribly much detail in this article about crate training. There are so many things to stress about the importance of crate training early and to keep doing it consistently throughout your dog’s life though, that I feel it’s worth mentioning here. I plan to write a much more in-depth article on crate training in the near future, I’ll link it [here] once it’s finished. In the interim though, let’s talk about the most basic function of a crate. In its simplest form, a crate is used to control your dog’s environment. It’s as simple as that.
Best times to use a crate:
- When you can’t keep a constant and close eye on your pup
- In between potty breaks
- When you think they need rest between training sessions
- When you need to clean, so that they don’t get to chew on things
- When you’re traveling
- When guests are over
In all of these examples above, we are using the crate to limit the puppy’s options on what to do. We are controlling their environment. We know that there are only so many things that they can do when they are in the crate. That being said, we need a crate that is the proper size for the dog, otherwise, they can get into mischief that we don’t want. For a puppy, the crate shouldn’t be very big. The crate should be tall enough for your dog to comfortably stand and big enough for them to turn around and lay down comfortably. That’s it. We don’t want there to be a lot of space. If you have a bigger crate, I strongly recommend you look for a [crate divider]. This will help to limit the space. This is so important for puppies because we don’t want them to be able to eliminate on one side of the crate and then go lay down and nap on the other side. Naturally, a dog does not want to dedicate where it sleeps; because of this, we will start to use the crate to help teach the dog to extend the time between eating and eliminating.
A few more quick notes about crating your dog. The crate should never be used as a “time-out spot” for the dog. If the dog eliminates in the house, it’s ok for you to put the puppy in the crate while you clean up the mess; but it shouldn’t be with harsh words or pushing the puppy into the crate aggressively. If the puppy has gone to the bathroom in the house, it’s ultimately our fault for not keeping a close enough eye on them or being aware of the schedule! We want to keep the association with the crate as positive as possible. Use the crate as a place for your dog to eat and even practice impulse control. For example, when you go to let them out of the crate, make them wait until you give the “OK”. This can be the start of training for an exercise that we’ll do down the road when it comes to going in and out of doors!
Future Crate Training Articles: [Choosing a proper crate], [Crate Training Process], [How to Use the Crate to Potty Train].
Name recognition is a fantastic foundation for puppy training. It’s important to be able to get your dog’s attention and to realize that “all good things come from my person”. This is where we start our puppy training. Here’s what this exercise looks like:
STEP 1: Call your dogs name
STEP 2: When the dog looks at you, treat them
STEP 3: Let them get distracted and repeat STEPS 1 & 2
Sounds challenging right? Haha, not at all! It’s actually just as easy as that! The only thing worth noting is that the dog WON’T know its name when you first start this exercise. So what we do is make ourselves interesting at the same time that we say their name. We can do this by either raising the pitch of our voice (commonly referred to as “the puppy voice”) or use our body to make a movement. By moving around or clapping we can become exciting and interesting to the puppy. This will naturally make them look to us. We want to pair it with their name to start. As the puppy begins to pair them together, we want to say their name, give a small delay, and then continue with the movement or noise we were making. The puppy will quickly realize that “I hear this name, and then a fun game starts and I get treats”. The puppy will start to react to you saying their name because they have learned, through your consistent pattern, that they will soon get treats!
As this exercise continues we can start to fade out the noises and obnoxious voice, but in the meantime, enjoy being silly with your puppy! If your dog is past this point in training, we can try to modify the exercise slightly:
STEP 1: Hold the treat out to your dog
STEP 2: Say their name
STEP 3: Don’t give them the treat until they look away from the treat and at you
– If the dog is sniffing or scratching your hand for the treat, hold it in a closed fist and don’t say anything else, just wait patiently.
STEP 4: The moment the dog makes eye contact with you, give them the treat and lots of praise
To take this one step further, you can begin moving the treat near or around the dog’s head and have them maintain eye contact with you. We call this a “focus” command. It serves a few purposes down the road but the main takeaway, for now, is that we want our puppy to realize that these treats are coming from US, not the magic treat pouch at your side or from your hand.
I know that this is a lot of information to throw at you in one blog article… but this is only the beginning! Good on you for seeking advice and education to raise your puppy the right way! Keep learning, feel free to ask questions, and enjoy the puppy stage!