A list of what you should do with your puppy to ensure a happy, healthy and well-behaved dog for life!
Getting a puppy is an exciting time, but gorgeous as they are, all puppies do become dogs and it’s important to do the right thing from the beginning to ensure you don’t face any issues later.
The most critical time in a pup’s development is the Formative Period (2-4 months of age), when they are most ripe for learning. At this time, you have a chance to shape behaviour rather than trying to change established behaviour – as the saying goes, prevention is better than cure.
Here’s my top list of “must-dos” when you bring a puppy home. If you do all of these things, you will have the best relationship with your dog for life!
- Prepare your house
Set yourself up with everything you need for your puppy’s comfort and training – some essentials are a dog bed, crate, water and food bowls, lead, collar, clicker, toys, training treats and age-appropriate food. Having everything ready and getting your puppy into a routine quickly will help it settle in easily to life with you.
- Socialise, socialise, socialise
You MUST socialise your puppy with lots of different people of all ages, races and gender (including young children) as well as other dogs, and other animal species such as cats, chickens, livestock. Don’t do this and you risk raising a mal-socialised dog that grows up protective and wary of strangers, which can lead to fear-based issues, serious aggression or unacceptable prey drive. Even though this time conflicts with your puppy’s vaccination period, you still need to find ways to socialise in a safe manner because if your puppy is isolated, they will likely have issues later on.
- Expose them to everything
Your puppy is developing its important coping mechanisms and ability to deal with novelty as an adult dog, so it needs lots of different experiences to avoid becoming fearful of these things later. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of some stimuli you should expose your dog to: busy roads; fireworks, thunder and heavy rain (if none is forecast, play loud recordings of them); vacuum cleaning; loud music; loud noises; riding in cars; skateboards; motorbikes; sports games; children screaming; people running around; big movements; umbrellas opening unexpectedly – anything you can think of! Between 2 – 4 months of age, your puppy’s “fight or flight” fear response hasn’t yet developed, so they are not afraid of anything – this makes it a perfect time to give them lots of experiences before they can develop a fearful response to them. I also like to desensitise any puppies I work with to having kids behave in an unexpected manner around them, touching their tail, patting them on the face, yelling or playing loudly etc. Of course, we need to teach our children to be respectful of dogs, but it’s safest to desensitise dogs to all the things that kids can do while they’re puppies, so that they’re unafraid of and not startled by these things later on.
- Teach training foundations
Get your basic commands down pat – sit, down, come, heel, no, leave it, wait. Go to puppy school or use my Dog Zen programme to teach these commands at home.
- Set boundaries
Don’t allow your puppy to do anything you wouldn’t let an adult dog do, such as jumping on the couch or sleeping on the bed (if you don’t want them to), jumping on you or play biting. Be consistent – it will be hard to change these behaviours once they’re established.
- Leave them alone
Don’t spend every minute with your puppy or it may develop separation anxiety, which is highly stressful and difficult for a dog to deal with – a bit of tough love is required! You need to teach them how to gradually separate from you for longer and longer periods – starting with short stints of time away and slowly increasing this.
- House training
A no brainer – you don’t want excrement and urine on your carpet forever. Crate training is the most effective option, and I cover how to do this in my Dog Zen training programme.
- Destructive behaviour
Dogs naturally like to chew things and as puppies, they are teething and learning what they and cannot chew. Leave appropriate chewables such as rubber toys or rope in their crate and sleep area, avoiding anything that resembles furnishings in your house. Otherwise it is hard for them to differentiate what is and isn’t ok – that means soft toys are out! Read my blog on how to prevent destructive behaviour and stop puppies biting here.
- Reward only the good
Recognise when you’re rewarding undesirable behaviour. If you pet or pick up your puppy when it’s whining, you’re rewarding the whining and building that habit for life. Same goes if you pet your puppy or speak to it in friendly tones when it jumps all over to you – this tells your dog that you like that behaviour, so of course they continue! The key to having a well-behaved dog for life is consistency from the beginning, remembering not to unwittingly reward behaviour that you don’t want to encourage.
- Get them desexed
I recommend desexing males by six months before they start leg raising and dominance issues appear. Bitches should be allowed to go through their first cycle, so desex after their first heat.
And perhaps most importantly – enjoy this time with your gorgeous wee puppy and be sure to give them plenty of love, attention and pats!