Congratulations on your new puppy!
There’s no feeling quite like bringing that little bundle of cuteness home on the first day.
Have you had a puppy before? You probably don’t remember it being like this your first time around. And what about all the conflicting information online? If you don’t have the help of a professional to guide you through, it can all feel a bit overwhelming.
And to top it off, parents often focus on the wrong things in the first few weeks with their puppy. Even with the best of intentions, this results in them having to play catch up.
So what should you be teaching your new puppy? I can tell you it’s not sit. Sure, sit seems like Puppy 101, but there are more important things that your puppy needs to start learning right away.
This is THE most important aspect of a young puppy’s life and the most misunderstood among new parents. Here are just a few things I hear over and over that will get you and your pup into trouble:
• I can socialize my pup by playing with other dogs
Meeting other dogs is just a small part of the picture. Socializing actually is about preparing your pup for their life and the things they will encounter. Being wary of new things is a way to stay safe, but if we don’t actively help our puppies learn that new and different things are actually OK, you will on your way to having a fearful or reactive dog.
• I can socialize my puppy taking them to my kid’s soccer games
This is one good thing that has come out of our present situation. Pups can be socialized while practicing social distancing. Immersing your pup in busy, crowded, or uncontrolled situations can actually have the opposite effect of good socializing. Instead of flooding, we need to ensure our puppy feels safe and has gentle exposures.
• I take my puppy out every day for a walk around the block.
Block walks just won’t give a pup the variety they need. My favourite way to socialize a young pup is to go on a little road trip to a new place a few times a week. From the safety of the car, we sit together and watch what’s going on.
• I need to wait until my puppy has had all his shots.
Or maybe you’ve been told to wait until the 2nd set of shots. Either way, you’ll be missing out on valuable socializing time. And you can’t make up for it later. Done properly a puppy can and should be socializing the first week they come home.
Setting Up Leash Skills for the Future
I imagine every person reading this has clipped a leash on their puppy already. I did that too, for longer than I would like to admit. Then I realized I was shortchanging the pup every time I used that 5-foot leash.
So what’s my go-to piece of equipment? A long line! I love using a long line and so do the puppies. Here are just a few reasons why:
• Remember those walks around the block I mentioned earlier? Taking your pup out with a plan to get somewhere can cause problems. A young pup doesn’t have the leash skills to walk comfortably for any distance. Usually, the pup ends up pulling for most of the walk. Or planting. No fun for you or your pup. And guess what? Pup’s first leash lesson is that pulling is what to do. A long line offers a different experience, and when used properly it can prevent bad habits that lead to pulling on the leash.
• Using a long line allows your pup to safely have more freedom and engage in more enriching activity while out. They can explore, sniff and move about in a more natural way rather than having to walk at our pace.
By the way, if you think you’re off the hook because you are using an extendable, think again. Most pups started on extendable leashes still develop bad leash behaviours that need to be fixed later.
A Settling Place
Young pups need to sleep. A lot. We can take advantage of this in the first few weeks and get a young pup comfortable with their own den or safe place. This is most easily done when the pup first comes into the home rather than after they have already become accustomed to constant freedom. Why is a safe place great?
• This spot can become a favoured place to rest, quietly entertain themselves or to get away from activity in the house.
• It can be part of a gentle way to begin introducing alone time when the pup is ready.
• It allows you to be proactive and prevent your pup from getting overtired or overstimulated, leading to mouthy or inappropriate behaviour.
• It makes housetraining much easier.
• It allows you to provide an area where your pup will not be engaging in activities you don’t want. This will allow you to get on with other things and give you breaks throughout the day.
So sure, teach your puppy to sit if you like.
But don’t waste your pup’s critical first weeks on things you can teach anytime. There are lessons and experiences that if missed, cannot be made up for later. Be sure to make time for safe and appropriate socialization throughout the week.
Don’t get into habits that you are going to need to change later. Forget those block walks around your house, and instead provide your pup with more stimulating experiences.
And don’t forget that you have a baby on your hands. Be mindful of the amount of activity they have during the day. Provide consistent breaks so both their body and their brain can rest.
Your puppy’s first weeks at home allow you to develop good habits from the start. Be smart and take advantage of this special time!