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Planning for a new puppy



Getting a puppy is an exciting time and whether it’s your first dog or your first in a long while, it’s worth doing some planning in the lead up to bringing the pup home. That way, every member of your household knows what is going to happen and what is expected of them. This will help to make things easier during those key first weeks and also prevent some unwanted issues when your pup is a fully grown adult dog.


Boundaries and manners


The key message here is ‘start as you mean to go on.’ Right from day one, think about how you want your puppy to behave when they are a 20, 30 or 40kg adult dog. It’s one thing for a puppy to pull on a lead towards another dog, it’s a totally different scenario when they are a strong adult and you’re being pulled across a main road.


Your puppy is like a sponge – constantly taking things in and learning. Every interaction with you is a learning opportunity so make the most of that. You don’t need to be having ‘formal’ training sessions every day but it’s amazing just how many chances you have during a normal day to shape behaviour.


If your dog is going to live in the house with you, make sure that you are instilling those manners and boundaries from the day your puppy comes home. Don’t let it barge through doors, ensure you shape calm behaviour at mealtimes and when people visit or return home. Think about what is acceptable to you, for instance, is the dog allowed on the sofa or not, and set those expectations so that you don’t have to undue unwanted behaviours at a later date.


Lifestyle


What does your everyday life look like and how will your dog fit into it? Will your dog need to be at home for a few hours on its own while you go to work or will it be going to your workplace with you? Is your household busy/noisy, will your dog spend time in a crate, who visits you regularly?


You want your dog to be comfortable and able to fit in with your way of life. In a lot of ways, this is harder and takes more thought for a puppy who will live in the home than one who is going to be kennelled. The dog who is going to be a member of a household needs to be introduced to a wider number of scenarios and rules, than one who is living in a kennel environment.


Spend some time analysing your lifestyle and make a list of the things that you will need to introduce your dog to so that you can work through these things in those crucial few weeks. The sooner it is used to different smells, noises, environments, and daily routines, the better. Those things will then become the norm rather than something to be scared of.


Meet and greet


While we’re on the subject of lists, think also about who your dog will meet regularly in its life and therefore who’s company you want it to be comfortable in. Please note - I’m not advising you to go out and introduce your dog to everyone you come across – quite the opposite. You want your dog to be comfortable with your friends and family and to be able to greet them appropriately, but you don’t want your dog to think it’s OK to go up to everyone it sees. Not only could it run up to someone who is scared of dogs but you’re making it an easy target to steal.


Take the time to teach your dog to greet people you know in the correct way. Decide how you want your dog to behave when people visit your house – should the dog wait on its bed, should it sit by the door? It’s up to you but again, think about how you want your puppy to behave as an adult dog. Grandma may not mind a puppy jumping up for attention but she may not be so keen when 12 months later that same dog can stand on its back legs and put its front paws on her shoulders.


Key commands


Your puppy follows you round all day and constantly looks at you. Your feed it 3-4 times a day. You will take it outside to the toilet numerous times. That’s a lot of opportunities in any one day to teach your puppy the basic commands that you want to use. Mealtimes in particular can be used to instil that important recall (you’ll be amazed just how quickly puppy associates that recall whistle with something good happening) and a snappy ‘sit’ while you hold the food bowl above their head.


Use some of your puppy’s food or treats to walk around the house or garden with your pup in the heel position. Keep things fun and sessions short and reward your pup for being next to your leg. It will soon learn it’s a rewarding place to be.


As with all commands, decide what they are going to be and stick with them. Use as few as possible, keep them short and instil them from the very beginning.


Consistency


If you live in a multi-person household, consistency is key. That’s consistency with every command, interaction, and rule that you put in place. It’s no use teaching door manners if someone else in the house let’s the puppy get away with barging through the door. A dog will absolutely work out who in a household is the ‘weakest link’ and what behaviour it can get away with.


Before your puppy arrives, decide collectively what the house ‘rules’ are going to be, what commands you will be using and, particularly if you have younger children, discuss why it’s so important that people don’t deviate from those rules. This will make it much easier for your puppy to learn and understand what is expected of them. It will also mean that you won’t have to spend time in the future undoing bad habits and unwanted behaviours.


How to deal with the general public


You may be wondering why I’ve bothered to include this point but it’s such an important thing to think about. Many people think it’s perfectly acceptable to walk up to someone with a puppy and be able to touch it, sometimes without even asking if it’s OK to do so. I remember one occasion when I had settled my spaniel pup under my chair in a pub, my food had arrived and I was midway through my meal when a person approached and without warning, reached down to stroke my pup while exclaiming “you don’t mind if I say hello do you?”. Well actually, I did mind. Of course, puppy dived out from under the chair, suddenly excited and the person in question looked surprised that I was so miffed with them. Now I love puppies as much as the next person and whilst I would love to interact with every one that I see, I appreciate how important it is to leave well alone, unless I’m specifically asked by the owner to greet their pup.


Be OK with saying “No” and be ready with an explanation of why not if that makes you more comfortable. It’s OK to ask people to step back and let them know your puppy is in training. Ignore the rolled eyes or negative comments – your puppy is not public property. Ultimately, you want to build a strong bond between you and your dog so that when it is older, it will be focussed on you, even in distracting environments. Do your dog a favour – in the long term you will protect it from being an easy target to steal and from becoming a potential nuisance.


The same applies for other dogs. By all means introduce your puppy to the dogs that it will meet in everyday life, in a controlled and calm manner, but don’t let it run up to any dog that it sees and absolutely don’t feel you have to let your puppy ‘play’ with other dogs.


Above all, enjoy this time that you have with your puppy. Make learning fun and make all experiences positive ones. Set your pup up to succeed by making it clear what is expected of them and being consistent. Building that strong bond with your dog will pay you back many times over when it becomes an adult. Put the planning in place before your puppy arrives, and the time and effort in during those early days, and you will reap the rewards when you have a well-mannered, well-trained and happy dog that you are proud to own.

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