Here are my recommendations on how specifically survive puppyhood:
1) Immediately put in place, and reinforce, the rules you want for your dog. Yes, I said dog, not puppy. What you teach now will carry into adulthood. So if you think it’s adorable that your 15 pound Great Dane puppy crawls on your head while you’re sleeping, imagine how “cute” it’ll be when he’s 100+ pounds. It’s easier to teach from the go.
2) Every moment you are interacting, both you and your puppy are learning. Every moment, every touch, is reinforcement (making the preceding behavior more likely) or punishment (making the preceding behavior less likely). Actively holding a clicker and treats in training mode is definitely not the only moment the pup is learning. If he barks and you pet him – he learned. If he looked at the back door and you let him out to pee – he learned. Remember this, as you can look back and figure out where a behavior came from!
4) Create a safe zone for your puppy. This is not simply a crate, as they do not come crate trained – see next point for that. They WILL get into some kind of mischief if not supervised or contained. Don’t give them the option. My trick when I bring home a puppy, is to have an x-pen set up, giving approx. 4x4 feet of space. ONLY puppy-safe items go inside – toys, chews, blankets I don’t mind getting destroyed, etc. No expensive shoes or furniture! This is where he goes when I need a bit of puppy-free time (to shower, make dinner, etc). This is not a time-out, punishment zone; it’s a fun place for him to spend some alone time. Limiting his free roaming cuts down on destroyed items and potty accidents.
5) My trick for crate training: first, please do NOT toss your puppy in a crate and call it trained! A crate trained dog/puppy LIKES its crate, and will go in willingly. How I start this – first, make a point to make the crate a happy place. This could be a post all on its own, so I will recommend checking out Dr. Sophia Yin’s amazing Crate Training Handout. The second part of my trick, when you are not actively training your pup to love his crate, is to passively help him love his crate. Remember that safe zone in point 4? Leave his crate in there, with the door left OPEN. And put a super comfy, awesome blanket in there, along with a great toy or bone. Make sure the only super awesome comfy place is the blanket in the crate. The puppy learns to lay down and enjoy his crate while you’re getting ready for the day (or screaming in your pillow to blow off steam from the $600 purse he ate that morning). One caveat: I DO NOT recommend this if your puppy is genuinely terrified of the crate. I mean, so scared that he will not enter on his own. At that point, consult a behavior consultant!
6) Routine. Puppies (and dogs in general, while we’re at it) thrive on routine. If each day is different from the last, there is no predictability and security, and therefore a chance that your puppy could become anxious/fearful. Stick feeding times, walks, everything, roughly the same time every day.
7) Puppies do not come trained to walk on leash. This is another one we humans have forced on our four legged companions. But that’s not to say it’s inhumane to put them on one – it’s all in how you teach it. Start by getting your puppy used to a collar or harness. Show them the harness, give a treat, then remove the harness and treat from view. Present the harness, then give a treat, then it all disappears again. This shows the puppy harness brings good things. Sloooowly get the harness closer and closer to being on him (one leg through+treat, remove, one leg and another halfway in+treat, remove, and so on). One you’ve got that on him, and he’s comfortable, get him used to a leash in the same way. Clip leash on, give treat, unclip leash and remove treats from view. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Once you’re finally walking, heavily reinforce him walking on a loose leash next to you. Every step he takes in the proper spot = treat. If he does run ahead and pull, slowly walk backwards (do NOT yank him), pat your leg, and coax him back to the right spot next to you. Once he’s in the right spot again, reward with a treat and forward movement. The more you reward the proper spot, the more he will want to be there.
If you have a puppy that plops his butt on the ground and refuses to move. Hold a treat in front of his nose, then move it just out of reach, where he must stand to get it. The moment he stands, give him the treat. Repeat this to get him to take one step, then another. Don’t hold the treat in front of him and keep moving that same treat another 6 inches away, and again, and again. This is like when it gets to payday, your boss says “nah you’ll get paid next week” over and over. REWARD baby steps (literally)!
8) I realize that I’ve said in nearly every point above to reinforce and reward – we’re going to have some fat puppies! This may be the most important point, saving the best for last. I recommend to all clients, for dogs of all ages – handfeed! Food is a primary resource, without it, we cannot live. Now, let me be clear – I am NOT saying to starve your pup. I am telling you to be the provider. If he wants his dinner (paycheck) he’s going to have to work for it. Measure out your puppies daily kibble, and use it to reward desired behaviors through multiple training sessions throughout the day. This achieves many things, and all of them good: deference – your puppy has more value in you and what you want because you’ve been practicing that for every meal. Drive and value in food – if the resource is provided for free, in a bowl, they care less about it. If it’s worked for, it has more value. It forces us to work with our dogs – they gotta eat! If you handfeed for all of puppyhood, you will most likely end up with a dog that sees kibble as a treat. If dogs are free fed, you have to find treats to train – usually high-fat, bad-for-them-nutritionally treats. And, as mentioned before, fewer fat puppies! Seriously, handfeed, handfeed, handfeed!
Stay tuned for part 3 - typical problem behaviors in puppies and how to survive them