Getting a new puppy is exciting. There’s so much to do and see and learn…together. Now is a great time to think about what looks right for you and your puppy. While your furry companion needs to learn skills for navigating a human world, as his human you need to think about what looks right – what are those skills, behaviors and activities that you want for your puppy.
Your puppy is a dog. That will never change. An obvious statement, but worth keeping that in mind when imagining “what looks right”. Dogs are opportunists – trashing or counter surfing is normal from there perspective. All dogs chew and many enjoy digging. Dogs need community; they love your company and the company of other dogs. Expecting your furry friend to stop behaving like a normal dog sets you both up for disappointment.
Dogs communicate verbally (whine, growl, bark) and non-verbally – learn to read your dog early. Misunderstandings between the human and canine species can lead to big problems later. Understanding what your dog is saying, then responding appropriately builds trust while decreasing the chances of behavior problems later.
Nutrition is confusing. There are many philosophies about what is right with little supporting data. Even in the veterinary and vet nutrition community, there is little agreement about how to feed your puppy. Regardless of what you feed, how you feed is just as important. Dogs (and people for that matter) are wired to hunt/search for their food. When you plop food into a bowl your puppy has an opportunity to express her “dogginess”. While allowing him to forage or hunt (think trashing or small game hunting in the back yard) is not advised, there are activities that mimic foraging. So throw away the food bowl – really – and have some fun with food!
Puppies are a bundle of genetics and life-experiences packaged in soft fur and adorned with shark like puppy teeth. You may alternate between feelings of overwhelming love (rising oxytocin levels as you sit with your tired and angelic puppy) and exasperation (leading to a rise cortisol levels or a rush of adrenaline as you catch puppy running toward the street or chewing a shoe for the hundredth time). So does your puppy. Remember, he’s a canine, and you do just as many things that don’t make any sense at all to him. (What’s wrong with chewing something that smells like his favorite person or chasing the squirrel?) It will take time to get to know each other and learn to communicate effectively.
Puppies are learning all the time – keep that in mind. Now is the time to set the stage for a lifetime of desirable behavior. The best way to do this is to know what looks right to you. Catch your puppy lying down being calm? Calmly reinforce that with a “good girl” or drop a treat in between her paws. Did your puppy just greet you politely (four feet on the floor)? Reinforce that behavior
with a treat or “good boy”. The more often you reinforce a behavior you like the more often your puppy will perform it.
I strongly urge you to get into a positive reinforcement, force –free puppy class that includes socialization and problem solving. When seeking a trainer, ask questions! Don’t assume that anyone calling himself or herself a trainer has been educated in animal behavior and learning theory. Does the trainer advocate dominance, alpha roles, scruffing, shaking, choking or using aversive collars (electric/shock or bark collars) on the puppy? That kind of training will only create fear and mistrust in your puppy and damage your relationship. There is never a time that is appropriate for a human to act aggressively toward any animal. IF you and your puppy have had the unfortunate experience of being in a class where this was taught, please seek help from a positive, force-free trainer sooner rather than later.
Congratulations on taking a step toward making this great life together for you and your puppy. At The Learning Dog Academy, we believe if you learn together and play together, you will stay together.
How can we help? The Learning Dog Academy offers private in-home training, day training, puppy socialization and behavior consulting.
Have questions about your puppy? We’re here to help you!