The holidays are a popular time to bring a puppy home for the family (and if you're still in the "considering it" stage, here's a post to read first), but it can also be a very busy time of year. We've got parties and gatherings and visiting family and errands to run, etc. It's difficult to fit group classes or even Private Training sessions into the calendar to start formal training with your puppy.
So, what do you do if your schedule isn't flexible, you're not sure where to start, or you're not sure what you can do in the meantime?
First of all, know that you have the whole rest of your SideKick's life to teach them how to Sit or Lay Down or walk well on a leash.
Second, when your SideKick is a puppy - young and impressionable, there are still plenty of skills you can and should work on with them to build confidence and to begin developing a relationship with your puppy! Below are five basics you can begin with your puppy right away - and both you and your puppy may not even feel like you're training at all!
1) Pay attention to what you like.
Puppies do a lot of stuff we aren't fans of: They jump on everyone; they have accidents in the house; they chew the furniture and gnaw on our hands with their razor sharp shark teeth. It can all be a bit much and overwhelming (I totally get it).
We might be tired of dealing with all the things they aren’t that great at (yet), so it probably feels difficult to catch the things we're happy to see; but, puppies actually do things we like to see a lot. And, if we want to see more of what we like, watch for it and reward it!
Did your puppy lay down on the rug while you were watching TV (instead of clobbering your feet)?
Did your puppy grab a toy and bring it to you to play (instead of grabbing your hand to "play")?
Did your puppy pee outside (instead of on the kitchen rug)?
That's all wonderful! Offer pets, verbal praise, maybe toss a tiny treat or two. If you want your puppy to repeat the "good behavior" you like, the best way to ensure that is by showing your puppy they can earn all the good stuff by doing those behaviors! The more you can reward the good behavior, the more good behavior you'll see!
2) Set a routine or schedule.
After bringing your puppy home, I recommend setting some sort of schedule or routine.
This is when we eat.
This is when we sleep.
This is when we play.
And so on! Do you need to follow the schedule to a T? Not necessarily, no. Small deviations aren't going to hurt anything, but setting a predictable schedule helps your puppy learn when to wind down - and tone down the play tornado; it helps put their digestion and pottying habits on a schedule, so you can be proactive about house training; and it gives YOU periods of downtime, you know - to relax, accomplish things you couldn't while keeping an eagle eye on the puppy, and recover from the previously mentioned play tornado with razor sharp shark teeth!
Note: I recommend keeping the schedule on the weekends as similar as you can to the weekday schedule, as well; this helps keep all your progress from the week rolling into the weekend!
3) Provide downtime activities (without using the crate or kennel).
Have you ever tried meditating? Was it difficult for you to shut your brain off and stop thinking about the giant to-do list or the suddenly-very-important-thing you forgot to do earlier? Did you have a hard time relaxing and calming down?
Just like meditating or relaxing can be a difficult task for us, it can be tricky for our puppies to learn, as well! It's an important skill, though, to be able to lay down and chill out - particularly if there are other things going on around us.
If you've been working on kennel training with your puppy, that's great! We definitely want your puppy to feel comfortable enough to calm down, relax, and take a nap in their kennel; however, we also want your puppy to be able to do those things other places:
In the living room while we're watching TV
In the kitchen as we're preparing meals
In the dining room during meals
In the office while we're working
During these times, you might offer your puppy a relaxing activity to do - something that involves sniffing, chewing, licking or lapping. Offer a chew toy, a snuffle mat, a stuffed Kong or Licki Mat on their mat, bed, or blanket. Maybe toss a couple treats every now and then for relaxing on their mat, bed, or blanket (actually relaxing, though; not the tense, ready-for-action, Sphinx-type of laying down).
Help your puppy learn that not ALL of their awake-and-out-of-the-kennel hours need to be a play tornado!
4) Get out and start experiencing the world NOW! (AKA socialization)
Socialization is absolutely critical for your puppy. And it's not just meeting other dogs and people - it's so much more than that! The more new things, situations, and places your puppy can encounter, experience, and explore, the better!
It's not necessary to plan a special "dog outing" every day, but make an effort to introduce your puppy to a variety of things each time you leave the house or apartment: Practice stairs, going through the lobby of your apartment complex, passing through automatic doors, ignoring other dogs and people (just as important as actually meeting them). Practice getting in and remaining calm in the elevator; take your puppy with you to collect the mail and packages. Practice riding in the car as you run errands and bring your puppy in pet-friendly stores you visit.
It's important to get a rich bank of experiences under your puppy's belt while they're young, so they'll feel more confident and comfortable as an older puppy or adult dog.
Sometimes, we hear from breeders or friends or the internet that we should wait until our puppy is fully vaccinated to start socialization outside the house. This is outdated advice and I recommend following the suggestion of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB): the risk of illness is far less than the risk of behavior issues that can result from poor or improper socialization between the ages of 8 and 16 weeks.
To avoid any undue risks of dog or puppy illnesses, I do recommend avoiding the dog park or any other dog-saturated areas for socialization before your puppy is fully vaccinated; stick to safe situations, such as puppy classes, playdates with your friend or neighbor's dog, etc.
5) Have fun!
Try not to take yourself or your new puppy too seriously. Puppyhood is, inevitably, a time of messes, destruction, and learning. Probably, there will also be a few times when you wonder what the heck you got yourselves into with a puppy - we all do it; you're definitely not alone.
For a few months, your house probably won't be as clean as usual - or maybe it'll be cleaner than normal (at least, from the waist down) because you don't want your puppy to find and destroy anything; your nights will be interrupted by early morning alarms to go outside for a potty break; and patience may run thin with a puppy who sees your hands and arms as things to grab and chew and nibble.
Puppyhood does not last forever, though! Eventually, things will calm down; you and your family and your new puppy will get into the swing of things; and your puppy will learn a lot of valuable lessons that make them a wonderful part of your family and household. Until then, though, enjoy! Cuddle your puppy; laugh at how clumsy they are; and take lots of pictures!
Happy "training" with your puppy!