New Year, New Puppy

Who doesn’t love to start the year with a new challenge? Maybe it’s a New Years resolution … get fit, eat healthy, dry January … it’s all about a fresh start and a new attitude. How long we last in these resolutions is another story.

Perhaps your new challenge comes in the form of a new dog, either a new puppy or a newly adopted rescue dog. Christmas is prime time for many people to bring a new dog into their home, despite the widespread warnings of why it’s not always the best time for a new arrival, many people will still choose to make the decision.

With an influx of new arrivals, there are a few things to think about. This isn’t only applicable to New Year but also to anyone who decides to bring a dog or puppy into their home throughout the year.

When Does Training Start?

Something we are commonly is ‘when should I start training my puppy?’.  At 8 weeks old, they seem so tiny and vulnerable, it almost seems unfair to begin training so early and should we really expect such a small animal to be able to learn and understand?

The truth is, by 8 weeks your puppy has already been learning huge amounts throughout their short existence. Everything they encounter and experience is forming associations and teaching them how to respond or cope in life. Their puppy brains are like sponges, soaking up information and developing their future personalities. They aren’t born blank slates by any means, but these early experiences are crucial in their development.

It’s never too early to train a puppy!

We should never forget that the behaviours we reinforce at a young age, are likely to develop with the puppy, this means you need to think ahead a little and decide what behaviours are appropriate and which ones may require some training.

  • If your 10 week puppy is jumping up at you, this may seem cute now, but in 10 months time when your dog is considerably bigger, will it still be so desirable?
  • A young puppy pulling on their collar and lead may seem harmless, but when it comes to teaching loose lead walking later on, you will be left with a big association to undo
  • It’s tempting to never leave a puppy on its own, but think ahead to when alone time will be essential, you’ll wish you put the foundations in much earlier

Sometimes we view ‘training’ as attending a 6 week course with our puppy, we sit in a hall with lots of other puppy owners and teach the basic skills of sit, down, recall and so on. While these classes are a great idea, as long as they’re run appropriately, they aren’t enough to say ‘I’ve trained my puppy’, nor are they enough if you do no training practice in the week between classes.

Training is very much on-going, in fact it’s constant. Puppies are always learning, whether we want them to or not. Training doesn’t have to simply be teaching a puppy basic behaviours like sit, down and recall, while these are good skills, training also needs to cover all the other skills your puppy will need as it grows up. Things like, being left alone, settling on a bed, walking on a lead, being confident with handling and grooming.

Leaving training to late or waiting for a puppy to mature will leave you with bad habits to undo and a dog who is more likely to find learning difficult. Learning in itself is a key skill, some dogs are great learner, while others find it much more stressful. Just like people, some will pick up skills very easily and enjoy the challenge of learning, while others find it frustrating and exhausting. Teaching your puppy to enjoy learning from a young age, will set them up for the future and build a tolerance of frustration, an ability to think and learn, and better skills to cope with low levels of stress.

You don’t have to teach complex skills or behaviours, even simple things like ‘sit’, ‘down’, ‘middle’ or fun tricks and games will build all these skills.

Training Isn’t Everything

We can never underestimate the importance of good socialisation alongside training our puppies. While training new behaviours and teaching good skills will set our puppies up well for the future, we shouldn’t prioritise this over socialisation. The two things should compliment each other, not contradict but we should think first about what our puppy is learning and whether they are having a positive experience.

Take lead walking as an example:

  • Teaching skills on lead is important from a young age, reinforcing calm lead manners and no pulling will help set your dog up to behave perfectly on the lead in future
  • However, teaching lead walking before exposing your puppy in a positive way to traffic and the outside world, will only set them up to fail
  • If a puppy is trying to process the environment, they’re trying to understand these funny moving objects on the road, listen to all the sounds and take in the smells and sights, and you’re next to them yanking the lead around or pulling them to your side, they’re likely to quickly feel overwhelmed and stressed
  • Training needs to be broken into small parts for puppies. You could work on lead manners in the house or garden, where you puppy feels safe and confident already, keep it fun and relaxed so they find the lead positive and they enjoy walking beside you. Play some lead pressure games which teach them to turn to you and not continue to pull into lead pressure
  • In other environments, let your puppy watch and observe, carry them along roads or sit at a distance from traffic. Make sure they always feel relaxed and confident, and move further away if they become stressed. Pair the sights and sounds with rewards and reinforcement from you
  • Overtime you can bring the two areas together, you can begin short durations of lead walking training along pavements and gradually bring in busier or new environments

This can apply to any ‘training’ in environments or moments where your puppy may be trying to process everything around them. Rather than focusing on whether your puppy is listening to you or behaving in a perfect manner, focus on helping them understand the environment, make sure they’re relaxed and remind them to check in with you for rewards and reinforcement. If your puppy is overwhelmed or showing signs of fear (e.g. trying to run away, hiding behind you, jumping at your for reassurance) then you need to change what you’re doing and remove them from the situations.

Training can overshadow a puppy’s ability to take in the environment, so while it is important and it can have huge benefits, don’t put so much emphasis on training new behaviours if your puppy hasn’t yet adjusted to the environment around them. For some puppies, training and practicing skills they’ve learnt at home, will help them relax in a new environment, but still give them time to look around and calmly take it all in!

You’re Not Alone

Having a new puppy can feel overwhelming at times, especially when you’re reminded of how important socialisation is, how you have to get it right, how you need to be teaching your puppy x y and z right now …

Having a trainer alongside who can offer support and reassurance can make all the difference. Even for people who have had dogs in the past, a new puppy can present new challenges and we’re left wondering what’s going on. Knowing you have a trainer who can listen and advise can really help in those tricky moments.

Puppy classes can be invaluable in this sense, they provide you with a group of people in a similar position (i.e. new puppy owners!) and a trainer who has experience with puppies. However, puppy classes aren’t suitable for everyone and not every puppy can cope in a class environment, so seeking help in other ways can be equally beneficial.

An experienced trainer will be able to guide you through the challenges of puppyhood, they may be able to spot early signs of problems and offer guidance on how to work through any potential problems. The earlier you can notice warning signs, the easier it will be to manage and resolve issues before they progress.

Advertisement

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s