Puppy’s First Weeks with You.
The first few weeks can be tough as you can’t yet take out your puppy. But there is a great deal your puppy can be learning before she can go out.
Although many puppy owners spend the first days playing with their puppy this may not be teaching them what you want. Whilst play is important, it should have clear boundaries.
Your pup should have a safe toy to which she has free access such as a treat ball. You should also have a box of toys which are kept out of pup’s reach: a) so pup doesn’t get bored as she has free access and, b) so that pup can’t pester you to play with a toy. You generally should make sure you invite your puppy to play when she is being calm and relaxed as this rewards calm behaviour. It is better to avoid playing if your puppy is pestering you as this would reinforce demanding behaviour. Pups which get what they want on demand can lack motivation to do what you want as there is no incentive to cooperate with you.
Keep games fun, but also keep them calm. If pup starts to become really excited, ask her to sit and wait until she is calmer before starting again. If she can’t sit, slow down the momentum of the game until she is calm enough to listen.
Don’t play too much chase as this can strengthen chase motor patterns and turn your pup into an adult chase monster. So mix it up with hide and seek (find the toy) and trick training.
• Too much prolonged play can rev pups up too much. Keep play sessions short but sweet.
• Use play as an opportunity to reward calm behaviour.
• Use play as an opportunity to teach self-control by asking for a “wait” from time to time.
• Too much contact with your pup may prevent her from learning to be independent which could increase risk of separation issues.
Be calm and relaxed
It is really important that puppies have a balanced energy budget by having regular sleep and wake periods. An eight week old puppy probably benefits from roughly two hours awake followed by two hours asleep for the whole day until about 21.00-22.00 when they will probably want to stay asleep.
If your pup has much more or less than this it is likely that she will become either over stimulated or store up too much energy. Both conditions can have the same outcome, a rambunctious puppy that looks like it was crossed with a crocodile! So regulation of sleep and awake cycles is very important.
When awake, your puppy should be gently taught what relaxation feels like. Gently slide your fingers down/up her ears (depending on whether they are drop or pricked ears) with a thumb one side and a finger the other. Do this nice and slowly whilst breathing deeply yourself, they mostly love it. It’s very calming. You should also gently massage their head, brows and face and then all over. Whilst doing this you should start to get pup accustomed to having her body checked over, ears, eyes, paws, tummy etc. Also incorporate grooming. A qualified Tellington Touch practitioner should help guide you with some very specific relaxation techniques. You can also get books by Lynda Tellington Touch which describe the techniques in more detail. At first you should do this when all is calm and relaxed. Then when you start to take pup out, you should also use these calming techniques as you gently expose your pup to sights and sounds outdoors. Attend a well-run controlled puppy party and practise this technique in the presence of other under control puppies.
Your puppy needs to learn to be calm and relaxed anywhere. This is an ongoing process.
N.B. If your pup resists gentle handling you should contact a qualified trainer/behaviourist to help you.
• Establish a consistent sleep and wake routine to manage your pup’s energy budget.
• Focus on physical relaxation techniques and teach your puppy she can be calm anywhere. This is a gradual process.
• If pup doesn’t want to be touched, ask for professional help as soon as possible.
Give and leave
So many people make the mistake of taking items off puppy. Pups explore the world with their mouths and sometimes this is dangerous. The first lesson your puppy needs to learn is “Leave it.” This is best trained by holding in one hand a bland treat. As you open your hand say “Leave it”. If the pup approaches it gently close your hand. Wait until pup comes away and repeat. After a few times the pup will not approach the hand anticipating it being closed. When she does not approach, praise her and give her a really tasty titbit which you have in the other hand. This ensures that your pup would not approach something you have asked her to leave. You should reward the slightest hesitation to approach and then gradually wait a little longer before delivering the reward. Vary what you are asking her to leave as you progress with this exercise. Develop this exercise so you are building up to putting items on the floor and asking her to leave etc. Make sure you incorporate into your training items you know you puppy tries to take.
Teach Drop. If your puppy has something you don’t want her to have you should ask her to drop it, not take it forcibly from her. Forcibly removing things can lead to guarding behaviours. When pup has a toy in her mouth, hold a titbit in front of her nose. As she opens her mouth to take the treat say “Drop”. Let her eat the treat and let her have the toy again. Practise this a lot and use a variety of objects such as: hair bungees, tea towels, socks, shoes, and yes, even your exotic underwear!!! When training use old items ready for the bin. If pup takes it, don’t chase, walk in the opposite direction and do something so exciting she has to come and investigate. Then retrieve the items after she drops it and loses interest.
If your pup shows any signs of guarding, such as: freezing, running off with the object, hiding under a table, placing herself over the object, staring at you, growling, you should seek professional help at the earliest stage. Do NOT chase or scold your puppy for these behaviours as this would be likely to escalate and could result in aggression.
• Don’t forcibly remove items from your puppy’s mouth, this can lead to guarding
• Teach your puppy to drop items.
• Teach your dog to leave items.
Your pup really needs to start to learn self-control even at this young age. So the basics such as waiting for food bowl to be placed on the floor before eating from it should be started. Pup should also be taught to sit and wait back from the main door into the home. Practise “Stay” in this area when no one else is around so that the pup can learn this without too much excitement. As your pup gets better at this you should also ask pup to stay when you let in family members and visitors (don’t let them just enter, use this as an opportunity to train your pup). Remember, it is SELF control we are looking for, not physically controlling your puppy. Calm behaviour by the front door is vitally important as so many dogs rush out of the front door at the first opportunity which can be dangerous. Teach them this from the day they arrive and you should have a dog that remains calm when visitors arrive. Don’t forget to use a lead when training by the front door when you are opening it just in case your puppy does try to get out.
- Good things come to those who wait.
- Wait and stay are important lessons to help your pup to learn self control.
- The puppy should be educated how to do this, not physically held.
If you have been educating your pup in these important areas starting from the day she comes to live with you, you will be teaching her valuable life lessons, all of which will help prepare her and you for the future. Please be sure to book puppy parties and classes for your puppy. Check them before you attend to make sure that they are calm and controlled. Not ALL socialisation is good. Watch out for my next instalment: What is Puppy Socialisation?