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TIPS FOR FIRST TIME PUPPY OWNERS

December 11, 2020

Getting your first puppy is the most exciting time but also holds a lot of responsibility! Whether you have grown up with a dog in the family your whole life, or never owned one before, getting your own puppy is a whole different ball game and so I thought I would put together some tips that Jack and I found really helped us to settle in and train our puppy, Beau.

Even though we both grew up having family dogs, you don’t really realise how much work goes into a well trained, happy, socialised dog until you do it yourself! But all of the effort is definitely worth it, a hundred times over. The main thing throughout all of the tips is repetition, perseverance, patience and PRAISE. Some things might stick straight away where as others you will be working on a really long time, until one day you realise it’s worked!

Before you read this and think I’m biased towards large breeds, the dog I had before Beau was a chihuahua and he was trained exactly the same (except he slept in my bed most of the time, whoops)!

Things to buy:

  • Crate
  • Treats
  • Bed
  • Collar
  • ID tag
  • Lead
  • Paw washer (honestly a life/furniture saver living in rainy England)
  • Food
  • Toys
  • Puppy pads
  • Bowls
  • Brush
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Flea and worm treatment
  • Pet insurance
  • Vet plan – or just remember to sign them up at one!

Treats

When you start training your puppy treats will be key to teaching new commands. High and low value treats are mentioned across almost every training site, and for good reason! A high value treat is something extra special such as cheese, hot dog pieces, chicken, or in Beau’s case, apple and banana pieces! The lower value treat would be something such as kibble or standard treats that you give them for doing very little. When you are teaching a puppy something new you need to be able to entice them with something they will really, really want which is why the high value treats are perfect for this, rather than using their normal kibble which they get given as standard, and therefore wont be as motivated to work for. Make sure you also verbally praise your dog when giving treats!

Crate Training

I would definitely recommend crate training for a number of reasons, firstly the obvious… when you aren’t giving your new puppy your full attention (cleaning, cooking etc) you can rest assured that they aren’t chewing through the sofa while your back is turned! Simply pop them in their crate with a toy while you get your jobs done and you don’t need to worry about what they are getting up to.

We found it a really good training tool for letting our puppy get to know when it was time for her to rest, too, such as after meals, walks and after her last trip to the toilet on a night time. It also gives the puppy a safe space for their own quiet time, especially if you have other pets or children!

To make Beau want to be in her crate rather than resist it, we fed her every meal inside the crate and also initiated playtime from inside the crate so she saw it as something positive. Once she was used to the crate and saw it as her place to settle we moved her feeding outside the crate.

House training

Basically, watching your puppy like a hawk! The best way to teach your puppy to toilet outside is to not let them toilet inside. Obviously, that might not always be possible and accidents are inevitable. When there is an accident we found that the best practise is to remove the puppy from the room (or take straight outside if you literally watched it happen), clean the mess, and then bring the puppy back into the room, all without any commotion or shouting… and then just make sure you are watching for any signs the next time! Rubbing a puppy’s nose into the mess or shouting isnt going to teach them where they were supposed to do it, it’s more likely to make them do it somewhere ‘secret’ that you might not find for a while the next time, so they don’t get told off!

When they do toilet outside, PRAISE, PRAISE, PRAISE!

Bedtime

We used the crate for bedtime but wherever you choose to put your puppies bed, it’s the routine which is most important. If possible, try to make sure that the last feed, toilet, and settling down happens at around the same time every evening. Unfortunately, you’re likely to have a few nights of crying which is really, really heartbreaking to listen to but as much as you need to leave them to it, don’t let them get too upset either! It’s a really fine line between not giving in to them too soon and encouraging the behaviour, and not letting it get too out of hand.

We made the mistake on our second night (there was no crying on the first night) by leaving Beau crying too long before we went down to check on her, because she had gotten so worked up she had an accident in her crate which is definitely not what you want. Once we cleaned up and resettled her, we set a 15 min timer on our phones from the time she started crying, if we got to near 15 mins and the crying was not slowing down at all we then went down, resettled her until she was dosing off or asleep, and then went back to bed. It takes repetition and it is very distressing but eventually it works. There were a few nights in the first week where the crying was starting again as soon as we would put her back to bed and in that case Jack slept on the sofa, this meant he was closer to re-settle her and see when she was getting too worked up and he could intervene at exactly the right time. They will get used to going to sleep alone – promise!

Walkies and recall

You can practise lead walking and recall in your house or garden before your puppy can finally go out for walkies. Once that 12 week mark comes around it’s an actual god send that you can finally get them out of the house and tire them out some more because they really do have so much energy leading up to that point! I wont lie, Beau still has a pulling issue on the lead which we are continuing to work on, however you can try to at least curb that by starting off with the right gear.

If you have a breed of dog that will still be small or lightweight when fully gown, this might not really be an issue, but it definitely can be with the bigger or stronger breeds! We started off from the get go with a rope slip lead which adjusts as they pull, and now use a haltie. From our research and speaking to the trainers at puppy class we were put off a harness if we could help it, as harnesses do not teach a dog not to pull, they just make the dog more manageable for you when they are pulling. In truth, they actually give the dog more pulling power as they can push their full body into the point you are holding!

Take a lot of treats with you when practising loose lead walking, so that you can distract your puppy to stay near your hip and reward when they are, or try a squeaky toy if your pup isn’t food motivated.

While Beau isn’t a dream on the lead, she is when it comes to her recall! Recall work is really easy to practise from the comfort of your home, the key is to make yourself more interesting than the distractions. We started by simply calling Beau to us, and rewarding when she came, we alternated the reward with treats and play, but always gave lots of praise. Once she was a pro at that, one of us would play with her and the other would call her from a different room… a bit harder! When we started this, the person playing would stop play once Beau’s name was called so that they were no longer as exciting as the call and reward was, and then we gradually upped the play until she would leave the person playing with her for the person calling her. We also increased the distance so that we were playing in the garden and calling from the living room and vice versa.

Don’t get me wrong, when she was still young we did have a few instances where nothing we did was as exciting than playing with another dog which left us stood looking like inexperienced idiots trying to get her back on the lead! But persistence is key, carry on the walk, train some more at home later that day, and start fresh the next day. Now she is really great off lead and will lay down on the floor and focus on us even if another bouncy dog is trying to play with her!

Top tip – always carry a spare ball.

Jumping up

Jumping up is likely going to be one of those habits that takes a lot longer to train out than other bad habits, but persistence is everything. The main tip I have, no matter the size of your pup, is to not let them get away with jumping up or standing pawing at legs from the day you bring them home. It might be cute when they are tiny and looking up at you with those loving eyes just wanting your attention, but it isn’t so cute once they are fully grown, and it isn’t so cute for people visiting your house. A lot of small dogs get away with this and you can see why when they aren’t strong enough to cause any damage, but it’s still bad manners.

A few things we found have helped with jumping up is having the pup sit before visitors enter the room so that you are setting the expectation of keeping calm with paws on the floor. If they do jump up try not to pay them too much attention in terms of touch, high pitched noises or eye contact, to the dog, this is you fussing them and giving them attention for their unwanted behaviour. Trying to hold their body down is also really unhelpful as their natural reaction will be to jump or push upwards to get you off of them. Saying ‘down’ and then giving them no eye contact while either walking through the house ignoring them or turning your back away from them and being still is usually the key to success, followed up by a fuss once their paws are on the floor! The issue is having visitors who are willing to do the same while you are still training. Obviously people who don’t have dogs aren’t used to this type of behaviour and so you have to understand that some peoples natural reaction will be to scream or laugh but this will only excite the dog more, so any help you can get from calm and understanding friends and family can be a big win (in return for wine seeing as it isn’t a great job!).

Biting

Only allowed with the puppy’s toys, ever, end of discussion. Really though, puppy biting is really bloody annoying but getting them off off you and replacing yourself/your belongings with a toy is the best way to teach a puppy what is acceptable to bite and what is not. If they ignore the toy and go back to biting you or something else they shouldn’t be then a time out or just keep replacing with a toy and not giving them too much other stimulation (touch or speak) is all you can do! If they have a thing for your belongings such as slippers, I’m afraid to tell you that the answer is not getting them their own pair of slippers to chew. A puppy cannot understand why it’s okay for them to chew one pair of slippers to pieces but not the other pair.

Feeding time

Your breeder will likely give you some of the food they have weaned the puppy on, or at least tell you what they are eating and what quantity before you collect them. It’s a good idea to start looking into the type of food you want your puppy to have before you bring them home, whether that be continuing kibble, raw, switching from kibble to raw, or vice versa! Some breeds are better suited to certain diets so it’s important to do your breed specific research and have a look at different forums online which weigh up the pro’s and cons. About 1.5 years before we were in a position to even start looking for a Doberman puppy, I joined lots of Doberman specific Facebook groups so that I could see the different discussions that were going on and I learned a lot about different diets from this!

We decided to wean Beau from puppy kibble to raw at around 3.5 months old, and we haven’t looked back! The raw diet might not be for everyone due to the preparation, general meat handling or fridge/freezer space required, but I definitely think it’s worth looking into for every dog breed. We can see a huge difference in health, muscle definition, coat quality and tooth health when comparing Beau to kibble fed Dobermans so for us the extra effort is an absolute no brainer. It also means you know exactly what they are being fed and this can really help with dogs who are overexcited, as you know there are no additives in their meals.

Generally, the best practise is to exercise your dog and then feed afterwards, as this reduces any chance of bloat and is also a nice reward after a walk or playtime. They should rest and not be too active after eating if possible, too.

Some breeds are also known for eating too quickly so looking at different types of bowls is essential. We have Beau sit and wait before every meal time, as she eats so fast the distraction of concentrating on listening to the command before we let her eat calms her down. Beau also has a puzzle bowl, otherwise she would wolf it down and get hiccups. Speed eating in large or barrel chested breeds can be particularly dangerous as it can lead to bloat which can be life threatening.

Commands

Start with the basics and start from day one onwards – sit, lay down, stay, leave it and here. Anything else is extra! Make sure you start training new commands using high value treats as mentioned above and lots of praise, you can gradually reduce the treat value as the command becomes instant for your puppy but still keep the verbal praise! Beau is over a year old now and although she will do her commands without any treat as a reward (most of the time), we still regularly reward her for even the most basic commands to keep her on top form!

Make sure you are giving your puppy a treat at exactly the right time for the correct behaviour, this is where clicker training can be really accurate as you can click it as soon as you see the right action, and then reward with the treat asap after that.

As well as teaching with the verbal command it’s a good idea to use a physical motion with the command that they can learn too. For example, when we ask Beau to sit we also use our index finger in a ‘number 1’ motion, so when she can’t hear us or misses the word, we can show her the hand gesture and she knows it also means sit. This is a good tip for puppies who are testing the limits and not listening when you ask them to do something, instead of repeating the word 150 times before they listen, you can say it once and then re-enforce the command using the hand gesture rather than your voice. Beau knows a hand gesture for sit, lay down, here, leave it and up.

Training the humans

Probably one of the hardest but most important parts about training your puppy is training all the humans in your house to respond to the puppy in the same way. Consistency across the household is really important, otherwise you will confuse the puppy and it will make training a lot harder and more frustrating for you and them. A puppy doesn’t understand that they are only allowed to play bite ‘every now and then’, it’s pretty much all or nothing for everything. Make sure everyone in the house is clear on the boundaries and what to do when the puppy does something wrong, especially such as ignoring or putting in time our rather than hitting or shouting.

Socialisation (probably the most important!)

Socialise your puppy as soon as you can! Try to socialise your puppy with dogs AND humans of all shapes, sizes and ages! We supervised play and intervened by putting Beau back on her lead when she got too boisterous, and also checked with other dog owners that their dog was happy to play before we let her toddle over. One of the best things you can do is let your dog learn from other friendly dogs, and that includes sometimes having to get told off by another dog! When Beau would play with small dogs she had a habit of getting too boisterous but as we introduced her to bigger breeds that gave her a big bark or paw across the face to tell her to back off, she soon learned how to behave properly and read the signs of other dogs. She is now happy to run around and play with dogs of all sizes and can read when another dog does and doesn’t want to play or isn’t interested in her. Because she knows she is allowed to have a play she has also become good at having a little play and then moving on, rather than making a nuisance of herself and not knowing when enough is enough. Obviously, you want to make sure that play is safe for your puppy and the other dog too, so recall and communication between you and the other dog handlers is key.

It might be scary introducing your teething, playful ball of energy to small children, but it really is the best thing you can do if you can. Make sure that the child you are introducing your puppy to is confident and respectful of the puppy, and also supervise your puppy’s reactions and behaviours closely. I would recommend having the puppy on the lead and being in very close proximity to your puppy, such as having them sat on your lap, and below the child’s eye line. Giving the child treats to give the puppy can help them both see each other in a positive light, and making sure to take away the contact as soon as your puppy gets too boisterous, introducing again one they settle. You would be surprised how much a dog can pick up a child’s energy and be a lot more well behaved and careful around them than they are grown ups!

Alone time

With so many puppies being bought during the 2020 lockdown, I think it’s extra important to emphasise the importance of giving your pup alone time. Even if you’re home all day now, you need to actively make sure you are giving your new puppy some alone time, so that once plans can eventually go ahead again, you don’t have a puppy who has separation anxiety who is terrified of being alone. An hour or so at a time is enough at first and you might feel bad seeing as you are in the house anyway, but it will do your pup the world of good once you are eventually going out without them.

Puppy care

I’m a strong believer that if you choose to get a puppy, it’s your responsibility to make sure you have somebody to look after them when you go on holiday, a weekend away, or are working during the day. Obviously the help of friends or family is very useful when they are young and need of being let out a lot during the day, but generally I think a dog walker and dog sitter should be utilised for longer lengths of time. Your dog is your responsibility and it isn’t up to anyone else to be available to take care of your dog for free, unless they are openly offering or on a website that is specifically for free dog care, such as Borrow My Doggy. It’s always good to make sure you have a dog walker or dog sitter at least lined up and well equated with your puppy incase the people who usually look after your pup are not available when you need.

Hope this was helpful!

Love, Chelsea xxx

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