Puppies are just SO much fun!! Who can resist that cute little bundle of joy, energy and…teeth??? However, as many new puppy parents find out, if you aren’t prepared it’s easy to make some huge mistakes that will take that soppy smile off your face in less time than it takes for your pup to eat the remote control and mess on your lovely cream carpet. Here’s the top 5 things I most often see people get wrong – and how to avoid them.
1) Failing to provide a containment area.
Puppies are just like toddlers – they get into EVERYTHING! There are two things that make raising an indoor puppy much easier: A crate and a puppy pen/confinement area. A crate is a small den-like cage for resting and sleeping. A puppy pen is a much larger area with an optional toilet spot, bed and plenty of toys. The pup can easily move around and actively play in a pen whereas a crate is more restrictive.
A crate can be used in many different ways:
- Keep a pup safe in the car.
- Helps with house training by encouraging ‘holding on’.
- Provides a safe sleeping place over night.
- Teaches a pup to settle and be calm by reducing mischief opportunities.
- Saves a whole lot of unpleasantness when the dog has to be crated at the vet office in the future.
A crate should be introduced slowly and kindly; don’t just stuff the pup in there and walk away!! Take the time and effort to teach crating as a happy event that results in all sorts of super goodies and very soon you will be able to use it as a transportable den that your puppy loves. If you have any desires to holiday with your pup in the future this training is mandatory.
A puppy pen is a sanity saver:
A larger safe place to confine your pup with activity toys while you are busy doing other things (like having a shower).
Somewhere pup can play with toys, chew bones or chewies without interference – reduces the likelihood of guarding behaviour developing.
An area where you can provide a toilet spot to maintain housetraining if you need to leave for longer than your pup can hold on. A tray of grass works very well.
A pen will need a lid for a big breed pup (and some smaller ones too!) to prevent escaping and having the pup learn that barriers can be scaled. This is NOT a lesson you want your dog to learn!
2) Giving too much freedom too early.
If you choose to have your puppy ‘free range’ in the house or garden, you can expect house training to take a long time and unwanted behaviours to develop.
That’s what pups with too many choices do.
Just like kids, if you give them the opportunity to do things you’d rather they didn’t, they learn just how much fun those things are. You then have to actively take training measures to correct the problem.
Far better to never give the pup the opportunity to make mistakes in the first place.
With young animals of any sort, management and prevention of problems makes everything SO much easier in the long run. Yes, it is a pain to have to puppy proof the house and provide a containment area that takes up room, or install baby gates to prevent access to areas you don’t want trashed etc., but in the long run you are saving yourself a whole lot of time, effort and money.
It is far better to maintain tight restrictions early on, when the pup has few expectations, than to give too much freedom right at the start and THEN introduce restrictions to curb problems that could have been avoided.
When things are done the wrong way around (giving loads of freedom and then taking it away) the result is a frustrated, confused dog who chaffs at every barrier and spends its whole time looking to escape.
This is not an easy animal to live with!
3) Expecting too much of little bladders and bowels.
Baby bladders and bowels are notorious for being trigger happy.
Do not expect a young pup for be able to hold for very long when they are active. I’ve known perfectly healthy pups of 16 weeks old who STILL need to go outside to pee every 15-20 minutes if they are vigorously playing or training.
Just because 3-4 hours is perfectly fine when the pup is asleep, don’t expect an hour or more between ‘comfort’ breaks when they are awake.
Using a crate will help speed house training up but there is only so long before those valves give! For success I suggest either setting a timer or keeping a record of when pup last relieved itself. It’s very easy to get wrapped up in doing something else and forget about those frequent breaks.
If there is more than one person doing the toilet trips it makes sense to write a note so everyone knows when the tank was last emptied. One of my clients used a small whiteboard next to the pup’s pen and it cut accidents down by about 90%!
4) Focusing on the ‘wrong’ sort of socialisation.
We all know pups need to be ‘socialised’ but what does that actually mean?
Many people think it means forcing the pup to meet (up close and personal, no less!) every passer-by on the street and every dog within sniffing range. This will come back to bite you in one of two ways.
Either your pup will be completely overwhelmed and decide that the world is a scary place and you won’t protect them, or, they will turn into fully paid up members of ‘Over Greeters Anonymous’ and expect to interact with every living being they ever see. Neither of these outcomes is healthy or useful.
Overwhelmed pups turn into fearful, reactive adults and over greeters are a nuisance to everybody off lead and become frustrated antisocial lunging, barking messes when not allowed to interact if on lead.
Good socialisation means taking your pup out and about and letting them watch the world go by, allowing them to set the pace and interact with people and things in their own time but NOT allowing your super friendly pup to rush up to everything he sees. It’s fine to let your bold puppy interact with people and friendly dogs but don’t make the mistake of allowing them access to everyone they see. This won’t be appropriate in an adult dog so don’t set up the expectation in your puppy.
Good socialisation also means exposing them to safe novelty that is not scary or overwhelming but that teaches them that new things = good things for puppies.
Ideally a pup should be mildly interested but not overly emotional about anything he sees.
He should be allowed to explore safe places that contain things he will need to be comfortable with in his daily life. That might mean a short trip to somewhere with light traffic that he can sit and watch from a distance. Or a trip to a park where he can watch people and dogs going about their business. Cafés are great for watching the world go by and some shops will let you carry a pup around. Short exposures to things like different surfaces, weather conditions, lighting conditions and noises are all beneficial.
What you are aiming for is to make the new and novel experiences just something that happens frequently. Why? Because most fearful dogs are scared of NOVELTY as much as anything else. Very rarely have I seen a dog that is fearful of one category (e.g. strange people or strange dogs) who is not also afraid of novel things in a more general sense.
5) Focusing on obedience instead of life skills.
Most people want their pup to be ‘obedient’.
They want them to sit or lie down or stay from an early age. Ok, yes you do need to be able to control your pup’s behaviour somehow but really you are better off teaching life skills rather than obedience skills. There is only ONE behaviour that I teach right off the bat and that is name recognition and recall. Safety first! Everything else can wait; remember any dog can be taught obedience behaviours but only a pup can easily learn life skills.
- Life skills cover the following areas:
- Confidence and resilience to changes in the environment (appropriate socialisation plays a huge role in this bit).
- Accepting and liking being handled (very frequently missed out).
- Boundaries on what is acceptable and what is not acceptable behaviour.
- Frustration tolerance (not everything is available all the time).
- Impulse control and the ability to think when excited.
- The ability to chill and be calm.
- How to get access to things by being polite.
Life skills cover all areas of a puppy’s experience.
Understanding these things set them up for success in any endeavour, from a fantastic companion dog to a high-flying sports competitor. Whatever the future role of your pup, life skills are the foundation needed.
This is just a short list of mistakes that I see on a regular basis. If you’d like to know more about how to avoid common pitfalls of puppy raising, contact me using the contact form here.
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