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Between the ages three weeks through to fourteen weeks of age your puppy is in its critical learning period. During this time they learn how to play, interact and adapt to situations. Majority of the time your puppy will be brought home around the 8-9 week mark. Any earlier and you are depriving your pup of critical learning experiences within its litter. If you get one this out of this entire article let it be this.
"Whatever your puppy learns during this critical period will be permanent. It will remember it for life."
That means that experiences, both good and bad will be cemented into its brain forever.
So how can you provide the best start?
When you do bring your puppy home this is the critical period in which you should expose it to as many situations as possible.
Examples of this might be:
People men, women, children, different races, different outfits such as glasses and hats or in wheelchairs etc
Other dogs You do NOT need to have the dogs go up and sniff each other for the exposure to be effective. In fact it is safer not to do this as your puppy is unlikely to be fully vaccinated. Just letting it see other dogs and walk past them will be sufficient
Other animals Anything you can give them access to. Chickens, rabbits, cats etc. The more exposure now, the less likely there will be a need to chase / investigate them later
A range of surfaces Road, sand, gravel, grass , tiles, floorboards and snuffle mats are all great textures to get used to and build up confidence in all situations. If you can't get the puppy out to all these surfaces you could recreate them at home in the back yard and use lots of positive reinforcement when the pup checks them out and walks over them.
Vehicles Cars, motorbikes, bicycles, lawnmower etc. You don't have to take the pup directly up to these things. A safe distance is fine and if possible start with no noise ( such as the mower positioned on the grass) and then try again with the mower powered up.
2. WATCH FOR AND PREVENT SELF REWARDING
Self rewarding is one of those things an untrained eye may not recognise but knowing it will put you in good stead to keep your puppy's training on track. To help you understand how self rewarding works, think about the following scenario:
Your puppy is nervous and barks at a passer by you pull it in for a cuddle and tell it its all ok.
What you think you did: Comforted puppy and made it feel secure.
What you actually did: Rewarded the puppy for barking.
What will happen next time?
Puppy will bark because you reinforced ( rewarded) it to do so.
What should you do?
Get puppy attention, the second it focuses on you, reward it.
3. NEVER PUNISH YOUR PUPPY
While it can be incredibly frustrating when they chew something they shouldn't or pee on your lounge room rug, you have to remember that they are in the teaching phase of their journey. This means you have no right to punish them for something they haven't learned yet.
Joe commanded Daniel to build him a house
Daniel had no prior education on how to build a house and so didn't do the job properly.
Joe refused to pay him.
Daniel was unmotivated to learn to build houses ever again.
Puppies will all learn at different paces so just because your last dog got toilet training in three days doesn't mean that your new puppy will and vice versa.
It is also important to remember that during the teaching phase, there is no reason for you to use equipment such as remote training collars, check chains etc. A flat collar or harness and lead and positive reinforcement in the form of treats, toys or pats are more than enough.
4. BE CAREFUL NOT TO OVER EXERCISE
During the first twelve months your puppy will do some serious growing. While it is important with all dogs, it is especially important with larger breeds that you do not overexercise them as it could lead to abnormalities in the bones and unnecessary strain.
A good way to gauge it is that you should never exercise your puppy to exhaustion. 10 or 15 minute walks or play sessions are sufficient and avoid anything that could put stress on the joints such as going up and down stairs, running on slippery floors or jumping from a height.
Avoid any dog sports such as agility or flyball. You can however do "puppy agility" where you are basically getting the pup used to equipment but it is all on a level surface on the ground. This could include activities such as going through tunnels, walking on ladders that are flat on the ground and learning to weave around posts.
5. SET CLEAR BOUNDARIES
Be fair consistent and patient. Understand the pattern in which you need to reinforce and don't ever punish after the fact. Dogs need their reinforcement within 2-3 seconds of taking action.
6. MAKE A GOAL FOR WHAT YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE WITH YOUR DOG AND PLAN IT OUT
Look for a suitable obedience club, watch you tube videos and read blogs to work out how to get the best from your dog. Do you just want a companion, do you want to compete or maybe even visit nursing homes with them?
7. TAKE LOTS OF PHOTOS
Not only photos of your dog but with your dog. They will be beautiful memories you can look back on. Capturing those moments that really bring out your dogs personality such as raiding the dishwasher ( oops!) sun baking, mud covered and more. A dogs life is never long enough and one day these photos will be extremely precious.
8. DESEX,MICROCHIP, REGISTER AND VACCINATE YOUR PUP AND FIND A GOOD VET
Desexing, vaccinating and microchipping your pup is a no brainer. While some prefer to wait until their dog is past 12 months ( or has had their first season) unless you are planning to breed the pup in the future it is recommended to desex as early as six months old.
Desexing helps to prevent cancers such as breast cancer and testicular cancer. Vaccinations are also extremely important especially as pups and should be continued annually thought adulthood. A pup that contracts a disease such as parvo virus has a very grim outlook. Couple that with the fact it is extremely difficult to eliminate parvo in the environment, any future pup you get will more than likely face the same fate so prevention is key.
Microchipping is so affordable these days and with how clever some doggies are at escaping and going on little adventures, microchipping is one way that almost guarantees you'll get your pup back.
Registration is compulsory with most councils and not getting them register will result in a fine so what would you rather pay? Most councils will offer discounts when your dog has all of the above and again if they have completed obedience training so its worth getting it all done.
Finding a great vet will be rewarding in more ways than one. Not only will you feel able to trust that they have your dog's best interest at heart, it will also show in the dogs behaviour and make the vet experience a much more positive and easier one! Some things to look for in a great vet are:
People skills Majority of people that work in the animal industry definitely lack people skills so if you can find a vet that genuinely loves animals, listens carefully to your concerns, is thorough, empathetic and communicates well with you, you have hit the jackpot.
They avoid unnecessary tests and push for the important ones. A vet that can work out what it important to consider and what can be avoided is great. They will prevent you from spending money you don't have to and lay out the options honestly.
They build a relationship with you. They get it, they treat your dog as if it were their own. You can trust their advice. They remember the dogs and your name when you walk in the door and build a relationship with the both of you. A good vet will also recap on what happened on your last visit eg. we took bloods and put on anti inflammatories, how do you think he is managing with his arthritis?
They save you time. If you have a great relationship with your vet you may be able to skip the queue with certain things such as mediation repeats and just pick them up without requiring another consultation.
9. AVOID PUPPY CLASSES RUN BY VET CLINICS AND PET STORES
Yes I said it. Just as dog trainers have no right to recommend medical decisions for your pooch, vets and vet nurses have no business discussing behaviour modification and training about your pup) it is not covered in their training.) All too often these vet clinics run puppy classes allowing rambunctious pups to jump all over each other and potentially create long term fears and reactiveness.
It is also interesting that in Puppy classes you are often advised not to take your partially vaccinated pup into "dangerous" environments where they could be exposed to serious disease but I urge you to consider if they list what diseases they have had come through their clinic door before you brought your pup in to play.
Instead seek out training/obedience clubs that have experience with behavioural issues and training who can advise you properly on anything you might need help with. If none are available, go through the exposure suggestions at the top of the page where you can control the environment and then take your pup to obedience classes when it reaches the age they take them from ( usually 16 weeks when they have had all their vaccinations.)
10. DON'T "RESCUE" THEM
They are a dog. let them be one. It doesn't matter if your dog is 20cm tall or 1.2m tall, as a pup you should never pick them up when another dog or person approaches. You are teaching the dog that they can't handle whatever is about to happen which is most likely nothing. Without realising it you reconditioning the dog to be fearful. The same goes when your dog might be shaking or cowering and you pat them. You are not comforting them, you are rewarding them for being afraid which means that the behaviour is only going to get worse in the future. The pup thinks, "When i act scared I get positive attention so that's what I will keep doing." This is a huge reason so many little dogs have "little man or little lady" syndrome where a big dog or person approaches and they go off their rocker and can't cope because they consider them a danger. These can also lead to possessiveness of owners. We have all seen it, the little pommerian sitting in her owners arms/lap happily until someone touches their person and they unleash a possessed version of themselves only to have their owner laugh and pat them.
11. YOU ARE THE BOSS
Being the boss doesn't mean being intimidating. It means effective and assertive leadership. It's no lie that however you are feeling will travel down the lead into the dog. If you are having a bad day, don't take the dog for a walk. Throw a ball around in the back yard instead.
When you are not leading assertively the dog will go one of two ways, it will either become confused and sloppy or it will take be the one taking you for a walk.
12. EXERCISE AND ENVIRONMENTAL ENRICHMENT
This is probably the most important part of dog ownership. If your dogs social exercise and environmental needs are not met, that is when we start seeing anti social and destructive behaviour. Imagine being unable to leave your house not matter how big it is and being expected to entertain yourself with the same old toys day in day out? Its also pretty awful for dog so they make up their own fun such as chewing your couch, digging or barking all day long at nothing. Make sure you rotate toys, get them out each day even if its 5 minutes some days as a change of scenery and new smells are better than nothing. If you are time poor for long walks, find some puppy puzzles or a tug rope to help wear your dog out in a small space. For some people play dates or doggy day care may also be a great option.