When you decide to bring a new puppy into your home you need to know what you are doing and what is the best for you and your new puppy.
What breed of dog are you looking for that suits your lifestyle e.g., your home environment, space, work commitments, do you like lots of holidays throughout the year or are you a couch potato? If you are a couch potato a Malinois dog won’t suit you! You need to know how much time that you have to train and exercise your dog. Choosing a dog for your family is a big decision in your life whatever the breed you buy. This is a lifetime commitment because they are part of your family. Make sure everyone in the family is on board in wanting to get a puppy.
Research where are you going to buy your puppy from. Pedigree pups should be Kennel Club registered and the breeder should be on Kennel Club assured breeders list. Crossbreeds also have their own clubs, so you can look on their websites for approved breeders.
Do not buy puppies online, from pet shops or from puppy farms.
Puppies should not leave their mother until they are 8 weeks old, but some breeders will wait till they are 12 weeks old before selling them. Always ask to see the Dam and make sure that she is nice and friendly and not nervous because temperament can be inherited.
Your pup will need to go the Vets for their vaccinations, always ask your Vet what vaccines they are giving your puppy. I do not recommend Lepto 4 because it can have side effects, Lepto 2 is the safest of the two vaccines, they will also need worming, flea treatment and microchipping. Have a chat with your Vet about pet insurance.
You will need a puppy proof home to keep your puppy safe. This is why I like playpens or crates if used correctly and are not abused. Make the crate or playpen a positive place for your puppy by putting his/ her bed inside their crate, placing enrichment toys, such as a stuffed Kong as this can be very calming and a brain stimulus for your puppy. Place your puppy’s crate in the quietest corner of the most used room in the house such as the family room so that your puppy does not associate crating with feeling isolated. I would recommend doing this until your puppy is used to being in a crate and confident being in another room. The crate or playpen should never be used as a punishment for your puppy, only positive training should happen with the crate.
Introduce your puppy to the crate gradually (never force your puppy inside it). At first, get him/her comfortable going in and out on their own by tossing a few treats inside without closing him in, do not forget your puppy has come into an unfamiliar environment so everything is going to be very overwhelming and stressful to begin with, so please remember to take baby steps. If you find your puppy is not settling at night, set a crate up in your bedroom, this way you can gradually get them used to crate training and not feeling isolated. Then you can gradually start moving the crate towards your bedroom door, then eventually on the landing when your puppy is more confident.
Your puppy will need life skills socialisation. This does not mean taking your puppy to the local park and letting them mix with people and dogs that they do not know, as this can be very damaging to your puppy and their future behaviour. The rule of thumb is do not let them meet random dogs when you are out walking, only let your puppy mix with your friends’ dogs that you know.
When socialising your puppy make sure to take it slowly and be aware of your puppy’s limits. Make the interactions positive and give plenty of treats or praise. Everything is new to your puppy, so every encounter is an opportunity to make a positive association. The idea behind socialisation is that you want to help your puppy become acclimated to all types of sights, sounds and smells in a positive manner. Proper socialisation can prevent a dog from being fearful of children, or of riding in the car, and it will help them develop into a well-mannered happy companion. Improper socialisation with your puppy can lead to behavioural issues later in life.
An 8- to 12-week-old puppy will be quiet and small even if it is a puppy of a large breed. Puppies are physically vulnerable and a bit clumsy. They need plenty of supervision, this is why the crate or puppy pen is good when they are alone so they do not come into danger or eat anything they should not.
Expect your young puppy to sleep a lot during this stage. Most puppies will sleep about 18 to 20 hours, this supports their fast-growing brains and bodies. I cannot stress how important that is to let your puppies sleep and have some chill time. For example, if you have a young child and your child is over excited playing with your puppy, your puppy could get overexcited and may start mouthing and go over the threshold (over tired). This is where your dog behavioural problems can start if you do not intervene. This is when the crate training will come in handy, you can place your puppy away in the crate with some calming enrichment puzzles such as a Kong, to have some relaxation and sleep time.
What does an overtired puppy look like?
You might be thinking that it will be easy to spot an overtired puppy, but some of the symptoms can be very confusing. Your puppy might show only a couple of signs or all of them within a few minutes. Nipping or biting, we have all seen a cranky, tired child that resorts to hitting or screaming tantrums and puppies are no different, even though they cannot actually hit you, they can nip and bite. If your puppy starts biting and nipping you or others seemingly out of nowhere, it could be because they are getting tired and don’t have any other way of expressing themselves. Hyperactivity though it might seem counterproductive, some puppies can become more active when they get overtired. When your puppy is sleeping or resting never disturb them, just let them sleep.
Puppy crate training.
Do not leave your puppy for hours in the crate (or any dog for that matter) because puppies still need house training, and they need frequent breaks. It is important that you do not leave your puppy during the day for extended periods in the crate because this can cause a lot of stress on your puppy and even separation anxiety. They could start having accidents in the crate through stress.
When your puppy is out of the crate do not give them the run of the house until they are house trained. Baby gates are a good idea, the more freedom that have the harder it will be for you to house train your puppy. When you start your puppy toilet training, take them out, if possible, every hour into the garden. Always go outside with them because supervision is key at this stage of training (it is not forever). By you going outside with them you can reward your puppy with a high value treat when they have been to the toilet and add a cue word such as toilet. Remember, to take your puppy outside after sleeping, eating drinking or playtime because this is normally when they will need to go to the toilet. Do not be lazy by just leaving the patio doors open.
Look out for signs that your pup may need the toilet.
The signs include sniffing the ground, turning in circles, and starting to squat. If you see these signs, then gently interrupt your pup, and take them outside to see if they will go to the toilet. If they go to the toilet then reward them, if not just quietly return them indoors. But make sure you give them enough time to do their business before returning with them inside, patience is key.
Never punish your puppy for toileting in the house because this will make your puppy more anxious. This will not help your toilet training to improve because they are still learning what to do. Puppies have smaller bladders than older dogs so they need to urinate more often than adult dogs, many puppies will not gain full bladder control until 4 to 6 months old. If they do have an accident simply disinfect the spot with a non-ammonia based product and remove the smell with a pet odour neutraliser. I’m not a big fan of puppy pads, I would rather take my puppy out every hour, puppy pads are like telling your puppy it’s okay to go the toilet in the house, also in some cases, they can end up chewing them, or eating the pads.
This is teaching your puppy to have positive associations, such as getting brushed, having their teeth looked at, picking up their paws. These are good life skills to have for your puppy, when you start visiting the vets etc. I like to teach my puppies target hand touch with treat reward, this means they can learn to touch my palm with their nose when I start getting them used to me brushing them, or if they go for injections at the veterinary clinic. They can start to learn positive associations with experiences in life.
It is important to teach your puppy early on about being confident on their own. This can start with you just leaving the room, never start this exercise by just going out of the house shopping. You will need to build up slowly, so your puppy feels confident about being on their own. So, I always recommend starting this training while you are in the house with your puppy, if you do not have a crate to separate, you could put a baby gate in place. You can practice the training by either putting your puppy in a crate or behind a baby gate, with some food enhancement. It is good for your puppy to have a food stuffed Kong or some kind of enrichment to keep their nose engaged and calm, whilst you practice your ritual training of leaving the room. Once your puppy is more confident and happier about you leaving the room, I would also practice without any food enrichment, you want your puppy in the future to be able to cope in this situation without food. You do not want this to end up being a trigger that you are leaving the house.
If you are going to take your puppy to classes, do some research and choose a good puppy class. Puppy classes should not be all about puppies playing together and running around like adrenaline junkies. Otherwise, in the future, you will just end up with a puppy that just wants to play with other dogs constantly and does not have any bonding or focus with you. The other side of this is shy puppies where they could end up getting bullied by other puppies. This could end up with your puppy being reactive or nervous around other dogs in the future.
Never pick up your puppy and force them to play, let your puppy go at their own pace. If they do have playtime this has to be controlled socialisation and monitored carefully. You may find you get a boisterous puppy and a shy puppy playing together and notice the boisterous puppy overpowering the shy puppy, but this is not good play, you need to stop the play and intervene. One way you can assess if your shy puppy is not enjoying play time is by holding the boisterous puppy back, if your shy puppy does not come forward to play with the boisterous puppy, then that definitely tells you your shy puppy isn’t happy in this situation.
Neutering your young dog
Recent Veterinary research has shown that early neutering of male or female dogs can have deleterious medical problems for your dog. Neutering your male dog too early can have a big impact on some dog’s behaviour in the future and this can in some cases actually increase the behaviours you wanted to eradicate. Dogs start their adolescence period around 6 months of age, and this can last up until they are two years old. This is the time your dog is going through hormonal changes, so it is not the ideal time for neutering, unless there is a medical issue and you’re advised by your veterinary surgeon. Some owners, unfortunately, think that neutering their adolescent male dog will improve their behaviour. For example, if you have a nervous, reactive male dog, removing their testosterone through castration, can make their behaviour worse, because you are removing their testosterone which actually helps to calm them. If you have any behavioural issues contact a dog behaviourist.
It is important if you are struggling with puppy training to invest in a dog trainer/behaviourist to help you.