Bark All About It!
Getting Puppy SMART means that during the first few months puppy is in your home, you should be focused on Socialization, Management, Activity, spotting Red flags, and Training.
We covered Socialization in our article - How to Avoid Messing Up a Perfectly Good Puppy. Next topic: Management. The good news/bad news about management is that it’s all on you. It’s up to the human half of the puppy-having equation to set up a no-mistakes environment. This means puppy doesn’t have the opportunity to make a mistake.
The main areas of management:
Creating a no-mistakes environment means that puppy gets virtually zero unsupervised time outside of a confined space. No free access to your house. The ideal set-up is a puppy apartment. This could be an exercise pen, laundry room, or part of the kitchen blocked off with gates. Puppy’s apartment not only keeps her out of trouble, but it’s where she learns to comfortably be alone – a valuable life skill she needs to develop. The puppy apartment should contain a crate and, if you’re not home for potty breaks, potty pads. (Ideally puppy can spend some time in an exercise pen placed outdoors on the surface you ultimately want puppy to use regularly for potty as this can really speed up the potty-training process.) Puppy should have things to chew on and play with. When you can’t supervise puppy, she should be in her apartment (or crate with the door closed if the periods are shorter). And when you’re able to keep an eye on her, she can have some liberty but must always be in your sight. Always. Have puppy drag a leash on a flat collar and use it to gently guide her away from no-puppy zones, like furniture or the pantry. If there’s something you don’t want puppy to chew, it must be put away. Doors to bedrooms and bathrooms should be closed, and kids’ toys picked up. Remember: at this stage it is your job to manage the environment and to show puppy what you want.
One of the most frustrating aspects of raising a puppy can be housebreaking because it requires constant supervision, observation, and tight management (see Confinement above). You’re either right there to take her out, or she’s in the crate where she won’t want to potty. Create schedules and use timers. Use a leash to take puppy to the potty spot at the right time – after naps and meals – and give a reward on the spot when puppy potties (don’t interrupt her while she goes, but immediately after say “good girl!” and give her a treat). If puppy doesn’t potty, she should go back to confinement (crate) and try again in a few minutes. When puppy is being supervised outside of confinement, we must constantly be observing for signs that puppy needs to go (circling, sniffing, whining, anxiousness). Remember, puppy doesn’t just “know” that you want her to potty outside: puppy will go where the payoff is, so you have to show her. Keep in mind that using potty pads delays puppy’s learning to go outside.
Helping puppy become a nice-to-live-with dog starts now. Although obedience training will be an important part of your dog’s life, most people don’t want a dog that has to abide by a series of obedience commands in order to simply be in the house. Most of us want a dog that can just “be,” a dog that gets the concept of personal space and doesn’t demand attention or jump all over people when they walk into the room. Maintaining a calm energy while people come and go is learned at an early age. Puppy is learning whether the sight of you – and family members and guests – means “WOO HOO!!!!” (read: excited energy accompanied by jumping and mouthing) or a more calm “hello friend” accompanied by calm energy, unobtrusive sniffing, and a waggy tail (which, by the way, is how dogs greet each other. The ones that are too excited are quickly corrected by their doggy counterparts). We often inadvertently create excitement the second we walk into the room and greet puppy with an excited voice, heavy eye contact, and lots of excited petting (human-to-human style greeting). Then we get annoyed when puppy jumps and uses her mouth inappropriately – both excitement-related behaviors. Instruct family and guests to ignore puppy when coming into the room and then, when puppy is composed, give calm petting and attention. If puppy gets too excited with the attention simply walk away. It’s harder for us than it is for them, but they’ll learn very quickly that in order to get attention they must remain calm.
The concept of “management” in a household with young children and a new puppy seems laughable. We know that kid energy puppy energy = crazy-making. And we sympathize. A child’s age and ability to follow your instructions will determine how much access to and freedom with puppy to give the kids. Puppies, especially small breeds, can quickly develop an aversion to handling and/or to children if mishandled. Teach children to pet gently. Don’t allow them to pull on puppy’s leash or constantly try to pick puppy up. Make sure puppy has an ‘escape route’ when playing with the kids – that he’s not trapped in a corner or being held back by a leash. If kids are running, screaming, doing normal-but-exciting kid stuff, puppy may try to join in the fun by jumping, nipping or chasing. That’s a good time to put puppy away with a yummy chew bone (there’s that “management” thing again).
As all-consuming as proper puppy management is, you can collapse into bed at night knowing that all your hard work in creating a no-mistakes environment will help your puppy become the nice-to-live-with dog you’ve always wanted.
Next time: Activity – productive ways to burn off some of that puppy energy so you can get some things done.