Oh, the thought of puppies! The joy of seeing their tiny paws and button noses. The soft, snuggly cuddles you can have with them while they sleep in your arms. There’s so much to love about this time in pet parenthood.
When it comes to teaching them the rules of life, how confident and competent are you? Come along with us as we take a short course in puppy training.
Your need-to-know guide to puppy training
Planning for a puppy is just as important as the day you take them home. However, it’s no secret that puppies aren’t always planned for perfectly – sometimes they’re a surprise gift to help teach your kids responsibility, for example.
Regardless of your preparedness, there are a number of things you’re going to need to manage from Day 1.
Taking care of puppies is a lot more work than older dogs. Energy levels, training, toilet habits, adaptability, and sleep habits mean you’re signing up for full-time care. Understanding puppy development allows you to be able to cater their care accordingly.
Firstly, what age is considered a puppy?
A puppy is a canine under the age of 12 months. However, a puppy can technically be considered a puppy until 2-3 years old. But… breaking news! After a dog turns one and they begin to enter adolescence, they don’t automatically outgrow all those ‘puppy habits’ (if only it was that easy). So it’s safe to assume that any dog under the age of 3 isn’t going to be low maintenance.
Toilet training a puppy
Every dog has their own timeline for toilet training and if you have human children you’ll know it’s not a linear progress.
If a puppy is under 6 months old, they’re likely to be still cementing their toilet training. To minimise accidents you should try and keep a strict routine during this time. Changes in environment can confuse them – different surroundings and smells can encourage marking. Timing, area and materials are all important factors to keep consistent when toilet training your dog.
Puppies also don’t develop strong muscle and bladder control until about 4 months old, so they’re unlikely to be able to hold it all night until 4-5 months old.
Just have assurance that it’s not uncommon for a pet to take a few steps back in training so don’t fret if this happens.
Chewing & teething
It’s inevitable that puppies will chew! Whilst they may not rip through your couch, they will definitely have a go at nibbling anything they can get their paws on. This is because from 12 weeks old, puppies begin teething and chewing helps ease their discomfort. Their teeth are needle-sharp too, so their size is not a helpful indication of the level of damage they can do.
Boredom can be another cause of chewing, so if a dog is non-stop chewing they might be trying to stimulate or entertain themselves. If this happens you’ll need to provide more enrichment and or exercise.
And, remember, it’s totally normal that your puppy will lose their teeth, so don’t fret if you find little teeth around or a tooth comes out during playtime!
Puppies also go through a second teething phase starting at around 5-7 months old where all their adult dog teeth finalise coming through. This phase can last up to a year so it’s important to provide plenty of appropriate chewing outlets to avoid the dog searching for things to chew.
Some easy options to help teething include; frozen carrots, rubber chew toys or a frozen wet washcloth tied in a knot. Or, find some chew toys made for puppies. Avoid things that can be destroyed easily or have little parts that are choking hazards.
If you find a puppy chewing on something they shouldn’t be, you need to offer them something else to chew on. They might not always be keen on what you offer so to help entice them, try to replicate the texture they were chewing on with the replacement. You’ll need to teach them what they are and aren’t allowed to chew on, which is much easier if all risky items like cords, human food, and shoes are out of reach.
During early developmental phases if you over-exert a puppy, it can compromise their growth. Extreme levels of exercise or stress on joints can impact their ability to fully develop healthy bones & joints which can lead to issues down the track. So how much exercise do puppy dogs need? Short bursts of exercise are all they need – building up their fitness is a process.
To protect their bones and joints in the early stages, it’s best to minimise risky behaviours such as; jumping off furniture, in or out of the car, rough play or anything else that risks jolting their joints. Puppy bones are fragile so be mindful of kids playing around them, big dogs wanting to play or other risky scenarios where they could be stepped or landed on.
Overheating is another risk of over-exerting a puppy. Because they’re so small, it’s much easier for puppies to suffer from heatstroke so minimising exercise on hot days is a must!
Sleep is crucial to puppies! While asleep their central nervous system is developing and they’re processing all they’ve learnt in their time awake. 18-20 hours of sleep a day is recommended for puppies, which means they should normally be up for an hour every 4-5 hours. Keeping a puppy awake in an attempt to ‘tire them out’ won’t work. They’ll just become overstimulated and it will cause more stress for both of you.
A puppy needs a safe and quiet place to sleep, so don’t place their dog bed in high-traffic areas like the middle of the living room. Ensure they can get undisturbed, quality rest. If kids and other dogs are around, ensure their sleeping spot is a ‘no go zone’.
Training a puppy to sleep through the night can be tough, especially when they’re not able to hold their bladder yet. Keeping them confined to a safe secure space will help so they can’t wander aimlessly. You can’t attend to every cry the puppy lets out, but you need to know the difference between distress and attention-seeking. Always give the pup the opportunity to self-settle but never leave them in distress.
Socialisation (and habituation)
Socialisation of a puppy means teaching them how to respond to their environment properly, playing, and interacting with people and other pets. During their critical socialisation period (up to 20 weeks old) it’s crucial to ensure a positive environment and to nurture them throughout this time.
When you practice socialisation, make it a positive experience. This simple approach means you can avoid your dog developing fears or undesirable behaviours. Lots of encouragement, treats and taking things slow means you’ll help raise a well-rounded and confident dog.
If there are other pets in your puppy’s home, you must help introduce your second dog to your home. Teach them boundaries so they’re not pestering older dogs or other pets. Reward healthy play habits and interrupt potential risky behaviours.
Allowing play time with older, well-mannered dogs will help the puppy learn healthy play habits. Puppies being told off by other dogs is not always bad – as long as the puppy listens and follows-on, it means they’re learning.
If the puppy is outside the critical period (21+ weeks old) you will still need to ensure a positive environment and provide encouragement. However hopefully the puppy will have built up some confidence so you’ll be able to continue rewarding them instead of teaching them.
Habituation is a component of socialisation that involves teaching the dog how to become accustomed to the environment. The goal of habituation is to get the dog not to react to things they might find overwhelming or confusing such as traffic, thunderstorms, new people approaching in public and so on.
Puppy biting is a part of teething and general puppy behaviour which should be deterred from a young age. Teething and wanting to chew is totally normal but it’s never safe to let a dog think it’s okay to bite or nip people, even if it is just play. Puppies have needle-sharp teeth so they can cause damage to skin very easily, which is why it’s important to be mindful around children or elderly who are more fragile.
Puppy biting can be hard to deter so it’s important to consistently interrupt the behaviour and provide an alternative. If a puppy is biting or nipping grab the closest chew toy and offer that as the alternative. By continuing to replace the behaviour the puppy will learn it’s not okay and to choose the toy first.
Need some help to get through the puppy training period?
There’s no shame in outsourcing to help provide the best start to your puppy’s life. Training is important so finding a puppy or dog trainer near you may just make the beginning of your life together a little more manageable.
Because age is a huge factor in their play style, energy levels and manners, getting to know your puppy will take time. So as they grow from puppy to adulthood, the most important thing to remember is consistency. The reward at the end of their puppy years? A dog that will be the delight of your life!