Q: Should I start training my puppy as soon as I get him?
A: In a word – yes! Puppies can start to learn at a very early age – as young as 6 weeks! – and there are a lot of things you want to get right on top of as soon as you get your puppy, like housetraining and play biting. Also, you can immediately get started on basic obedience commands. Sit is a really good one to start with: it teaches your puppy that the things you say have meaning, and that you’re looking for some kind of response from him.
Q: Do I really need to use a crate? It seems so mean!
A: You really do, and I promise, it’s not mean! J Crate training is based on a dog’s natural instinct as a den animal. In the wild, dogs will find themselves a small den or den-like place where they sleep, relax during the heat of the day and have their puppies, but not where they go to the bathroom. That’s what a crate becomes for your puppy. Don’t freak out if your puppy has a few accidents in the crate at first, though. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with him and it doesn’t mean the crate’s not working. Give him a chance to learn – he’ll get it!
Q: My puppy keeps peeing everywhere, even though I take him out all the time! I’ll take him out, then he’ll pee as soon as I bring him back inside! What should I do?
A: You’re actually probably taking him out too often. (Yes, that’s totally possible.) The best thing to do to get your puppy housetrained is to get him on a schedule. It’s a little more work-intensive than just taking him out whenever he comes out of the crate, whenever he wakes up, whenever he’s had food or water, or whenever he’s had a lot of playtime (wait a minute…maybe it’s not more work!), but it’s by far the easiest method for a puppy to understand. Dogs love a routine. They love to know that the same thing is going to happen the same way every day. The housetraining schedule – the routine – is the thing that’s going to do the job for you. By taking your puppy out at the same times, the same way, day after day after day, it’s literally going to set his biological clock. You’re teaching him to have to go to the bathroom at those times, and you’ll gradually extend the amount between trips outside so he’s learning to “hold it” for longer and longer stretches of time. At the same time, you’ll totally supervise every single second of free time inside (Seriously. I’m not kidding. every second.) That way, if he starts to have an accident, you’ll be there to catch & correct it. Anytime you can’t supervise him, he should be in his crate.
Q: Someone told me I should leave a leash on my puppy whenever he’s out of his crate. Is that true? Won’t he get it tangled on things?
A: That’s totally true! One of the things I recommend to all my clients is to leave a lightweight leash on your puppy whenever he’s with you (but never in the crate). Sure, he’ll probably get tangled now & then, but you have to supervise him anyway, so you’ll be right there to untangle him, right? The leash is really useful for training. If you put your hands on your puppy to stop him from doing something, or to get him to do something, he’s pretty much going to think you’re playing with him or petting him. But if you use a leash to stop him, he’s pretty quickly going to catch on that the leash means you can make him do things, and he’s not going to confuse it with anything else. Yay, leash!
Q: My puppy keeps biting my kids – especially my youngest – every time they go near him. They don’t like him anymore! Is he teething? Will it stop when his teeth fall out?
A: It’s not because he’s teething, and no, he won’t stop when his teeth fall out (or grow in). He also won’t grow out of it. It’s called “play biting” and it’s how dogs play with each other. He genuinely has no idea he’s not supposed to play with people the same way he’d play with another dog. That’s something we have to teach him, and if we don’t teach him, he won’t stop (sorry!). Basically, you just want to teach him that playground rules apply: “if you can’t play nice, you can’t play at all.” The moment teeth touch you, use the leash to guide him away and firmly (but not scarily!) say “no.” As soon as teeth are off you, praise: “good boy!” Then immediately redirect him to a toy, saying “get your toy!” so he understands that during play with people he’s allowed to bite on a toy, but not on a person. If after 3 corrections he keeps trying to bit you instead of the toy, stop playing and ignore him for 2-5 minutes (puppy time-out!).
Q: I think my puppy is aggressive; he keeps growling at my kids! How do I get him to stop?
A: I know this is going to sound completely nutburgers, but you don’t. Growling is an important means of communication for dogs. If you teach a dog not to growl, you take away a really important tool for them. I can’t tell you how many dogs I’ve met who, having been punished for growling, go from silence to biting with nothing in between. It’s really important for a dog to be able to let you know something’s bothering him before he feels like he has to do something about it!
Now, that said, the fact that your puppy’s growling probably doesn’t mean he’s aggressive. True aggression in a puppy is actually really rare. Puppies – and dogs of all ages – growl for lots of reasons, and it’s most likely that your puppy is growling as a play behavior. In the same way that kids scream like they’re being murdered on the playground, and I’m all like “somebody call 911!” and all the moms are like, “oh, they’re fine,” puppies can make some really crazy noises while they’re having a blast playing with you (or trying to get you to play with them). Don’t worry about it, and don’t try to get him to stop.
On the other hand, if your puppy is growling when something is happening to him – say, your 5 year old is trying to pick him up, or you’re trying to move him off the comfy spot he’s in on the couch, or someone is trying to take a really good chicken bone he stole away from him – that’s a different story. Again, not aggressive, he’s just saying “no” to you and he has to learn – the same way kids do – that he doesn’t really get to do that.
An aside: Don’t let your 5 year old pick him up. Puppies (and adult dogs) mostly hate that. They feel like they’re going to fall and they get scared. Have the kids sit with the puppy on their laps. Then everyone’s safe & happy.
Back to growling. For the other stuff – the couch, the bone, etc. – be careful not to yell at him. You don’t want to turn it into a challenge – a situation where he feels like he has to fight back. If he doesn’t already have a leash on, put one on him, say “let’s go” and walk him out of the situation. Then, at another time when he’s NOT growling, work on commands like “off,” “drop it,” and “leave it.”
Q: My puppy is chewing everything in sight – my rugs, my curtains, the furniture, our shoes, my kids toys… What can I do to get him to stop?
A: The most important thing is to make sure you have enough toys around to keep him interested and occupied. I generally recommend that a new puppy has at least 7-12 toys. You should leave 4 or 5 out at a time and rotate them every few days so he remains interested in them. Some good choices are Nylabones (but not the puppy or edible ones – the puppy ones will get chewed up too easily and the edible ones could upset his stomach), soft squeaky toys (the ones without the stuffing, like the ones made by Skineez, are great), rope toys, tennis balls, and anything made by the company PetStages. Every time you see him start to chew on or go after something he shouldn’t, use the leash to guide him away and firmly say “leave it.” Praise when he’s away and redirect him to one of his toys or chewies. That way he’ll start to learn that when he wants to chew on or play with something, he has to seek out his own things, he can’t just lean over and go for whatever’s closest.
Remember: chewing and putting things in their mouths is how a puppy explores his world. He’s not trying to destroy your house, he’s not being spiteful, he’s not “mad at you” if he does it when you leave the room or aren’t home – he’s just a baby. Seriously, he’s only been on the planet a few weeks. Everything is fascinating to him, so be patient! He’ll learn soon enough what is and is not a chew toy.
Q: My puppy keeps taking our stuff and running off with it. We chase after him, but it’s really hard to catch him. What should I do?
A: Don’t chase him! By chasing him and making a big deal of it, you’re basically teaching him that stealing your stuff and running off with it starts the most fun game ever. The more “exciting” you making it (by running, yelling, etc.) the more likely he is to keep doing it. Instead, when he takes something he shouldn’t, casually & silently follow him until he either stops or until you can step on the leash that’ll be dragging along behind him. Once you can get him, silently take the item away from him and walk him, on leash, back to the room where it all began. Give him a toy of his own to play with. Praise him for playing with his own toy.
Q: My puppy is jumping all over my kids, their friends, and pretty much anyone he meets. I don’t want him to do this as an adult dog – how do I get him to stop?
A: Instead of trying to get him to just stop (which will be really hard for you and him), teach him to do something else instead. Everything a dog does is done with some kind of goal in mind – to get you to play with him, give him attention, give him food or water or treats, to get you to let him outside, etc. – so you want to teach him an appropriate and non-annoying way of achieving those goals. In the same way you’d teach your kids that shaking hands when saying hello is good manners, you’re going to teach your dog to sit calmly and politely to greet people. And the cherry on that sundae is that it’s easy as pie (mmm….dessert) (sorry, got distracted). Just have your puppy sit every single time he walks up to any human being. Then go ahead and pet him, play with him, pick him up, whatever. That way he learns that sitting gets him all the good things he wants from people.
Obviously, no one’s perfect. It’s going to happen sometimes that you’ll miss getting him into a sit and he’ll jump on someone. Seriously – try to avoid this, because the more often it happens the more he’ll try to do it (a big part of jumping is just that it’s super fun for dogs). If it does happen, though, use your leash to guide your dog off and at the same time say “off” firmly and calmly. As soon as he’s off, praise and have him sit. Then give him all the attention he was looking for by jumping.
Q: My puppy has started barking – to come out of his crate, to go outside, to get us to play with him, to get us to feed him – and it’s starting to get annoying. How do I teach him to be quiet?
A: Ohhhh, I’m so sorry – I hate to say this, but you have to totally ignore him. I know, it’s awful, but it’s the only thing that works. Don’t talk to him, look at him, touch him – nothing. Leave the room if possible. He has to start to understand that the barking will not only never work to get him what he wants, but in fact it will drive you away. Anything you do in response to the barking – even yelling at him or saying “no” – teaches him that it’s working (even negative attention is attention!). Eventually he’ll figure it out. How long is “eventually?” Well, it depends on how long the barking has worked (how often have you given in to his demands?), how badly he wants what he’s barking for, and how stubborn he is. It could be anywhere from a few hours to a few days (one puppy I know barked in his crate every morning at 5 a.m. for 3 months before giving up, but I have to admit that’s really rare).
Q: I’ve heard that my puppy needs to be “socialized,” but my vet said I can’t take him anywhere until he’s completely vaccinated. What should I do?
A: Your puppy definitely needs to be socialized. The first 12 weeks of a puppy’s life are the most important, socialization-wise. That’s when they’re best able to reap the benefits of encountering new things. This is when a puppy’s interest outweighs his fear. This is the time when he learns that people are awesome & fun, and that other dogs are his friends, not his enemies. From roughly 12-18 weeks, though, the opportunity for socialization ends. Puppies become much more fear-prone, and with each passing week it gets harder to get him to accept and enjoy new things. After 18 weeks it’s extremely difficult – and sometimes impossible – to teach a dog to enjoy something new, or to teach him that something he may initially find frightening actually isn’t.
The American Veterinary Society for Animal Behavior issued a statement in 2008 recommending that it be the standard of care for puppies to be socialized in the first 12 weeks of life. The statement reads: “Veterinarians specializing in behavior recommend that owners take advantage of every safe opportunity to expose young puppies to the great variety of stimuli that they will experience in their lives. Enrolling in puppy classes prior to 3 months of age can be an excellent means of improving training, strengthening the human-animal bond, and socializing puppies in an environment where risk of illness can be minimized.” So get your puppies out there! Puppy socialization classes, play dates with other puppies or dogs who you know are healthy and up to date on their vaccinations, bringing your puppy with you when you go on errands, when you go to the pet store (be sure to carry him!) and when you pick your kids up from school are all great ways to get him out into the world to have lots of new experiences.
(Note: The AVSAB supports participation in puppy kindergarten classes before the full series of puppy vaccines has been completed as long as all puppies in the class are vet-checked to be healthy and parasite-free upon entering the class and are kept current on vaccinations.)
Q: I’ve heard it’s dangerous to over-exercise puppies. Then again, I’ve also heard that I have to make sure he gets enough exercise! How do I know how much is enough or too much?
A: Oh, the age-old question…how much exercise? Too little and your puppy can get bored and destructive. Too much and he could get hurt. What to do??? I wish I could give you an exact answer, but unfortunately there isn’t one. So many things determine how much exercise a dog needs – age, breed, size, etc. In fact, some large and giant breeds are predisposed to orthopedic problems, and shouldn’t be given a lot of exercise until they’re as much as 18 months old!
On the bright side, really young puppies don’t actually do a whole lot, so they don’t need too much exercise at first. As your puppy grows, just let him take it at his own pace. When he seems like he wants to run and play, let him; when he seems tired, let him rest. Never force him to exercise. If you happen to have a puppy who seems “on” all the time, you will have to enforce some rest periods, though. A little down time after an hour or so of play is a good thing.
Once your puppy starts to get a little older – say, approaching 5 months or so – you can start to take him on longer walks around the neighborhood. Always pay close attention to how he seems to be feeling about it, though. If he seems tired, it’s time to turn around & go home. His bones are still growing, and can still be injured from overuse. Same goes for jumping – try to keep him from doing that, because it can be harmful to his joints.
Once he’s really growing up – 9-12 months – you can start to take him on even longer walks and hikes, as well as short runs (good for him and you!) and trips to the dog park. It’s a great way to continue his socialization and let him just be a dog.
Never underestimate the importance of exercise in your dog’s physical and mental well-being. Dogs who get enough exercise are less anxious and less inclined to get themselves into trouble out of boredom and excess energy that has nowhere to go. You know the old saying: a tired dog is a good dog.