Over the years of putting DogCast Radio together, I've gathered some great advice from the various trainers, breeders and other experts I've interviewed. Here are some tips for dealing with a puppy.
Start as you mean to go on
This may seem an obvious one, but it's so easy to forget. Basically if you don't want the adult dog getting on furniture, sleeping on you bed or jumping up at people, don't let the puppy do it. Once he gets into the bad habit, it'll be at least twice as difficult to get him out of it, as it would have been to avoid the habit forming in the first place. Set the rules right from the start. It's not being mean to the puppy - surely it's meaner to confuse the dog by letting him do something for a while and then scolding him for it?
Know that puppies can be horrible
Okay, this one is not so obvious, but believe me, it's true. Surely though puppies are cute and cuddly and generally lovely?
Puppies pee and poop wherever they feel like it, they bite you with needle sharp teeth that hurt, they chew up your favourite belongings, they wake you up - if they let you go to sleep in the first place that is! - they may try to escape, dig up your garden, and they will pay no attention to how you feel about any of these behaviours. After a few days of this you may be under the impression that your sweet little puppy doesn't like you - and you may be beginning not to like him very much either!
Don't take it personally, remember that puppies can be horrible, but one day they grow up into dogs.
Socialise Socialise Socialise
The best thing you can do for your puppy is to socialise him. That means getting him used to lots of different people, places, dogs, noises and so on. Ensure that none of this frightens your pup; make it fun and non-threatening. If there is anything your puppy seems to dislike to fear, get him used to it gently. Stay upbeat yourself, don't commiserate with him, or the message is that there is something to be afraid of.
Buddy used to be terrified of large vehicles - busses, lorries and so on. I would talk to him in a happy voice - just nonsense like, "Oh how lovely, a great big lorry, wasn't that fun?" As he improved, I would offer him treats, but I was careful not to reward his frightened behaviour. Now he couldn't care less what drives past us.
Persevere through the “teenage” months
Just like children, dogs can become difficult when they hit adolescence. They can suddenly forget or ignore instructions they used to perform well. They can get pushy around other dogs as they begin to feel like a "big" girl or boy. They are still an immature mind in an adult - and sometimes big body. This is a dangerous period for a dog, as many can find themselves in rescue at this difficult time.
This is when perseverance come into play. You have to be more determined than your dog. Keep at it, go to training classes, and eventually your dog will emerge from his teenage tantrums.
Relax over toilet training
I got this one terribly wrong with Buddy, who was my first dog. Luckily he forgave me everything, and got it right eventually despite me. One thing I learned - and applied with our second dog, Star - was to relax. Puppies make mistakes. Owners clear them up. Occasionally puppies get it right. Owners reward them generously. Sooner or later the puppy realises that you want him to toilet outside rather than in, and the battle is more than half won.
I have an aunt who has had many dogs over her eighty-plus years. She hasn't actively toilet trained any of them. She has simply cleared away indoor puddles or piles, and the dog's instinct have done the rest. I'm not advocating this as a method you should adopt; I'm offering it as reassurance that dogs will get toilet training sorted, so relax.
Love it – it doesn't last long!
When I think back to our dogs' puppyhood it seems so long ago, and it flew by. Having a puppy can be a trying, busy time but it passes. Soon enough, your new puppy has grown up, and you'll look back fondly on those baby days. Make the most of it. Enjoy your puppy as much as you can - it doesn't really last forever whatever it may feel like in the midst of it all.
Join a class
It may be time-consuming, and it may not be something that really appeals to you, but going to a training class could really help. At classes you will be able to ask the instructor all those questions you have about raising your puppy. You will learn how to teach your puppy to behave as you want. Plus, your pup will have lots of socialisation with other puppies and people. Classes are also a chance to.....
Talk to other puppy owners – we all have similar problems!
All puppies owners have had problems of some kind. Even experienced owners can find that a new puppy is different in some way, and so they find themselves facing problems they've never had to deal with before. It is very reassuring to learn that other people have the same difficulties as you. Your dog is not the only one who can't get the hand of pooing in the garden, or walking on the lead, or not barking through the night, and so on. Others can commiserate, and possibly share solutions they've discovered. Either way you'll know what you're going through is normal.
Ultimately, I think having a puppy is a bit like having a baby. After a while you forget the painful bits, and just remember the good parts. And you know what? - believe it or not you find yourself ready to sign up for the whole thing all over again!