So you’re getting a new puppy, the excitement in the household is at an all time high and you may be wondering what the key areas to focus on are. We want to help you get off on the right foot from the start, so we are sharing with you our 5 top tips for puppy raising.
Most dog owners focus on obedience right from the jump and make common mistakes when it comes to house breaking, puppy biting, confidence building (or lack there of) and socialization. Social media groups are not your friends when asking for advice as everyone seems to have the answers which many of the times are the wrong ones.
We have helped raised thousands of puppies of varying breeds and backgrounds over the years with a wide variety of dog owners, but the foundation advice is always the same and it is listed below in our top 5 tips for puppy raising.
- Proper Management
- Build a Strong Interaction with You Through Play
- Environmental Exposure
- Quality Time Together
- Make Meal Times Fun and Interactive
Now, let’s break down each of these points into more detail!
Think of your new puppy as a human toddler. Your puppy is constantly on the move, wanting to put most anything in it’s mouth (including your feet and hands), gets overly tired resulting in acting out, has very little control of its bladder with no understanding that it isn’t allowed to soil in your house and can be mischievous.
So many new puppy owners make the same mistake which will only result in these behaviors being reinforced for longer…they allow their puppy free roam of the house.
It is imperative that you properly manage your puppy’s space. We recommend purchasing a crate, an ex pen and keeping a leash attached and dragging around any time your pup is out of the ex pen or crate for a multitude of reasons.
Crate training is fantastic! Dogs need naps and a crazy hectic house can result in an overly tired and aroused puppy that will surely bite at your children when they run and scream. It also assists with house breaking and creates independence away from you which will help not turn your pup into a dog with separation anxiety down the road. Plus, when you leave or sleep it provides a safe and secure spot that your pup won’t get into anything it isn’t supposed to.
We recommend providing high value chews in the crate – raw beef rib bones are a great way to add in some raw into their diet, and is a mental and physical exhauster for puppies. Kongs stuffed with their food, pumpkin, peanut butter, etc…then frozen are also a great crate treat. Since both of these can get messy a crate keeps your house clean and has your pup associate some really awesome chews in the crate only.
An ex pen can be used during the day when you are busy with other activities. It will again keep your pup safe but with more room to move around and interact on its own. Provide a few varying toys and chews if that is more your pup’s style – we like to use yak chews and odorless bully sticks.
Lastly, leashes are stressful! So why not get your pup accustomed to one in a much less stressful way than trying to use it on a walk right away by allowing it to drag around on them throughout the day when they are free and interacting with you and your family. Not only will this get them accustomed to a leash and some slight pressure if they step on it, but you can also help prevent the demon child 7pm bite frenzy from occurring by simply stepping on the leash or doing some light pull and releases while redirecting with a fun, interactive and moving toy vs you being animated and pushing or moving away which will only activate your dog’s natural predatory instincts.
Build a Strong Interaction with You Through Play.
When it comes to the relationship side of raising a pup nothing is better than focusing on play and lots of it!
At our core once all of our needs are met we want to play and have fun in life, and the same goes for your dog. Think when you were a kid and you went to a friend’s house – you went there to play with them. Same thing happened at the playground or at recess. Yea, you may have shared some snacks but that wasn’t your top priority; play was. The same goes for your pup, building your relationship through play will always be stronger than building it through food.
Now the types of toys to begin building play are important as using something too large isn’t going to be rewarding or using a toy in a way that doesn’t bring out your dogs drive and motivation in a way that will build their confidence and desire to continue to interact with you.
Our top toys we recommend are: a fleece tug (or favorite is from K9 Tactical gear) attached to a leash, balls (we like to use either a Hartz bacon ball or squeaky chuck it ball), and a small chuck it frisbee.
Going back to our first point, management also plays a role in play. Dogs naturally want to possess their toys and many people run into the issue of a dog playing keep away. So when playing with your puppy limit their space by playing in a hallway or using their ex pen. When you begin leash work also keeping a leash attached to your dog will allow you to manufacture them coming back to you.
When it comes to tug you want to build your pup’s desire to bring it back and win again by allowing them to “win” most often. Watch for one of three natural counter moves your pup will offer: a tug back, a head shake or a re-grip. When your pup does one of these three power moves allow them to win the fleece tug by sliding your hand down the leash that is attached and create more space away from you. Once they slide away, you can re-activate the tug by pulling on the leash and bringing your pup a little closer to you until they counter again.
When it comes to a good game of fetch, and not the grab the ball and go off running with it, limit your space and love on your dog when they come back. Approach under their chin vs being overly forceful coming directly at their face. As soon as you get the ball, toss it out right away for them to get the game.
Frisbee should be introduce like you are rolling out a yo-yo. The great thing with a frisbee is in the long run you will be able to tug with it as a reward and do some fun fetching, even getting some air once your dog is more mature and developed. It’s like tracking a bird in the air, very rewarding and allows their genetic desires to have a proper outlet.
When beginning play sessions we recommend cueing them with “you ready to play” and when you end the session we use “all done” to let them know there is a window of opportunity to have this fun and dynamic interaction with you. If during a play session your pup checks out we recommend ending the session as well, this is a good way to use negative punishment (remove the reward as a punishment) that when used consistently and correctly will guarantee a dog that doesn’t check out during play sessions and you left there begging your pup to interact with you over other competing motivators in the environment.
This can be a controversial subject with new puppy owners as there is a long standing belief that you must wait for all rounds of shots to be completed before exposing your puppy to new environments but we are here to tell you that the benefits outweigh the risks on this one.
Between 6-16 weeks of age your puppy is a sponge and this small time frame is a critical window in exposing your pup safely to different sounds and stimuli. This does not mean different dogs. Most puppies do not receive their last round of vaccines until after this 16 week window and puts them at a risk for lifelong fear issues.
Be smart about it. Do not go to high traffic dog areas, but take your pup out. Go to the grocery store and play with your pup in the parking lot, roll a shopping cart beside them, allow them to say hi to a person that doesn’t appear the same as members of your household. Lowes and Home Depot are also great dog friendly stores that have slick floors, a plethora of sounds and sights that are different from your home. Even going to a park and having your dog in a crate with the back of your car open to allow them to absorb the environment is a good thing to practice.
It is important to note that during these trips you should not be using food to work your puppy through things or doing any obedience work until a few months down the road when they are confident in new situations. You want to allow your pup to soak up the environment, not follow a food lure which would be doing the opposite of the purpose of this as well as you can inadvertently be rewarding nervous tendencies.
A podcast we always recommend to puppy owners to listen to is The Canine Paradigm Episode 57: It’s Me Isn’t It? This is a detailed conversation about this topic that would take us pages and pages to write about, so next car drive or house cleaning you plan to do pop this on, you won’t regret it.
Quality Time Together.
This is going to look a little different for everyone as we all live different lifestyles but bringing your dog with you on your daily adventures, taking walks, sitting in the sun while you rub their favorite spot or cuddles in the home – this is time that will go a long way in building a strong relationship with you and your pup plus isn’t this what dog ownership is all about?
You can’t achieve that Lassie-human bond without spending quality time together. If you plan to keep your dog outside or in a run for the majority of their life, or neglect it inside the home without time spent together than why get a dog in the first place?
My favorite things to include our pack of dogs (and client dogs) in are:
- Hiking adventures because the outdoors is good for everyone’s souls and that is where a deep connection can really be developed and off leash control be fostered.
- Chill time on the patio while I do office work for the business (currently my crew is sunbathing while I enjoy this beautiful Spring Carolina weather, they come over to say hi and get a head scratch a few times for the hours I’m out here).
- Traveling around the country. My husband and I have always included our dogs in our adventures around this country, we even traveled with our three OG’s during our 2 month RV honeymoon down the West Coast because it is so much fun doing life with them! Talk about marriage bonding and quality time with our crew.
- Snuggle sessions on the couch or bed when they are invited up, and they will hop down when asked to. Let’s be real, spooning your dog or having them sleep in the crease of your legs is soothing for you both.
- Runs, walks, mountain biking, road biking, rock climbing – all these activities I love to do with one or more of my dogs joining in on the fun.
At the puppy stage you also want to work on handling drills and grooming desensitization, having your pup be comfortable being uncomfortable is some quality time together that will go a long way in your relationship and help with grooming life long.
Make Meal Times Fun and Interactive.
Most dog food providers and veterinarians recommend 3 meals a day to be fed to pups, weaning to twice a day within a few months. Instead of just feeding your pup out of a ceramic or metal bowl for those three meals you can use those meal times as interactive opportunities instead.
First you can use meal times as training opportunities, loading your markers, as well as luring and shaping behaviors. Check out our “Be The Bowl” video for an in depth view on this:
Second, you can do some scattered feeding to tap into your pup’s natural foraging instincts. This can be done via a snuffle mat, pool feeding (which also boosts confidence) or just scattering their meal in the grass outside!
Third you can use a kong wobbler to have your dog think a little for their food, slow down their eating and make it more interactive.
Fourth you can do some box feeding which will long term help desensitize your pup to different stimuli and is an equivalent to meditation for your dog. Again, The Canine Paradigm has a great and extensive podcast episode on this: Episode 4: The Mysteries of the Box.
Of course you can also just feed meals at times, but don’t overestimate the power of using their meals as fun and interactive activities as well.
So that is it for our top 5 tips for puppy raising! We love building strong, confident pups who love to interact with us, are environmental stable and get to do life adventures with. We want the same for you and your new puppy and we promise you that following these 5 tips will get you off to a great start!
– Katrina Kensington