If you've recently got a new puppy, you may be wondering how to give them the best start to life. According to Dogs Trust, the first four months of a puppy's life are crucial. It is when they learn what to make of all the things they experience in the world.
Problems can arise when puppies do not receive training or are not familiarised with their environment early on. As dogs get older, they can become stressed about things that they did not encounter when they were young. As you can imagine, adjusting to all the changes caused by the COVID-19 control measures and transitioning to the new 'normal' can be confusing to a puppy.
When you start to train your puppy, we recommend using methods that rely on positive reinforcement and gentle teaching. Puppies have short attention spans, so training sessions should be brief but should occur routinely.
Teaching your puppy to be alone
Your puppy needs to feel stress-free and confident to be left alone. You can start training by putting your puppy behind child gates or playpens, then quietly walking out of the room. Return immediately and reward them with praise. Repeat the process, slowly increasing how long you are away each time. In the beginning, even a single minute might feel too long for your puppy, but over time, you should be able to build up to reasonably long periods.
Once your puppy starts to feel confident, you can get them used to you leaving the house. Start slowly by going outside and returning straight away. If your puppy stays relaxed, you can build up the time that you are out. This will leave them well-prepared when the time comes for you to transition away from working from home or when your social diary fills up.
Creating a routine
Some basic structure will help your puppy feel secure and know what is expected of him or her. The best way to do this is to create a basic schedule. Try and develop a routine of exercise, mealtimes, potty breaks and training sessions. No matter how tempting it is to play with your puppy all the time while you are at home, it is essential to give your puppy rest throughout the day.
By establishing the routine from the very start, you will be on your way to a well-adjusted dog. It is worth putting in the time right now so that undesirable behaviours will not develop in the long run.
Socialising with dogs
Puppies need to learn how to communicate with other dogs. This task became tricky due to COVID-19 limitations and social distancing introduced in 2020. Many behavioural problems arise in the future when a dog has been inadequately socialised as a puppy. For this reason, it is best to aim for early controlled socialisation as much as possible. We recommend that your puppy receives all the necessary vaccinations before they start interacting with other dogs to keep them safe.
Socialising with people
A major component of a dog's life is meeting new people, when out on exercise or when visitors are able to come over to your home. Dogs Trust advises that you can have great fun introducing them to how different people might appear. Try on different outfits around the home. Get into a big hat or a wig. Introduce things like walking sticks or high-vis clothing if you have them.
Handling and grooming
It’s a great idea to help your puppy get used to being handled at a young age. Introduce a gentle grooming brush and spend a few minutes each day examining your puppy’s mouth, ears and paws. Ask one of our team members to show you how you can do this gently.
Puppies learn a lot about social interactions through play. Short periods of energetic play are a good way for puppies to learn the basics such as ‘fetch’ and ‘hide and seek’. You could practise inside your home or garden in preparation for when you can venture further afield.
Although it’s important to get puppies used to going out in the car at an early age, it may not be possible to do this under the current circumstances and restrictions. If you have a travel crate in the boot, now’s a good time to introduce them to it. You could sit the puppy in the crate in your car whilst stationary on your drive or outside your house, to get them used to being in the car. Gradually spend longer periods of time with your puppy in the car and give plenty of praise and treats each time. Feeding meals in the car is a good way for your puppy to develop a positive association with your car.
The actions of children can be scary to adult dogs that are not socialised with children during puppyhood. Children tend to get excited around puppies and may incite them to play and chase. Puppies and children must be taught how to behave around each other. We do not recommend leaving your new puppy unsupervised with any children until you are certain they can get along well.
The best way to build a good relationship between your dog and children is to use positive reinforcement. When your dog is behaving well around children, be sure to give them lots of praise and treats. Your dog will learn that good things happen whenever kids are around.
For additional tips, please visit www.dogstrust.org.uk/help-advice/behaviour/puppy-socialisation-introduction