New puppy owners hear a ton of advice from their family, their neighbors, and even the overly-talkative owner at the dog park. Some is spot on, and some is ill-advised. Because those early weeks with a new puppy are critical, it’s important to filter that advice and do what’s best for your pup and their relationship with you. Take note of these five things a puppy owner should never do.
Don’t Skip Socialization
The first three months of a puppy’s life have a significant influence on how content and well-adjusted that dog will be as an adult. A puppy who is properly socialized will be comfortable with almost anything the world throws at them, whereas a poorly socialized pup will lack confidence and get overwhelmed or frightened easily. A good breeder will start socializing a puppy right away, but once you get your new pet home, the responsibility falls to you.
Puppy socialization doesn’t just refer to meeting new people and dogs, although that is incredibly important. It also means introducing your pup to as many new experiences as possible in a positive way. That can include new surfaces like the tile floor in the kitchen, new sounds like the vacuum, or other animals like cats or hamsters.
The trick is to make all these new things wonderful and rewarding. Don’t force your puppy into a situation they find frightening. One bad experience can undo all your hard work. Instead, move at your puppy’s pace, stay upbeat, and associate each experience with something your pup loves like praise or treats.
Don’t Give Too Much Freedom Too Soon
Allowing your pup to roam free around the house has serious consequences. Not only can your puppy have bathroom accidents, hindering your potty-training program, but they can destroy your property and injure themselves in the process. Puppy proofing, such as keeping medications and toxins out of reach and covering electrical wires, is important for your new pet’s safety.
But it’s not enough—you need to supervise your puppy at all times. If they learn to make their own fun while your back is turned, they will most certainly develop bad habits like chewing socks or baseboards. It’s easier and safer to prevent problem behavior than to correct it later.
Whenever you can’t watch your pup, keep them contained. Crate training is incredibly helpful, or you can use baby gates or an exercise pen as a safe area. Only give your dog unsupervised freedom when their potty behavior is under control and they have developed appropriate chewing habits. Then, you can give them a bit of freedom one room at a time.
Don’t Be Inconsistent
Routine is comforting to dogs. They like to know when they can expect meals, walks, naps, playtime, and so on. It minimizes confusion and stress if they can anticipate their daily schedule. Routine also helps with potty training because regular mealtimes lead to predictable bathroom breaks.
Develop a schedule that fits your lifestyle and your puppy’s needs then stick to it. You will please your puppy and minimize stress-related problem behaviors.
It’s also important to be consistent with the rules of the house and the manners you expect. If your puppy isn’t allowed to jump on you when you’re wearing your good work clothes, they shouldn’t be allowed to jump on you when you’re wearing jeans. If your expectations seem arbitrary, your puppy won’t know how to behave, and you’ll be struggling with unwelcome behavior far into adulthood. Also, be sure everybody in the household is following the same set of rules.
Don’t Wait to Train Your Puppy
There’s no magic age to start obedience training. By the time you get your puppy home, they are more than capable of learning new behaviors. However, you might be so focused on potty training that you neglect obedience. After all, puppy antics are amusing and fun. What’s the point of worrying about basic skills until later, right?
Well, those adorable antics will quickly turn into nuisance behaviors as your dog reaches adolescence. That cute puppy nipping becomes adult bites, and that excited pulling on walks is now dislocating your arm.
Start teaching your puppy basic manners, alone time training, and skills, such as sit, lie down, and stay, as soon as you get them home. It’s only fair to let your puppy know what you expect and how to make you happy. Positive training methods will also provide mental stimulation, teach your puppy to focus on you rather than the environment, and build a strong bond. Puppy classes and the AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy Program are great places to start.
Don’t Use Harsh Methods
Positive reinforcement doesn’t mean being permissive. Without rules and boundaries, dogs will simply be dogs—chewing, begging, barking, and so on. But you don’t have to employ harsh methods to teach your dog how you want them to behave. In fact, punishment is very difficult to do correctly.
You need perfect timing, for one. Dogs live in the moment so yelling at your puppy for chewing a shoe when the chewing happened even a few seconds ago is pointless. Worse still, it will make you seem unpredictable and frightening to your pet, which will erode your bond with your pup.
Punishment can be especially damaging with potty accidents. If you catch your dog mid-squat, simply distract them with noise, like a hand clap, then take them out to finish immediately. Be sure to reward them for finishing in the right spot. If you scold or punish the accident, you will end up with a stealth pooper who won’t go in front of you. If you didn’t witness the accident, simply clean up the mess and supervise better next time.
Instead of using harsh methods that focus on what your puppy did wrong, focus on what your puppy is doing right. And teach them alternative behaviors that are incompatible with the problem behavior, like chewing a toy rather than your shoe or going to their bed rather than begging at the table. When your dog does the preferred alternative, reward them so they know it’s worth their while.