Bringing home a new puppy can be daunting – raising a dog is a huge responsibility and there is a huge amount of information out there on what to do and how to do it! We wanted to offer a short list of things which we feel are often overlooked about puppy development and training, but are incredibly important and valuable for our dog’s education! Here are five things you didn’t know you should teach your puppy…
- How to relax and “do nothing.”
You might also hear trainers refer to this as teaching your dog to have an “off switch.” These days many people are focused on providing loads of enrichment for their dogs – this is fantastic, but it can sometimes go a bit too far. Just like us, dogs need to be able to rest and recharge. Being constantly busy and unable to relax can lead to high anxiety levels and behavioural issues and make changes to routine incredibly stressful.
So, while regular walks, training and enrichment are all hugely important, we need to ensure we don’t overlook the restorative down time that our dogs also need to be getting. This is vital both for our day-to-day lives and for times when our dogs have no choice! For example, illness/injury (for our dogs or us!) can lead to a change in routine, extreme weather etc. – these might all mean we can’t provide our dog with as many/any walks, and may even reduce the training and enrichment we can partake in at home for a time. If our dogs are able to relax, this will be much less stressful for them while they/we recover and get back to normality.
- The value of checking in.
Checking in is a very simple thing – it is literally just our dogs looking over their shoulder to see what we’re up to when we’re out and about! This is such a small thing and is so, so easy to miss and overlook when training our dogs – but it is THE foundation for the rest of our training and will make everything else we do so much easier. Teaching our dogs that checking in with us – wherever they are, whatever’s going on and even when we haven’t called them – pays off and is a good habit, will make is so much easier for them to be able to engage and respond to cues in a variety of environments and around different distractions. It’ll also teach our dogs that engaging with us is a positive thing! Rather than always battling against exciting distractions and trying to convince our dogs to interact with us when they’d rather be doing something else, rewarding our dogs for checking in teaches them to both offer this behaviour themselves (without it being a huge effort/battle) and that doing so is a fun and positive experience!
- How to be left alone.
Particularly since the pandemic, many dogs have missed out on this important life skill. No matter our schedules – even if you are retired or work exclusively from home – there are likely to be times when you need to leave your dog alone. Whether that is simply in another part of the house while you’re working or because you have to pop out and no one else is around, it’s important our dogs can feel confident and calm being left alone.
Far from the days of leaving our pups to “cry it out” when left (which we now know can lead to increased cortisol levels, higher anxiety and be a direct cause of separation anxiety), dog owners today should take the time to carefully introduce their dogs to the idea of being left by themselves. This needs to be done slowly and thoughtfully, so our puppies never end up panicking and can always feel secure in the knowledge that they’ve not been abandoned and you’ll be back soon. Check out our Puppy’s First Steps course on Dogversity for more information about how to get started with absence training for your pup!
- How to ignore other dogs.
Socialisation is about more than just meeting other dogs. Many puppies find meeting other dogs incredibly exciting – this is great, but as they get older it is important that they are able to be calm and relaxed around other dogs. We need our dogs to be able to engage with us and ignore other dogs – they simply won’t be able to say hello to every dog they see, and we don’t want our dogs to be leaping around like a kite on the end of their lead, approaching dogs who want to be left alone or to begin exhibiting reactive behaviour (due to frustration!) when they are unable to say hello! Even when they do get to say hello, an over-excited dog is much more likely to greet another dog in a rude and overbearing way and could cause a conflict they weren’t looking for. A calm and relaxed dog will be able to greet other dogs more appropriately as they will be more in control of their emotions. Group classes are a wonderful way to get your pup started, offering a safe, controlled environment where your dog can be around other dogs while learning to be engaged, responsive and calm.
- Handling skills.
Another thing we often forget to include when training our young puppies, is handling skills! Basic handling like checking our dogs’ ears, eyes and mouth, handling their paws, grooming etc are incredibly important to ensure we are able to take proper care of our dogs throughout their lives. Introducing these concepts early will make it much, much easier for our dogs to feel confident and tolerant. Particularly when you consider that many things – such as handling our dogs’ ears – are likely to occur when they are already feeling under the weather and possibly even in pain. If we wait until our dogs have an ear infection before we handle their ears, their only experience of having their ears handled will be bad ones that were uncomfortable! If we can give our dogs lots of positive experienced at this young age, by the time they have any injuries, illnesses etc they should feel confident enough that we can treat them easily, resolving the problem quickly and with as little stress to our pups as possible!
- That humans are safe and will listen to their body language.
Most of us want our dogs to feel safe & happy and to have only good experiences interacting with us. One way to make sure of this, is to learn what our dogs’ body language means to actively listen to and respect it. Animals tend to avoid confrontation and conflict, so our dogs often show us their discomfort in a subtle, quiet way – without grumbling or snapping. It’s important we learn to notice and react to these signals, so our dogs know they never need to escalate their behaviour and that humans are safe to be around. Check out our Puppy’s First Steps course for information on body language and how to observe your dog and understand what they’re feeling and what we can do to support them.