Michael is an avid pet-lover and content writer on topical themes related to dog care, training and behavioral development.
1. Taking Responsibility
One puppy owner wrote about her case and asked for help. She had a dog that was intelligent, well-behaved and obedient. When the owner started leaving the pet at home to go to work, nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary.
But thereafter, signs of separation anxiety began to manifest. The owner would come back and find the dog had pulled off covers from the bed, removed items from the countertops, chewed up books and engaged in other forms of mischief.
The pet owner was now caught up in a dilemma because it was not possible for her to carry her dog along with her to work, plus she could not afford a pet sitter or even a dog walker. Moreover, she could not see how keeping the pet confined to a crate for 8 hours would be a healthy solution.
The above example helps illustrate the point that acquiring a puppy is a commitment and that we do need to think through the long-term consequences of owning one before making the decision to actually do so.
We should never assume ownership of a puppy simply because it is too cute to leave behind, or we have developed special feelings for it, or we sympathize because of the condition or environment in which we found it.
It is not a decision we can make simply because we sense loneliness or the need for companionship. There are other solutions for such.
Moreover, it is not advisable to obtain the puppy while we are in the middle of a busy schedule or just leaving for a holiday. It would be best to do so before we go on annual leave or become engaged elsewhere.
Our availability is required in order to housebreak the puppy properly and provide it with much needed foundational training.
So consider your lifestyle and the changes you are going through and ask yourself how the decision to go for a puppy would impact your life and that of your family both in the short and long term.
How ready and available are you for the commitment? Consider also that there are emotional issues that arise whenever we bond with a pet. We need to therefore weigh the decision from all angles before confirming that we are truly ready.
2. Understanding Temperaments
There are two main factors that determine how a puppy will eventually turn out to be and how it will behave. One is how well the puppy has been reared and the other is the type of breed it belongs to.
For the latter, certain predictions can be made. Bulldogs, Rottweilers, Boxers and German Shepherds alike have a guardian nature and so will likely become both protective and supportive. This tendency will be helpful for owners who would like to be aided in this way.
Bearded and Border Collies grow up in farms by nature are accustomed to farming-related activities like herding. They are therefore used to wide open spaces and as a result, will tend to be very active and energetic.
They would not be the type to remain still or lead a quiet life if that is what you are looking for in a dog. Also, due to their countryside orientation, modern technological sounds and devices or infrastructure may make them apprehensive.
Gun dogs, Bird dogs, Pointers and Labradors are the hunting type and will therefore be both lively and spirited. These would suit owners who want to have pets that are adventurous and reasonably independent.
The above however are typical observations. There can be exceptions to the rule when it comes to the temperament of a dog and the variables that affect its development.
Always remember that a puppy is like a blank slate when you acquire it. So you as the new owner will now need to write the program and document on that slate the correct set of instructions.
The newly-acquired puppy is like a baby that will need to be brought up and taught the difference between right and wrong and how to behave. The first level of this should be obedience training which should thereafter be followed by supportive training.
Sometimes due to feelings of inadequacy, lots of owners and handlers alike will spend a lot of time, effort and money on various training aids, products and systems on the market to see which one suits best. In reality, it doesn’t have to be that way, since a dog can be trained and brought up properly without resorting to complicated or expensive means.
3. Exercising Leadership
Dogs are by nature pack animals. Hence they will instinctively seek to find the leader of the pack. It is the alpha dog who is typically the leader of the pack. So once your puppy arrives in its new environment, it will by nature start looking for the leader.
If the owner fails to demonstrate that he/she has taken this role, the pet will assume that it is the leader. So it is necessary to ensure that you prove to the puppy from an early age that you are the leader and you are in command.
When doing so, however, be considerate and balanced. Avoid aggression and heavy-handedness when exercising your authority, lest the dog becomes withdrawn out of fear and apprehension. This can be counterproductive to the training because it creates a barrier to establishing a genuine connection.
By providing food and treats at appropriate times personally, you will be demonstrating to the dog that you are the one in charge. You will also be teaching it to understand that obedience is required for it to enjoy nourishment and all the other benefits at the scheduled times.
Among canines, there is an unwritten law is that each pack can only have one leader. Departing from this rule would compromise the safety of the pack and disorder would ensue.
By establishing your leadership through the various stages of training and upbringing, your dog will learn to recognize and submit to your authority, remaining loyal to you as its unrivaled leader.
4. Rewarding and Reprimanding
With so many techniques of training available out there, it may be a challenge to determine the one best suited to the pet that you have.
One foundational principle is knowing when to reprimand and when to reward your dog. Both these approaches are necessary for the process, so the key is to know when to apply one or the other in a given situation.
The majority of training instructors are of the opinion that positive reinforcement works best for dogs and so recommend that owners master the art of rewarding their pets before reprimanding them.
This means that your dog should always be commended when it does something the right way while it is being trained, for example, when it relieves itself where it should, when it stays or sits in response to your command, or when it goes out and fetches something you asked it to.
You can express commendation in ways that a dog can understand, for example by patting its head, giving it a treat, speaking complimentary words, rubbing its tummy, or stroking it. By their very nature, dogs catch on quickly with positive reinforcement. Encouraging good behavior in this way works really well.
Ensure that once you have established a pattern of rewarding the dog for good acts, no one else comes in and disrupts this pattern by rewarding the dog after it has done something wrong.
This does not mean that your pet should never be reprimanded. Rather, avoid reprimanding your pet unless it is really necessary. You can reprimand your dog if it relieves itself in the wrong place, growls, barks, pulls against a leash, or destroys an item.
The key here is to ensure that you reprimand the dog immediately it commits the wrong act so that it can instantly associate your reaction with its behavior. If you or someone else does it later, the dog may fail to draw the connection and conclude you are being mean for no reason. This leads to a negative effect.
How best should a dog be reprimanded? Well, there are several ways. Some owners would give it a sharp rebuke such as “No!” or “Bad manners!” Some do a resounding hand clap. Another method would be to remove a favorite toy from its reach.
Again here, you simply need to understand the dynamics involved. Whichever method you use, if you reprimand too often, the dog will simply get used to the treatment as a part of its life. It will get accustomed to your reactions and they will not produce the desired effect and you may find yourself raising a pet that is correction-proof.
Remember, when correcting your dog, reactions such as hitting, spanking, scolding, yelling or locking it up should be avoided. These produce the type of negative reinforcement that is detrimental to the upbringing of the pet.
5. Feeding and Mealtimes
One of the most important considerations after getting a new puppy is to determine the type of food that you will be feeding it with and when.
Puppies need a high-quality diet. Some owners opt for canned food due to the fact that this is most similar to real fresh food in terms of taste.
Canned food also retains up to 80% of the fluids naturally found in both meat and vegetables, thereby reducing the daily amount of water intake the puppy requires.
If you choose to go the canned food route, it is recommended to complement this with dog biscuits as the latter provide added value and help with dental hygiene by cleaning the puppy’s teeth.
The most common preference nowadays is dried dog food. It is prepared as a scientific blend of all the necessary nutrients required for the health of the dog.
As the owner, you can always select the type of food best suited for your dog but always bear in mind that proteins are required in sufficient quantities for the puppy to grow and develop healthily.
This action of putting out the food for the puppy should be based on the time you choose to do so. This trend needs to be maintained.
This is how the puppy will learn from an early age that you are in control and food will only be provided at the time of your choosing. In this way, you consolidate your position as the leader.
At the very first stage of the feeding process, it is advisable for you to provide the puppy with the same diet that it was used to having at the breeders’ shelter or in the center where it came from.
After feeding it in this way for a period of time, you could then start introducing your own unique choice of diet gradually, until you have switched over completely to the same.
Avoid leaving any food lying on the floor throughout the day. Instead, always put out the food when it is time to eat and then remove it after the dog has eaten.
Docosahexaenoic Acid (or DHA) is an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish that is important for developing the central nervous system (CNS) of the puppy. This is a key structural component of the brain. DHA helps with the puppy’s neural development.
A study conducted by Iams Co. showed that puppies that were fed with high levels of DHA before and after they were weaned tended to be more intelligent and easier to train than those which were nourished with low amounts of DHA.
In this experiment, 39 puppies were fed the same balanced diet with different DHA levels that had also given to the mothers as well, before they gave birth. Once the puppies were 9 weeks old, each of them was given a test.
The test involved recognizing the correct shapes in a maze that directed them to where they could find a reward in the form of a treat. Over the course of 30 days of tests, the puppies that had been fed with high quantities of DHA had twice as much success and outperformed those that had a basic amount of DHA in their diet.
Carmen Battaglia, who is the founder of Breeding Better Dogs Program stated the following. “Based on the results of this study, I would recommend that breeders and pet owners feed their dogs foods enhanced with DHA. I think they’ll see better results not only in their puppies as they grow and develop, but also in better training due to better brain development.”
6. Prioritizing Safety
As is the case with anyone else, the puppy needs entertainment. It is essential though, that your pet has fun in a safe way.
For example, despite the fact that squeaky toys are popular, there are dogs that have chewed on the toy and managed to swallow the squeaker in the process. Perhaps the constant squeaking of the toy does not bother you as the owner. However, bear in mind that surgery would be required to save the dog’s life if these type of toys were swallowed accidentally.
There are certain other toys like small rubber balls that a dog can be allowed to play with but under supervision, because if by accident the ball got swallowed, it could lead to much more than just blockage of the larynx.
Like babies, puppies need to be watched consistently. Their curiosity is akin to toddlers and can easily land them in danger, as they seek to explore the world around them and exercise or develop their senses.
Anything that has a pleasant feel or appealing taste can become a plaything that they will continue to engage with despite the fact that it could be poisonous or dangerous.
Such domestic items as pest control products, antifreeze, or even electrical cables lying around could be lethal to a puppy. Hence, if you find that you do not have enough time to or opportunity to watch your puppy continuously, make use of barriers like puppy gates or other enclosures in order to curb any potential danger.
Just as you would not allow a toddler to wander about the home unsupervised, it is not advisable to leave a small puppy loose and roaming about the home by itself. If it was a baby, you would likely keep him in a daycare center or leave him in the supervision of a babysitter, rather than in an environment where he would be likely to damage things and injure himself.
The same applies to your pet. As long as the puppy is small (i.e. less that 1.5 years old), it would be fine to keep it in the crate for a reasonable period of time, as long as the latter is clean and spacious enough. This can be done if there is no one available to watch over it.
Instill lessons that will be helpful to both the puppy and yourself as the owner by controlling its environment. This is how you start building agility training.
7. Maintaining Balance
Social intelligence is what dogs have that makes them trainable. This is how they are able to understand cues, directions and instructions you give, both verbal and non-verbal, and can adjust their behavior accordingly. A puppy is only properly behaved as the level of its training.
So ensure that there is consistency in how you communicate. An example of inconsistency that can lead to confusion during the training process is if you issue different commands which make perfect sense for humans, but only serve to confuse the dog. For example, the commands “Come” and “Come on” may mean the same to a human, but a dog may become uncertain if both are used interchangeably.
For your obedience training to succeed, you need to ensure that vocabulary and the tone you use are consistent. If you are raising the puppy in the context of a family, agree together with other family members which commands are to be used for the dog and then have these memorized by each so that there is no confusion.
A balanced approach is also needed when it comes to the treatment you give to the puppy so that it can submit to you and obey you as the owner. Respect must be mutual and balanced.
If you as the owner are excessively kind and generous with treats, toys, playtime, or you become excessively stern and firm with the dog, the result will be inconsistent behavior. Remember that balanced praise and correction will result in both obedience and respect.
Exercising your puppy is important for health. Don’t keep the puppy indoors for too long. Owners need to take them for a walk at least for 30-60 minutes a day. If your schedule does not allow you to do this, then you need to have a backyard that is spacious enough for them to run about.
You could also take your puppy to open spaces that are safe like high school tracks or certain parks. There are owners who choose to include their pets in their own workout routine, for example on the treadmill. Exercising in this way can be of mutual benefit to both owner and pet as it affords bonding time as well.
When the puppy is still young, avoid allowing it to run around amok for extended periods of time even if the area it is in is fenced or secured. Too much liberty given to the puppy at the beginning will make it start developing undesirable habits that will be more difficult to break later on.
Instead, instill the lessons that will be helpful to both the puppy and yourself as the owner by controlling its environment. This is how you start building agility training.
If your puppy is prone to waking up at night and whining, it may be because it feels lonely without its mother and siblings. The way to curb this is to make sure that the crate where the puppy sleeps in is as comfortable as possible. Place a soft blanket at the base of the crate where the puppy will feel relaxed when curled upon it.
To substitute for the warmth and sounds of the puppy’s family, some owners go as far as placing an analog clock next to the crate as a way of mimicking the mother’s heartbeat. Alternatively, they leave sounds in the house like the radio or TV. Others prefer to keep a warm water bottle under the puppy’s blanket.
These approaches are good and can resolve the problem. However, ensure that you do not misdiagnose the real issue the puppy has whenever it whines or cries.
For example, during crate training, if you let the puppy out of the crate because it has started whining, you will be encouraging the wrong type of conditioning. You will be communicating, in effect, that all your pet needs to do in order to have its way is to whine or cry.
Once it recognizes that this is the case in one situation, it will likely begin to apply the same behavior in other situations as well and this will impede the training process. So be sensitive to the reactions of your pet, but also be wise and exercise discernment in each case.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Michael Duncan (author) from Germany on February 18, 2021:
Much appreciated, Liz!
Liz Westwood from UK on August 07, 2020:
I watched an owner rewarding their puppy this morning. You give great tips in this helpful article. The likening of a puppy to a young child is a very useful simile.