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So you're ready for a puppy?

Everyone wants a well trained dog and there is only one way to make that happen--you have to be committed to training! Puppy training begins long before the pup actually comes home.  Preparation of your home, family and expectations should begin weeks before the furry friend arrives. 

What to expect the first few days? eight great tips here! 

Caesar Millan wrote a great book about raising a family dog.
How to raise the perfect dog: Through Puppyhood and Beyond.  It's available on for less than $10 or some libraries offer it as a free eBook download.

Dr. Ian Dunbar is another of our favorite animal trainers.  One of his articles can be read below. We especially like his suggestion of making a safe puppy play 'room.' 

*One note--we begin socialization of our puppies outside our home well before three months.  We feel that poor socialization is far more dangerous to a dog's overall longevity (most animal shelter dogs are euthanized ) than the risk of contracting a puppy disease before immunizations are complete. We are very choosy about with whom our pups interact but we make an effort to introduce new people on a regular basis at all early ages. 

Countdown to a Crackerjack Canine Companion (link here)
Deadline #1 
BEFORE You Get Your Puppy -- Puppy Education and Owner Education!

Without a doubt the most pressing developmental deadline is BEFORE you get your puppy. The most important considerations are your puppy's education and YOUR education! By the time you bring your new puppy home, say by eight weeks of age, it should already be accustomed to the indoor domestic environment (especially noises) and well socialized with people. Similarly, housetraining, chew toy training and tutoring in basic manners should be well underway. If not, your prospective puppy's social and mental development will already be severely retarded and sadly, you will be playing catch-up for the rest of its life.

Make certain your prospective pup has been raised indoors in close contact with its original family, who have taken the time to begin your puppy's education. Your puppy needs to be prepared for the clamor of everyday domestic living - the noise of the vacuum cleaner, the shouting of sports programs on the television, children crying and adults arguing. Exposure to such stimuli before the pup's eyes and ears have fully opened (when its blurred vision and muffled hearing are still developing), allows the puppy to gradually become accustomed to sights and sounds that might otherwise frighten it when older. There is not much point in choosing a puppy that has been reared in a secluded kennel, where it rarely interacts with people and has become accustomed to soiling its living area and yapping a lot. If you want a companion dog to share your home, obviously it should be raised in a home, and not a cage.

The day you get your puppy, the clock is running. And time flies. Your puppy's critical period of socialization will begin to wane by three months and its most impressionable learning period starts to close by five months. Not surprisingly, most behavior and temperament problems are created during this time. There is so much to teach and nearly everything needs to be taught within just 12 weeks, when you puppy is between two and five months of age. It is vital that you know WHAT to teach and HOW to teach it. Going to puppy classes, reading behavior and training books and watching puppy videos is the quickest way to find out. But you need to do this BEFORE you get your puppy.

Deadline #2. 
The Very First Day! - Household Petiquette

Misbehavior is the single most prevalent 'terminal illness' in pet dogs. And sadly, many pet dogs all but sign their death warrants during their very first few days at home. If your pup is EVER unsupervised indoors, as sure as eggs is eggs it will predictably chew household articles and soil your house. Whereas these teeny accidents do little damage in themselves, they set the precedent for your puppy's toys and toilet for months to come.

Every house soiling and chewing 'mistake' is a potential disaster, since it heralds numerous future mistakes from a dog with a larger bladder and more destructive jaws. Most owners begin to notice their puppy's destructiveness by the time it is 4 to 5 months old. Characteristically, the pup is relegated outdoors. As a product of boredom and lack of supervision, the puppy begins to destroy everything and anything, as occupational therapy to pass the time of day. Moreover, natural inquisitiveness prompts the lonely pup to dig, to escape and to bark. Once the neighbors complain, the dog is usually further confined to a garage or basement - usually only a temporary stop until it is surrendered to the local animal shelter to play the lotto of life. Less than 25% of surrendered dogs are adopted and about half of them are returned as soon as the new owners discover their adopted adolescent's annoying problems.

The above summarizes the sad fate of many dogs. Especially sad, because all these simple problems could so easily be prevented. Indeed, the more you confine your puppy to its Doggy Den and Puppy Playroom during its first few weeks at home, the more freedom it will enjoy as an adult dog for the rest of its life.

ALWAYS confine your pup to its Puppy Playroom whenever it is necessary to leave the pup at home alone, or whenever you are at home but can not devote time to the housetraining procedures described below. A protected kitchen or bathroom makes a fine playroom. Be sure to remove all carpets and household articles within reach. Or, you may wish to purchase a portable exercise pen. The Puppy Playroom must contain i) a comfortable bed in one corner, ii) a suitable doggy toilet in another corner, iii) a bowl of fresh water and iv) a number of hollow chew toys stuffed with a couple of pieces of kibble.

For a doggy toilet, I suggest that you lay down a sheet of old linoleum, cover it with a disposable plastic sheet, lots of newspaper and with the eventual toilet substrate on top. For example, for rural and suburban pups, who will eventually be taught to relieve themselves on grass, scatter some soil or lay down a couple of rolls of turf. For urban pups, who will eventually be taught to eliminate at curbside, lay down a couple of concrete paving slabs. Your puppy will soon develop a very strong natural preference for eliminating on similar outdoor substrates whenever it can.

Kong products are the Cadillac of chew toys. Hollow sterilized long bones are a very close second choice. Stuff them with just one or two tasty treats, which can only be removed with great difficulty. Freeze dried liver is the Lamborghini of dog treats. Then stuff the chew toys with plenty of kibble or MilkBones (from your puppy's daily dietary ration). Your puppy will soon develop a very strong chew toy habit, since you have limited its choices to a single acceptable type of toy, which you have given it a good reason to chew.

ALWAYS confine your puppy to its Doggy Den whenever you are at home, but can not devote 110% of your attention to monitor your puppy's behavior Portable dog crates are ideal. The Doggy Den must contain a comfortable bed plus several chew toys stuffed with the dog's food. During its first few weeks at home, it is a marvelous training ploy to ONLY serve your puppy's food stuffed in chew toys. You may serve your dog's dinner in a dog bowl, once it has become an extreme Kongaholic and has not had a single chewing mishap for at least three months.

At least every hour, release your puppy from its crate, quickly put it on leash and hurry it to its toilet area. Stand still and give the pup just three minutes to produce. When it does, lavishly praise and offer THREE Freeze-dried liver treats for a good job well done. If your puppy eliminates, your empty puppy may now be allowed supervised exploration of the house for a while before returning to its den. If your puppy does not eliminate within the allotted time span, simply pop it back in its crate and try again in half an hour.

REMEMBER, aside from chew toy training, closely confining your puppy to its crate for short periods temporarily inhibits elimination, so that your pup will need to relieve itself immediately when you release it each hour, so that you may be there to direct it to the appropriate area AND ALSO BE THERE TO REWARD IT HANDSOMELY.

From the outset, you may reward your puppy for using its outdoor toilet area in your private fenced yard, but you must wait until your puppy has completed its puppy shots before taking it to eliminate on public property. Until your pup has developed sufficient immunity (between 3 and 4 months), it must not walk or sniff where other dogs have been.

Deadline #3. 
Three Months - Socialization & Basic Manners

The optimal time to socialize your puppy is BEFORE it is three months old. Unfortunately, your pup needs to be confined indoors until then. This relatively short period of social isolation at such a crucial developmental time could all but ruin your puppy's temperament. Whereas dog-dog socialization may be put on temporary hold until your pup is old enough to go to puppy school and the dog park, we simply can not delay socialization with people. On the contrary, during the first month, while your pup is grounded at home, socializing with people becomes the Prime Puppy Directive. Without a doubt, raising and training a pup to be people-friendly is by far the single most important aspect of pet dog husbandry.

Capitalize on the time your pup is confined indoors by inviting people to your home. As a rule of thumb, your pup needs to socialize with at least 100 people before it is 3 months old. This is actually much easier than it sounds. Invite a different group of eight men each Sunday to watch sports on the television. (Generally, men are pretty easy to attract and train if you offer pizza and beer.) Each Monday invite a different group of eight women to watch Ally McBeal and Dateline. Catch up on all your outstanding social obligations by inviting family, friends and neighbors to weekly Puppy Parties. On another night of the week invite some neighborhood children. Above all, don't keep this puppy a secret. And of course, the great thing about socializing a young puppy is that it also does wonders for your own social life!

Show all your guests how to hand feed the puppy's dinner kibble to lure/reward train it to come, sit and lie down. Ask your puppy to come. Praise profusely as it approaches and offer a piece of kibble when it arrives. Back-up and then, do it again. Repeat the recall sequence over and over. Then say "Puppy Sit" and slowly move a piece of kibble from in front of the puppy's nose to between its eyes. As the puppy raises its nose to sniff the kibble, it will lower its rear end and sit. If the puppy jumps up, you are holding the food lure too high and so, repeat the procedure with the food closer to the pup's muzzle. When your puppy sits, say "Good Dog" and offer the kibble. Now say "Puppy Down" and lower a piece of kibble from just in front of the puppy's nose to between its forepaws. As the puppy lowers its head to follow the food, it will usually lie down. Don't worry if your puppy stands instead, just keep the kibble hidden under the palm of your hand until it lies down. As soon as it does so, Say "Good Dog" and offer the food. Help each guest practice these maneuvers until each one can get the puppy to come, sit and lie down three times in succession for a single piece of kibble.

When a puppy dog approaches promptly and happily, it is a surefire sign the dog is people-friendly. Sitting and lying down on request, advertises voluntary doggy compliance and respect for the person issuing instructions. If your puppy is regularly hand fed dinner by guests in this manner, it will soon learn to enjoy the company of people and to approach happily and sit automatically when greeting them. And of course, as an added bonus, you have successfully trained your family and friends to train your dog for you!

Deadline #4. 
Four and a Half Months - Puppy School

As soon as your puppy is three months old, there is considerable urgency to play catch-up VIS A VIS socialization and confidence building with other dogs. At the very latest, be certain your pup starts puppy training classes before it is eighteen weeks old. Four and a half months marks a critical juncture in you doggy's development, accurately pinpointing the time it turns from puppy to adolescent - sometimes, virtually overnight. And you certainly want your pup enrolled in class well before it collides with adolescence! I simply can not over emphasize the importance of placing yourself under the guidance and tutelage of a professional pet dog trainer, while you are negotiating your dog's precarious and hair-raising transition from puppyhood to adolescence.

Most puppies can safely start classes at three months of age. Puppy classrooms are fairly safe places, since only vaccinated puppies are present and the floors are regularly sterilized. Luckily, the breeds which sometimes have immunity problems (Rotties and Dobes) are slow-developers and it is fine to delay starting class until they are four months old. Also, I would advise to delay taking any pups to dog parks, or for walks in public places (where other dogs have been), until they are at least four months old. (You can always practice leash walking around your house and yard, before embarrassing yourself in public.)

Puppy classes allow your pup to develop canine social savvy playing with other puppies in a non-threatening and controlled setting. Most puppy classes are family oriented and so your pup will have additional opportunities to socialize with all sorts of people - men, women and children. And then there is the training game. It will literally blow your mind how much your pup learns in just its very first lesson. Shy and fearful pups will gain confidence in leaps and bounds and bullies will learn to tone it down and be gentle. All dogs will learn to come and sit and lie down when requested; to listen to their owners and to ignore distractions. But really, you are attending puppy class so that YOU can learn! And there's still a lot to learn. You'll learn how to control your puppy's biting behavior, which by now will be approaching its peak. You'll discover numerous useful tips for resolving behavior problems. And you'll learn how to control the hyper-turbo, Warp Factor rambunctiousness and rumbustiousness which are part and parcel of adolescence. Above all though, puppy classes are an absolute blast! You will never forget your pup's first night in class. Puppy classes are an adventure... for you and your dog.

Sidebar: Searching for a Puppy Class

Hopefully you will have checked out a variety of classes before you got your puppy and have a pretty good idea what you are looking for, but here are a few tips:

Avoid Classes: which advocate the use of any metal collar, or any means of physical punishment, which frightens or harms any pup. PLEASE remember, the 'push-pull, leash-jerk, grab & shake, alpha-rollover and domination' techniques, are now considered arduous, time-consuming, relatively ineffective, potentially dangerous and in many cases downright adversarial and unpleasant. Such hopelessly out-of-date methods are now, thank goodness, by and large a thing of the past. Just imagine yourself in your puppy's paws. REMEMBER, this is your puppy, and its education, and its safety and sanity are in your hands. And so. you be the judge. There are so many better ways. Search until you find them!

Look For Classes: where the pups are given ample opportunity to play together off-leash, where pups are frequently trained and settled-down during the play session, where puppies learn at lightning speed, using toys and treats and fun and games. And above all, where your puppy has a good time! To find a list of puppy training classes in your area, call:

The Association of Pet Dog Trainers 
1-(800) PET DOGS

Deadline #5. 
Five Months - The Great Outdoors

It's time to get your dog out and about. Be certain to take a little bag of kibble with you. Give a couple of pieces of kibble to each stranger who wants to meet your dog and ask the stranger to offer the kibble only after your dog sits to say hello. Try to take your dog everywhere - errands around town, car trips to visit friends, picnics in the park and especially to explore the neighborhood. It's time for lots of walks, more walks, and even more walks.

Just a few words of caution though: PULLING ON LEASH! SLOW RECALLS AND NO RECALLS! Yes! Five months is when you begin to realize that the canine weight-pulling record is in excess of 10,000 pounds and that YOUR dog has begun to ignore you. Puppyhood is over. But here's a few tips to help.

Before you even think of going anywhere, try this simple and effective exercise. Put your dog's dinner kibble in a bag and today your dog will dine on its walk. Hold a single piece of kibble in your hand, stand still and wait for your dog to sit. Ignore everything else your dog does, it will sit eventually. When it does, say "Good Dog", offer the kibble, take just one giant step forwards, stand still and wait for your dog to sit again. Repeat this over and over until your dig sits immediately each time you stop. Now take two giant steps before your stop. Then try three steps and stop, and then five, eight, ten, twenty and so on. By now you will have discovered that your dog walks calmly and attentively by your side and sits immediately and automatically each time you stop. And you have trained all this in just one session and the only words you have said are "Good Dog!"

Try to take a few time-outs on each walk. Maybe sit down, relax and read the latest issue of DOG FANCY and give your dog ample opportunity to settle down and watch the world go by. You'll find that taking along a stuffed Kong will help your dog settle down quickly and calmly. Remember, the great outdoors can be a scary place and there may still be the occasional surprise which frightens your dog. The best approach is to prevent these problems and so, never take your dog's sound temperament for granted. Instead, offer your dog a piece of kibble every time a big truck, noisy motorcycle, or kid on a skate board whizzes by and your dog doesn't overreact.

Try not to get into the habit of letting your dog off-leash to run around and play with other dogs without interruption, otherwise you will soon have a dog who refuses to come when called. Instead, take your dog's dinner to the park and throughout its play session, call your dog every minute or so and have it sit for a couple of pieces of kibble. Your dog will soon get the idea and its enthusiastic recalls will be the talk of the town.

Deadline #6. 

Continue walking your dog at least once a day and take it to a dog park several times a week. Try to find different walks and different dog parks, so your dog continues to meet a wide variety of DIFFERENT dogs and people. If your dog only meets the same people, or the same dogs over and over, it will progressively de-socialize. Eventually your dog will become intolerant of strangers, only accepting its small inner circle of friends. You have successfully socialized your puppy to be dog-friendly and people-friendly and if you want it to remain that way, it is essential it meets UNFAMILIAR people and dogs each day. Also, while we're at it, don't forget to maintain your own improved social life by hosting a puppy dog party at least once a week - just to make sure your friends still work hard at training your dog for you.

Now its time to get ready to enjoy life with your good natured, well mannered canine companion. Give your dog a special bone - Good Dog! and give yourself a pat on the back -Good owner!

For Further Information:

Oakland CA: James & Kenneth Publishers, 1991

Oakland CA: James & Kenneth Publishers, 1987

Veterinarian and animal behaviorist, Dr. Ian Dunbar is the Director of SIRIUS Puppy Training, which holds classes in Manhattan NY, Honolulu HI, Carmel CA and the San Francisco Bay Area. Dr. Dunbar is the author of numerous books and videos and host of the popular British TV series Dogs With Dunbar. He lives in Berkeley, California with his son Jamie, Phoenix the Malamute, Oso the Mutt and a kitty called Mitty.

For Puppy Classes in Your Area call The Association of Pet Dog Trainers, 1 (800) PET DOGS

Ian Dunbar PhD, BVetMed, MRCVS 
SIRIUS Puppy Training 
copyright 1999 Ian Dunbar


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