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Care & Training Tips

Puppy 101

We all love puppies. They make us feel all warm and fuzzy. But when it comes to raising a healthy and happy little fuzzy friend, most of us really just follow our noses. Which is why we’ve decided to provide you with a few handy puppy training tips…

But before we get into the details, let’s just explore the miracle that is a puppy’s brain. From birth to four months, a puppy’s brain is developing at a seriously impressive speed. Having started out at just 20% of its adult capacity (at birth), the average brak’s brain will have ballooned to a whopping 80% by the time the puppy is 16 weeks of age.

The critical period of learning for a puppy is 3 weeks (when weaning begins) to 10 weeks. During this time, puppies are bravely exploring their new surroundings, and becoming acquainted with the many objects, noises, people, animals and situations that will feature in their lives. They are also beginning to learn what is (and is not) acceptable behaviour. And here’s the exciting part: what they learn at this stage is almost entirely up to you.

Want a dog that will travel beside you in the car, and accompany you to the trendiest, most crowded restaurants in town? Sure thing! Want a dog that can sleep through a raging thunderstorm and treat a visit to the vet like an anticipated adventure? No problem. Your dog – your decision. All you need to do is give him the right input and attention in those formative months.

Going Places

Take your puppy to as many places as possible, so he (or she, but for the purposes of simplicity, I’ll just say he from now on) can get used to the many locations in which he might find himself later in his life. Be it the beach, a restaurant, a park full of dogs, a playground full of children or the whizzing world that surrounds a travelling car, you’ll want your dog to be comfortable with any situation his eyes might encounter.

Hearing Things

Whatever your dog gets used to as a puppy, he will be comfortable with as an adult. Expose your pup to as many sounds as possible – thunder, fireworks, slamming doors etc – to get him used to the wild and wonderful soundtrack of life (bearing in mind, of course, that your dog can hear far better than you can, so be careful not to blast the poor boy’s ears). You can even get a CD of sounds made specifically for this purpose – they are made by Kyron and called Sounds Scary, Sounds Sensitive and Sound Sociable, and you can order them through your vet.

Eating At Ease

You don’t want your dog be possessive of his food, so be sure to interact with your puppy while he’s eating – starting when he’s 8 weeks old and being mindful of how he reacts. If he freezes, growls or shows any signs of discomfort, it means that he is anxious about the situation. Pat him, talk to him and drop some tasty little tidbit into his bowl, so he learns that having you and your hands around his food doesn’t mean you’re a threat to his meal – in fact, he may get something extra tasty out of it!

Making Friends

Socialisation is extremely important for your puppy, and you’ll be very wise to take him to a good puppy training and socialisation class. There, he will learn to interact with other dogs in a safe environment, observing other dogs’ body language and learning how to stay out of fights, play constructively with others, approach unfamiliar dogs with confidence and – when playtime is over – come back to you when called. If you’re not sure what class to attend, please call us and we’ll put you in touch with a good puppy school.

Handling Humans

As an adult dog, your puppy will one day be expected to tolerate all sorts of physical encounters with humans– from veterinarians who poke and prod his body to young children who pat too hard and move unpredictably. To prepare your puppy for these future encounters, you need to show him that human hands aren’t a threat. Pat him and stroke him and feel his toes; play with his ears and his tail and his tummy; feel his nails (which will need to be clipped one day) and touch his mouth and his teeth and gums. Of course, remember to be gentle, and don’t ever hurt your dog – he should never have to be comfortable with that…

Biting Right

One of the most important thing a dog learns as a puppy is to control the pressure of his jaws. A young puppy will be teething, and will want to chew anything and everything he can find – including your poor fingers and toes! This isn’t – I repeat – isn’t a bad thing. When littermates play with each other, they’ll often bite too hard, hurting a sibling and inadvertently ending the game when the littermate yelps and scurries away. In this way, they learn what kind of bite is too hard, and they’ll grow up with the ability to adjust the strength of their bite. You can help your puppy learn these lessons – NOT by shouting or hitting your puppy when he bites a little too hard; just by ‘yelping’ and refusing to play for about 30 seconds. Then, give him the chance to try again, and repeat the exercise until he makes the mental connection and adjusts the force of his bite. When you can see that he’s trying to be gentle, praise his efforts and keep playing.

Going Potty

Housetraining is one of the most common conundrums for a new puppy owner. But it’s really very simple.

First, a few don’ts:

  • Don’t shout at your puppy if he’s done his business inside – he won’t know why you’re angry.
  • Don’t rub his nose in it, and don’t banish him outside if he ‘goes’ inside.
  • Don’t expect him to get it 100% right – puppies only gain full control of their bladder at around 9 months of age, but they’ll get it right 95% of the time once they’ve got the basic message.

And here’s what you should do:

  • As a rule, take him outside immediately after waking up, eating or drinking – wait with him and praise him enthusiastically as soon as he wees or poos outside.
  • If he has already done it inside, just clean it up and carry on – no shouting, angry looks etc
  • If you catch him in the actual act, you can say “no” and take him outside, then wait with him and praise, praise, praise if he finishes it off outside.
  • Once he has ‘gone’ outside, take him to the same spot next time – he’ll recognise the place and smell that he’s been there before as much as possible, try to maximise the number of correct experiences outside (always accompanied by lots of praise), and minimise the number of mistakes he makes inside.
  • If you need to leave him alone for a while, put him in a safe, confined, preferably tiled space, with newspaper on the floor and a soft bed for him to lie on. He won’t want to eliminate near his sleeping spot, so with any luck he’ll wait until you return, but at the very least, any mess will be easy to clean up.
  • Remember: if a puppy was raised on soil/grass, he’ll be more likely to wee on the same kind of surface (grass, soil or something porous like a carpet), while a puppy who was raised on cement will be more likely to wee on paving, tar.