Friends keep asking how I can stand visiting the neighborhood puppies without wanting one. The answer is that it’s partly having the ability to turn off emotion a bit … if only for self protection. It’s partly from knowing myself pretty darn well when it comes to breed preference, family size, etc. And, it’s well-rooted in the many, many things that puppies don’t know.
While it might be easy to forget over the years how much work a very young puppy is, spending time with this litter of pups in our valley makes it all too clear that there is a long road ahead for their families.
I’m not saying it isn’t an amazing and fun road. I’m just reminding you (and myself) that it isn’t easy. With or without you, puppies learn a lot in their first weeks and months. You can make it easier on both of you if you understand that it’s about so much more than food, water, shelter, and love.
1. Puppies don’t know English. Bridging the communication gap between our species takes time, compassion, and an understanding of canine intelligence and the science of dog training and behavior shaping. I also love this piece by Susan McCullough (friend, fellow writer/blogger) on the #1 thing you need to teach your new dog/puppy.
2. Puppies don’t know inside from outside. In other words, housetraining is another top priority. And, since I’m already recommending Susan’s insights on these issues, might I suggest her book Housetraining for Dummies?
3. Puppies don’t know what’s OK to chew on and what isn’t. If it fits in the mouth, it’s fair game, so be sure to redirect chewing to appropriate toys.
4. Puppies don’t know your routines or rules. Consistency really helps youngsters get a grip on their new life with you. It’s better NOT to switch rules as the puppy gets bigger. If it isn’t OK for for a big dog to do, then it isn’t OK for a tiny pup either. In many families, this includes being “mouthy” or jumping up.
5. Puppies don’t know what most things they encounter are. Unless they’ve been systematically socialized to all kinds of household and other real world things, puppies might just be a little cautious, or even scared, of things we consider innocuous– dishwashers, microwave timers, hats, umbrellas, etc. Use counter-conditioning NOT flooding to work through your pup’s fears.
6. Puppies don’t know that other dogs and other people come in all shapes and sizes. Find a good local dog trainer that offers puppy kindergarten, where little ones learn to play with canine friends other than their littermates and begin the process of understanding the bigger world around them.
7. Puppies don’t know any of the things we consider polite dog behavior (sit, leash walking, etc.). Don’t wait until your pup reaches adolescence to try and “fix” what’s gone wrong. Start humane, positive-reinforcement training early so that you and your dog have a bond, a platform for communication, and the tools to get through the somewhat more difficult adolescent period.
8. Puppies don’t know that cars can take them on great adventures. Many pups only know that this big thing makes them barf, so be sure to introduce car travel carefully, if you have a pup with a sensitive tummy.
9. Puppies don’t know what’s valuable and what isn’t. So, it’s probably best to puppy-proof the house if you have concerns.
10. Puppies don’t know anything about “dominance.” Truly. Can we please put this concept to rest? Even the wolf guys from the 1960s who coined the whole “alpha” thing have corrected these mistaken ideas.
I’m sure this list could be even longer, but I guess my point is this … puppies really don’t know ANYTHING about ANYTHING when they first come home. It’s your job to teach them.
So, when you do, please, please, please do so using modern, gentle, scientifically-based methods. Remember … dog training is much more about communication than it is control. Anytime anyone uses fear, intimidation, or pain in the name of training, I believe they do lifelong damage to their relationship with their dog.