Having a new puppy home has to be one of the most exciting times in our lives but it can also be quite daunting. There are so many things our pup needs to learn, there is always the fear that we are going to forget something essential and it's easy to feel like we're failing when our puppy doesn't behave.
One of the first things I talk about with my new puppy owners are realistic expectations and which training goals should be prioritized based on the puppy's age and behavior at the time. And to be honest, this is a discussion that tends to be reiterated at least once every session.
Understanding the limitations of your puppy, whether they be physical, mental or emotional is key to setting realistic expectations and goes a long way in preventing frustration for both you and your puppy. It is also essential to creating a priorities list for your training goals. Sure we can teach your 10 week old pup the stay command but we likely won't get past a few seconds of duration and there are other skills that would be easier and more important at this age.
There are things puppies just can't do. Yet!
Puppies under four months have almost non-existent body awareness and lack coordination. It is the reason they'll get stuck under the couch, barrel into walls or trip over themselves when they're simply trying to walk in a straight line. Young puppies cannot navigate stairs (more than a few steps), they can’t get in and out of a car - at least not safely - until they reach about 6 months of age which means you'll have to plan on carrying them, something you want to take into account especially if you have a large breed puppy.
This lack of coordination means it can be very difficult for puppies to consciously move their bodies into a sit or a down, or to come back to you quickly or in a straight line, or not to knock into that sculpture on the ground.
Remember what takes us 15-20 years, to go from children to adults, happens in a span of a few months for our puppies which can take quite a toll on their bodies and there are days where your pup will likely be tired and cranky or unwilling to do a lot physically because of growing pains.
Just like you wouldn't expect a toddler to sit through a college level class, there are some complex skills puppies just cannot do. Ignoring distractions, remaining focused for longer than a few seconds, staying still for any length of time are all very difficult things to accomplish for your pup’s developing brain!
There are also simpler tasks that puppies can't do well because their brains haven't developed the necessary motor skills or cognitive skills: things like going around a barrier to get something on the other side, object permanence, visual tracking over more than a few feet, etc. This is one of the reason some puppies will struggle to stay calm if they can't see you, they simply don't understand you're still in the house if they can't actually see you. It's also one of the reasons puppies tend to be very bad at fetch: if they can't see the toy, the toy doesn't exist!
Puppies – and teenagers – have a hard time regulating their energy and excitement levels, that means they get easily over-stimulated even by such simple things as petting. If there's any sort of stimulation or entertainment around it's likely they won't rest or take a nap on their own so you'll need to provide a quiet space for rest and have consistent nap times.
Puppies often also lack self control and the capacity for delayed gratification which leads them to be easily bored and frustrated. So, along with quiet rest times, they'll need loads of appropriate mental enrichment as well as planned activities to meet their activity needs.
Appropriate Training Skills by Age Range
Keep in mind that these are generic skills by age and don't take into account your specific puppy’s abilities, but this is generally what we cover during our puppy lessons.
10 weeks and under
House-training: creating a consistent routine of taking the pup outside to jump start good habits.
Confinement training: getting your puppy comfortable with their crate and/or playpen so you can safely contain them inside the house when they can’t be supervised.
Time alone: take advantage of the frequent puppy naps to get the pup used to spending some time alone.
Name game: teach your pup an interrupter (it can be their name or any other word) to quickly get their attention so you can redirect them easily.
Mat targeting: teach your pup to put all four feet on a mat/bed on cue
Sit/down with a lure.
No biting. Teach your pup to play softly. Play with a variety of toys on hand and for very short intervals.
Impulse control: work on jazz up/settle down to teach your pup to easily move from excited to calm.
Settle: target mat or bed with 2-3 seconds duration between treats.
Sit /down hand signal
Leash training : introduce the collar, harness and leash so your pup can get used to the feel of them. Let them walk around he house with the equipment on.
Leash training: play the Follow me game in the house or yard to encourage your pup to stay close to you.
Socialization : start with trips in the car and watch and learn from the car to limit exposure to pathogens until your pup gets their second round of boosters. At home, introduce word/novel items, sounds and textures to your pup.
Socialization: This is the main priority during this age range. Get your pup out and about in different locations so they can see a lot of other people, dogs and animals. Remember that socialization does not equal interaction, your pup will learn from watching for a safe distance!
Settle: Work on adding duration, up to 10 seconds between treats. Give your pup chews or food puzzles to enjoy on their settle spot. Add a little bit of distance (up to 5 steps)
Leash basics: Play the follow me game on leash in different areas, introduce the go sniff cue. Keep training walks short and sweet!
Recalls: pair your recall cue with a high value reward. Practice recalls over short distances (up to 20 feet) without distractions.
Leave it: start with low value items like kibble or biscuits and practice in different rooms around the house.
16 weeks- 6 months
Settle: Increase duration and distance, start working in distractions like opening/closing cabinets, fridge, dishwasher or crinkling bags, etc.
Confinement/separation: It is common for teenagers to regress in their crate training skills so keep making the pen/crate a great place to be by feeding meals and puzzles inside. Make sure to use the pen/crate at random times when you’re home and for random durations so it doesn’t always predict being alone for long periods of time.
Leash skills. Keep reinforcing polite walking, only moving forward if the leash is loose. Practice working around distractions. With my older pups, I always ask them to step off the trail and wait when a person or dog approaches. This helps create some buffer space and make it clear to your dog that they’re not expected to interact with the distraction.
Sit, down and settle. Time to generalize! Practice those skills in many different contexts and locations. When in a new situation, are it very easy for your dog so short duration settles or use your treats to lure the sit and down so your dog is always successful!
Impulse control: Work the leave it with higher value items and practice leave it while walking on the leash.
Impulse control. Keep working on the jazz up\settle down routine and integrate it into play and greetings (go say hi for a few seconds, then go relax on your place for example).
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