Puppy Development: The First Weeks

Have you recently welcomed a new puppy into your home? Maybe you have decided to bring a rescue dog into your family. You have been blessed with unconditional love and many years of fun and memories. Your journey together has just begun. Let’s take a moment to talk about the first days and weeks of your new friendship. Training that new puppy or dog is extremely important for two reasons; safety for that puppy and a smooth transition to your family. Whether this is your first dog, or an addition to your pack, rules need to be set as early as possible to make this relationship work for both of you.

Training starts the moment you get in the car and bring that puppy home. The most important thing to remember is that what you allow your puppy to do is what they will do as adults. For example, it’s so sweet when you drive away with that puppy, for him to ride in your lap in the car on the way home. This was one of my first lessons. Wilson, my thirteen year old Vizsla still wants to join me in the drivers seat. If you don’t want a full sized dog in your lap when you are driving, don’t let him do it as a puppy. Decide where you want that adult dog to ride and leash him in. It will be his place.

Don’t let that puppy jump up on you unless you are willing to have him do this as an adult. Having a five pound puppy jump on you isn’t so bad, but a fifty pound dog jumping up on a child can be trouble. Don’t let that puppy walk between your legs. He will do it as an adult and that only spells trouble. Set your rules now, and don’t bend them. I can’t repeat this enough, consistency is the key. Decide how you want your puppy to behave as an adult and remember these rules need to apply as a puppy. Where do you want that adult dog to sleep? A 15 pound puppy fits in bed but a 150 pound dog may take up too much room. I know, this is hard, they are so cute.

The next behavior can be the hardest. Your friends and family have to adhere to the same rules that you have set down. You want to make sure that your friends know the rules and know it’s all right with you, and you expect for them to discipline your puppy. For example, to stop your puppy or adult dog from jumping up, step forward and use your knee to push him off. Don’t say anything at first and don’t use your hands to push him off. Your hands are used for loving touch and approval, not discipline. Anticipate the bad behavior and be ready to correct him before it starts. Your friends need to do this. Your puppy will quickly learn that jumping up on anyone is unacceptable. It may be harder to train your friends than your new puppy.

Potty training will be your next big goal. Kennel training, I have found to be the best and quickest. Don’t think of the kennel as punishment. Don’t use the kennel as punishment. This is your puppy’s safe place, his den. When you are unable to keep an eye on that puppy, put him in his kennel. About every two hours you will need to let him out to potty. Take him out of the kennel and carry him outside and to the place you have designated as their potty place. Set the puppy down and wait until he has pottied. Praise, praise, praise. This means that you will be getting up every two hours for the next couple of weeks to adhere to this routine. It’s worth the sleepless nights. Your puppy will know what is expected from him. If you miss the signs that your puppy needs to go outside and has an accident on your new carpet, don’t show your emotion or anger. Never rub their nose in the mess. This will take your training backwards. Become neutral, say “No, no”, and pick that puppy up and walk him out to his place. Praise good behavior. The carpet can be cleaned.

Your puppy will be doing a lot of growing in the first few months. His digestive system will be maturing and his teeth will be growing. Chew toys will help with the discomfort of baby teeth coming in and adult teeth pushing through. Decide what your puppy is allowed to chew on. I like the American made pressed rawhide bones. It takes quite a while for them to get through a bone. When you see your puppy chewing on something unacceptable, say “no, no” take it away and give him the right toy. I train hunting dogs and I don’t want them to mouth the birds. I never allow “squeaky” toys. The squeak is much like the sound of a bird or animal chirping. 

A good leash is important. I do not recommend extend-a-leads. These leads have a constant pull on the dog’s neck. He will not learn how to turn off that pressure. This will promote pulling. When you use a regular lead, the puppy will understand that when he is walking at your pace there will be no pressure on his neck. When that puppy pulls he will be applying pressure to his neck and will know how to turn that pressure off by slowing down to your pace.

The first year of that puppy’s life you should be concentrating on basic commands such as here, off, down, heal and coming and going with you. This training is commonly known as yard training because it is done in a controlled environment. Here is the first command to start with, and may be the most important. Here, or whatever word you want to use, when solidly ingrained will keep your dog safe. This will start your foundation of training. There are many great training videos that will explain in detail how to train the above behaviors. I train using the Delmar Smith, Rick and Ronnie Smith, Silent Command System of Dog Training. The Puppy Development I and II DVD’s show you the steps to get your puppy started and on his way to becoming a champion hunter and friend. Ben Garcia of Hideaway Kennels is one of our company pro’s and also has a great puppy development DVD, First Steps.  Both the above DVD’s continue with training that puppy to be a hunter. Videos are a great way to learn the art of training if that’s on your bucket list. These trainers also hold training seminars all over the country where they will teach you how to train these and a lot of other behaviors. Thirteen years ago I attended a seminar with Rick Smith and my Vizsla Wilson. The bug was planted and here I am today. If training is not your bag, there are great professional trainers that can take your new puppy or older dog to their best level.

When you are teaching a new behavior, it will take several tries. If you are teaching here, for example, and it takes a lot of tries for that puppy to come to you, don’t get angry or frustrated when he finally comes. All your training should be done with very little emotion. If you find yourself getting frustrated, quit and take a break. You will get nothing accomplished when it comes from emotion. Praise that puppy when he gets it right and he will understand that when he does what you ask, there will be a loving touch as the reward. Your puppy thrives on your love.

These are just a few reminders as you make your way with that new puppy. Your dog lives to please you and wants direction. The happier you are with your dog’s behavior the happier he will be. It’s your responsibility to teach those rules. You will be learning as much as your puppy does. I wish you the best of times with your new friend.

Remember, whether in the field, back yard or kitchen: Never miss an opportunity to train.


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