Puppy Reminders for Spring...
With the advent of Spring and new life comes the wave of new puppies that are timed so well with the warm days of summer coming and great foundational training opportunities. However, without a plan and caution, the excitement of the time of year can bring problems that will cause you to pull your hair out and require untraining of habits in the future. Here are few points to remember.
First of all, remember that the average puppy should get to its new owners around the 8th week of life. I say “average” because there are some breeds that are quicker to mature and can go as early as 7 weeks (check with your breeder on what is best for your puppy). This is important because the 8th week is a critical bonding point for a young puppy and, if left with its litter mates, will bond with dogs more than its new owner.
Second, its critical to remember that the 9th-12th weeks are crucial in not only bonding but also in impressions on a young pup. If the puppy is frightened, harshly corrected or doesn’t feel safe in a situation with its owner, then that impression will stay with it for years to come and can be extremely tough to train out of the pup. When in new situations, ease into them and read your dog's reaction. Don't force things, but remain calm yourself and the pup will mirror what you show through body language. For instance, don't start socializing your pup with large groups of people or dogs right away. Meet some folks one on one or in small groups. Then, graduate to larger audiences and going out to local pet stores etc.
Third, make sure that for the first 4-6 months of training is fun and that the pup is learning without realizing it. Romps outdoors and fun training during feeding times are great ways to encourage and reinforce behaviors without the stricter formal training to come. You can teach commands like "sit" without even using a command by just using a piece of kibble. Along with this, have fun with your retrieves but always make sure that you have control of the situation and are not training in bad habits. You can build up the steadiness but don't overdo it. This can always come later when the pup has more maturity and patience.
However, from around 4.5-6 months stop all retrieving as baby teeth are lost and adult teeth come in. This can be a painful time for your puppy and you don't want your dog to associate pain with retrieving. Teething can easily be checked by lifting its lip and is good training for behaviors your vet will conduct in annual exams.
Lastly, use treats and reinforcement when your pup looks at you. You can play plenty of games that reinforce your pup starting to look to you for direction. When you catch the pup looking at you, reinforce it immediately. Get the pup to follow treats in your hand and when the pup looks back to your eyes, give it the treat.
Most all, though, have fun! Introduction to birds and gunshots will come in time but are many times rushed too soon. Done incorrectly, pups will start to blink, run over birds and possibly even become gun shy. Remember a pups tympanic membrane (ear drum) is not fully developed for the first 6 months of life. This doesn't mean you don't bang pans and make noises to get your pup used to increasingly louder sounds. It just means to tread lightly and choose moderation. Certianly hold off on the introduction to gunfire and taking your pup to the range for "acclimation" to gunshots.
Train now in building blocks with your end goals for your pup in mind. Have a great Spring and if you have any questions please email them to me here.