You are no doubt reading this because you are either thinking of adopting a puppy, or have taken the next step and brought a furry bundle of joy home and into your family. Either way, it’s time start putting some safety boundaries in place, ones that keep your prized possessions free of needle-sharp puppy teeth and ones that keep that precious little canine away from potentially harmful human objects.
I remember when I brought Chester home that first night. Puppies are so adorably inquisitive. Chester happily sniffed every square inch of our home, occasionally taking his exploration further by using his teeth and paws. Puppies have only one way to learn in tis world and this is through experience. Everything they see, hear, feel and explore can be a life-lesson of survival. Exploration is essential, but it can be provided in a much more controlled environment; still allowing them to learn life-lessons but with less opportunity to do so via your shoes, couch and electrical cords. This is the part where you come in. Raise your puppy into a world where they learn valuable tools to deal with a world that is inherently unsafe, where they understand how to control their impulses in times of uncertainty and where they learn that you will always be there to understand their point of view.
So, for me as an animal behaviourist, I bring two sides of the coin to you. The first is to physically puppy-proof your home and the second is to emotionally prepare your puppy to make good choices.
Let’s deal with the physical boundaries first:
Create a consistent safe place for your puppy. A place that is soft, safe and positive. This is a predictable place where they can rest and relax. Use a puppy pen to further secure this area if you cannot maintain a constant eye on them.
Block areas that you do not want your puppy to experience. The less time they experience those places, the less interested they will become.
If you’ve got an old baby gate, use it to block potential hazards such as stairs and places where there may be hazardous foods/chemicals.
Keep plants and cords well and truly away from your puppy’s safe zone.
Ensure your outdoor area is also secure. This means that all fencing functions as a boundary and any plants that may be dangerous, are out of reach. Additionally, check the backyard for other hazards including holes, rocks or other dangerous items that your puppy may ingest.
Now for the more mental part of puppy-proofing your home. Whist physical barriers serve as an essential preventative approach, it is invaluable to teach your puppy to think. By this I mean; teach your puppy to analyse their environment and make good choices that are safe and smart.
The best ways to begin this learning journey are:
Every time your puppy makes a decision not to chew, mouth, or explore something out-of-bounds, praise them. When I say praise, I mean get on their level and reward them with treats and anything else they love. This is a decision to be admired in a puppy.
Use my ‘3-C’ approach. Reward your puppy when they are Calm, Cooperative and/or Controlled. When they are relaxed, working with you and showing some self-control, these are the golden moments of puppy training. Always make sure you are there to reinforce these moments!
Teach your puppy to come when called. This is one of those skills that becomes a life-long essential. This trick needs to be really fun and rewarding for your puppy, so make sure you are prepared. Calling their name, making kissing noises and even running away from them, is very encouraging. Use those tricks to encourage them to run towards you. When they do, shower them with praise treats. Always release them back to what they were doing if that’s what they want. The recall is meant to be fun, not an obligation.
Start puppy-school as soon as you bring your puppy home. Don’t wait to enroll for your first puppy-school course, learning begins with the first interaction you have.
Remember that the first two years of your dog’s life are their puppy-hood. Even more so, their first 4 months of life are quite critical and that much of what they experience can become concreted in their mind for life. Be patient with them. Set them up for success wherever you can and remember to have fun with them. Although they may have just begun their life with you, our dogs don’t live long enough for us to sweat the small stuff. Enjoy every moment you can.
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