Train Your Puppy Early
New puppies learn very quickly with the right kind of instruction. Socialization and training are critically important during early puppyhood – this is by far the most crucial time in your dog's development; right now, before he’s 3 months old, is the time that he’s soaking up his environmental stimuli like a sponge. What you do and don’t do right now to train and socialize your pup will affect his behavior forever.
Your new puppy has just been taken from his mother and littermates; first things first, what he needs most right now is a sense of security and routine. Read more on what else he’ll need in the new puppy checklist. Play with him quietly and gently, for short periods at a time - don't overwhelm the little guy with attention and activity. Yes, he’s absolutely adorable, and yes, now’s the time to begin his socialization and training, but young puppies need their sleep and they tire quickly. It’s much better to have frequent and very short play, socialization and training periods rather than fewer but longer visits. And if he looks sleepy during a visit, leave him alone. Just being alive is taking up most of his effort right now, and baby needs his rest.
Never hit your puppy or give him harsh reprimands; he truly doesn’t mean to misbehave – he just has no idea what’s expected of him and is instead doing what comes naturally. Show him clearly what kind of behavior you do want, and show him equally clearly and patiently what you don’t want. He desires more than anything to please you, so he’ll choose the right behavior just as soon as he can figure out what it is. If you yell or punish him for bad behavior, he’ll just get progressively more confused and frightened, making it impossible for him to figure out what the right behavior is. Do both of you a favor by teaching him gently and clearly instead – it’ll save lots of time and plenty of heartache.
For instance, puppies will naturally bite and chew to explore their new world. Teach yours to only bite and chew on his toys. To do this, help him play with his toys interactively, making the experience fun and exciting for him. Praise him and let him know how good and clever he is when he chews them. When he chews your furniture, shoes or fingers instead, firmly tell him, "No chew!" and immediately give him one of his own toys, and encourage him to play with and chew it. Praise him lavishly when he does so. Read here for more on biting and chewing. It’s important to only correct him when you catch him in the act - anything you try to teach him later on will only confuse him – because doggy brains just don’t work the same way human brains do. The only way you can correct your puppy’s behavior (or your adult dog’s, for that matter) is to be there while the bad behavior is happening. Has your puppy started peeing on the hardwood floor? If you can't be there 24/7 to catch him in the act, don't let him have access to those places where he can get himself into trouble. Read here to find out more about house training.
Now comes the hardest part of Cute Puppy Syndrome: don’t spend all your time with him. If he’s going to be alone during the day or night on a regular basis once life settles back down to normal, he needs to start getting used to it now. If he wakes up from a nap and whines, or howls when you put him down for the night, resist the urge to comfort him. And no matter how irresistible he is, you’re only asking for heartache if you let an un-housetrained puppy sleep with you in the bed. You’re guaranteed to wake up on wet sheets, and there’ll be nobody to blame for it but you. You need to stick to the rules, and to start explaining them to him firmly right away – whatever you do, don't let him get away with things just because he’s an adorable baby puppy. Remember, he’s learning and soaking up everything that happens; what you’re teaching him is that he gets away with things, so he’ll go on trying to get away with things forever. And if you let him get away with it now, he’ll only be completely confused later when you’ve changed the rules on him. Read here for more on obedience training and socialization.
For your pup’s happiness and overall mental health, he needs to get used to a wide variety of people, places, animals, noises and objects. The social skills you help him develop in puppyhood will last him throughout his life.
Acquaint your puppy gradually and gently with his collar and leash; he’ll find them strange and possibly alarming at first. Introduce him slowly to unexpected sounds like a car starting, a hairdryer, a rustling plastic bag or a vacuum cleaner. If the sound is a loud one, let him hear it from the next room at first; on the second or third time he hears it, he can be in the same room. Take each new introduction slowly and gently.
Start inviting friends over, one or two at a time, to meet your pup. Include men, women and kids of every age and ethnicity. Then start to invite friendly, healthy, vaccinated pets of all kinds over to your house to meet and play with your new puppy. Once he’s had a few of these carefully supervised visits under his belt, take him to the homes of a few of these pets for a short, careful play date. If you know someone with a dog-friendly kitty, this would be an especially good introduction to make at this time.
Take your little guy on short, frequent car rides to shopping centers, parks or schoolyards where there are crowds of people and lots of unpredictable activity. Let him watch safely at first from the car window, then gradually start making little excursions with him so that he can experience the new and different activities firsthand.
It's normal for your pup to show some signs of apprehension when confronting anything new and different. Remember never to reward fearful behavior; when we attempt to sooth, encourage or calm the frightened puppy, we unintentionally reward the fear. It’s up to you to make sure in advance that each new situation he encounters will be safe, supervised and gentle. You know, even if he doesn’t yet, that nothing bad will happen to him in this new situation. Don’t force or rush him into it; let him explore at his own pace, and take care never to step in to reassure him.