Sunday, October 18, 2009

Puppy Training, 8 - 12 wks.

I'm adding a new folder, just for puppy stuff. Here's the first installment:

Training for Puppies, 8 to 12 Weeks
 Photo from Decoverly Kennels,Fayetteville, PA

Puppies need to either be closely supervised1 or confined behind a gate in kitchen, bathroom, or hallway, or in a puppy pen, with a water bowl, chew toys, a comfortable bed2 inside an open crate,3 with wee-wee pads covering the floor.4 Puppies take great delight in exploring everything in their path through their teeth and jaws5. They will stop to pee or poop whenever the urge strikes them6. They will bark and cry when left alone7. They will get tired very quickly, but quite often they won’t realize how tired they are. 8

(Some puppies may be lethargic for the first few days. This is usually temporary and due to the shock of adjusting to a brand new environment, but you should consult with your vet to make sure there isn't an underlying medical problem.)

Puppies need to play more than they need structured learning. In fact, the more structured learning you impose on a puppy, the more you open the possibility of creating learning deficits, limit his social and emotional development, decrease impulse control, and guarantee that your pup will be unable to learn as many things as quickly compared to puppies who are given every possible opportunity to engage in unstructured play. The puppy's brain knows naturally what it needs in order to grow and develop. Most dog trainers are not as smart as Mother Nature in this regard, and there's not a dog trainer alive who has more experience than she does.

You’ll need to spend a lot of time down on the floor, playfully interacting with your pup, but the kind of games you play shouldn’t be forced on the puppy. Within reason, the puppy should choose which games and activities feel most important to him at any given moment, and you should follow the puppy’s lead. By the way, doing this will make the puppy feel more open to doing what you want him to do. It will not make him “dominant.”

Try as much as possible not to pick up the puppy, especially if you’re doing it to satisfy your urge to kiss the pup,9 or to stop the puppy from doing something he “shouldn’t” do or getting into something he “shouldn’t” get into by zooming toward him with your outstretched arms looming down at him, and then physically restraining him. And under no circumstances should you ever scold, reprimand, or correct a puppy for anything. You will pay for it dearly when he grows up. So always remember:

If you can’t watch the puppy closely, he should always be in his quiet area.

Cuddle time is important too, but don’t overdo it. There are two questions to ask yourself when it comes to cuddle time: “Am I doing this to satisfy my emotional needs?” and “Am I reinforcing too much neediness in my pup by cuddling when he ‘demands’ it?” You have to strike a careful balance. Puppies need affection and physical comfort, but don't give too much unless you want to spoil your pup.


1) Notice the word, “closely.” This means you’re paying close attention to the pup at all times. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO MULTI-TASK! Your puppy’s health, safety, and proper emotional development come first (meaning no yelling at the pup because you weren’t paying attention and she got into something she shouldn’t have).

2) Use light blue towels. Light blue is a relaxing, calming color. And puppy beds are destined to be soiled, chewed, or ripped up. Towels are an inexpensive alternative.

3) Keep the crate door secure so it doesn’t bang shut or hit the wall, etc. For now, going inside the crate should be the pup’s choice, so make it as stress-free as possible. You should also consider putting her dinner bowl inside at breakfast and suppertime.

4) Put newspaper or wee-wee pads on the entire area except for the bed and water bowl. After a few days you’ll see that puppy generally chooses to go on one particular are. Over time you can slowly take up all the other wee-wee pads until only one is left.

5) To ensure proper emotional development, puppies should not only be allowed to do this, they should be encouraged to do it. They should especially be encouraged to mouth your hands, but only at times when they’re feeling relaxed and quiet. (See, “How to Stop Puppy Bites.”) However, there are some things they shouldn’t be chewing on, like electrical wires. The best solution is the puppy-proof your home. Bitter-Apple Spray (or other brands) can be applied to things your puppy shouldn’t chew on. Electrical wires should be placed out of reach, and if you have expensive rugs or carpets, take them up for now and put them in storage. They will get peed on, pooped on, and have their edges chewed when you’re not watching. (See footnote 4, and the “Distract, Praise, Focus,” formula for redirecting your puppy’s teeth away from danger.)

6) Do not ever stop your puppy from relieving herself by peeing or pooping on the wrong spot. Once she’s already in the act, you have to resist the urge to run over and grab her. Take a deep breath, count to ten, then quietly clean it up. Interrupting a puppy while she’s being controlled by a strong (and to her at this age, uncontrollable) urge, will do little to teach her how to go in the right spot, and will do a lot of damage to her ability to trust you.

7) As a general rule, when a new puppy comes into the home they’ll cry when you put them behind the gate, especially at night. You have to ignore the crying or you’ll reinforce it. It may take 45 minutes the first night, 30 minutes the second, and 20 the third night, but eventually the puppy will stop crying out of loneliness. If you give in and try to assuage her loneliness, you’ll only be guaranteeing that she’ll bark and bark and bark whenever she feels needy. You have to tough it out those first few nights.

In case you haven’t figured it out, this means you cannot and should not let a new puppy sleep in bed with you. Make sure you give her plenty of play time about an hour or so before bed, with a 20 minute cool-down period. If you want to cuddle with her on the floor, or hold her in your lap while she falls asleep, that’s fine. But once she’s making ZZZs, gently pick her up and put her behind her gate, turn out the light, and pray.

8) Overtired puppies are very similar to overtired kids. They just need an enforced nap.

9) On an unconscious, knee-jerk level, dogs react to a big head coming toward their head as a potential act of aggression. It’s okay to teach a puppy to give you kisses, but the pup should also come toward you to do that. It’s better not to move your head toward the pup. Few puppies are going to actually bite you over this, but it does create unconscious feelings of nervous tension toward you. So try to remember not to kiss your puppy; let your puppy kiss you (if she feels like it).

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Gunilla said...

I'm a dog trainer and behaviorist/dog psychologist in Sweden. I have enjoyed many of your articles (including "Of mice and mutts") and I consider myself a big fan.

I liked the article about puppy training too, with one exception. Why leave the pup alone, maybe the very first night in a new home, when he has lost his brothers and sisters and often his mother as well? That is really not "natural dog training" to me. The pack sleeps together. Let the pup sleep in a box (or crate) next to your own bed and start separation training later, and during daytime?

Your advice to "tough it out" reminds me of how they used to give the same advice to mothers with babies as late as the 60's. Where is the difference? How does crying unheard make somebody feel safe?

Let the puppy sleep with you in the bedroom. Soon the pup will be ready for more independence.

Or maybe your advice is adjusted to owners who have maybe a week off and then have to go back to their full time work?

LCK said...

You make a good point.


Jeremy said...

Hi Lee,

I've been reading a lot of yours, Kevin's, and Neil's stuff over the past month or so as we're preparing for a new puppy in late January. I appreciate that you've got a section specifically on puppy stuff - I'm certain that we'll be using Natural Dog Training when he's old enough for true "training," but it's nice to have an idea of how to build the connection with him and set the stage in the meantime. If you have other ideas on puppy interaction that's consistent with NDT, I'd love to hear them.



LCK said...

They're on my to-do list!