03/12/2020 - Advice
Bringing a new puppy home is a magical experience. You’ve imagined your life together for so long, you’ve got everything in place and now this gorgeous bundle of loveliness has arrived. But all of a sudden you feel under-equipped to cope with the demands of feeding, playing, and training. Not least because everyone around you is giving you conflicting advice. That’s puppy overwhelm and trust me, almost every puppy parent will experience it at some time or other.
First and foremost – be kind to yourself. This will pass and your life will be all the richer for it. Here are my top tips for surviving puppy overwhelm.
Which Puppy rearing advice is best?
There are thousands of books and online articles covering every minute detail of puppy rearing from nutrition to neutering. I’m sure too that your friends and family will be keen to share their training tips. The trouble is, everyone has different experiences and opinions. Little wonder that you feel overwhelmed and confused.
One thing I do know is that every pup is unique, and so is every family. Right here and right now, your puppy parenting experience is exclusive to you. So whilst folks are well-meaning, you – with the help of trusted professionals – are the person who needs to decide what’s best for you and your pup.
Of course you should learn as much as you can about puppy rearing. But try to stick to just 3 sources of advice. Your dog trainer, your vet and perhaps one book or blog.
Be consistent: Your puppy will learn through repetition and reward
Your puppy needs consistency. Imagine if a five year old child had five different tutors all using different teaching methods to help them learn to read. Their little brains would never cope! It’s the same for puppies.
Dogs and puppies learn by making simple associations and it’s repetition and reward that helps their brain to make those internal information highways.
Set up a daily routine for your pup – and be sure to include plenty of rest time. Just like human babies, puppies need their sleep and their behaviour will deteriorate when they’re tired and cranky.
In the first few weeks, your job is to build your pet’s confidence and let puppy know that she’s safe and she’s loved. Forgive her mistakes (there’ll be lots of them!). But reward her generously when she gets things right. Timing is everything. The reward must come as the pup is doing the right thing – not the next day, not even 10 seconds after, straight away. That’s what’s going to build those associations.
Please don’t put yourself under pressure to teach your pup how to “sit” or “stay”. Obedience training is not a race. Puppies and dogs keep learning their whole life long and it’s much easier to teach a dog who has complete trust and confidence in his or her human companions. Avoid puppy overwhelm by spending the first few weeks focussing on building a loving and mutually respectful relationship with your new buddy. That means toilet training, good manners and fun, fun, fun.
It’s normal to feel frustrated with your pup sometimes
Some days it will feel as though your puppy just doesn’t “get it”. That can be so frustrating – especially when you think you’ve cracked the potty training / toe biting / bin surfing and then the unwanted behaviours resurface. Remember to keep calm and stay consistent. Those neural pathways are not fully formed and need to be reinforced.
It’s not easy to ignore “accidents” especially when you step in them at 3am! But remember – puppies learn by simple associations. He or she won’t associate your anger with taking a pee half an hour ago – instead they’ll associate YOU with a telling off. That’s not a good way to build a relationship! And one piddle doesn’t mean your pup will never be toilet trained.
All pups learn at different speeds. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’ll understand if I use Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley as an analogy – one seems to learn things quickly and easily, the other needs plenty of practise. Both get there in the end and both are amazing characters.
I’ll wager too, that if you learned to drive a car, you stalled a few times before the controls became second nature to you. In terms of brain activity – your puppy learning to adapt to your lifestyle is the same as you learning any new skill. Mistakes happen.
If you start to feel frustrated, take a big breath and go do something else with your pup instead. Play outdoors for a while or give him or her a frozen carrot or a stuffed Kong toy to keep her busy while you calm down. All too soon this will become a distant memory.
Setting your puppy up to succeed
The secret of raising a confident dog is to set them up to succeed. Puppies are not born knowing how to live in a world full of humans. They are not hard-wired to ignore the antique chair legs and only chew their toys. Neither do they realise that the delicious smelling Sunday roast on the worktop is not for them. These are things they will learn through experience. In my experience, the fewer opportunities they have do the “wrong” thing, the fewer bad habits they will develop. We call this ‘management’
Until the urge to chew anything and everything has passed, please don’t leave pup unsupervised around your precious things. Always have alternative chewy things to hand so that pup can be distracted from illicit munching and shown what’s OK to cut those teeth on. A top tip is to make a wonderful comfy den for your pup in a nice roomy pen. That way you can keep your things – and your puppy perfectly safe. It’s a great management tool.
When it comes to socialising and habituating your pup (introducing new people, pets, places, smells, sounds, objects etc). Take it slowly. Don’t allow her to become overwhelmed or frightened. If you let her find her paws in her own time and protect her from harm and you will be rewarded with a confident adult dog who loves you to the moon and back.
Puppy training is not a race. Be patient, only ask for what your pup is capable of and build her understanding really slowly. Expecting a puppy to learn “sit”, “stay” “heel” and “come” within weeks of arriving in a new home is like asking me to pass a physics A Level exam after a few days tuition –I’d definitely not succeed and the stress levels would be off the scale!
Puppy training classes at Nosey Barkers are all about setting your puppy up to succeed in a whole host of life skills. There’s lots more information on our website – I’ll post a link at the bottom of this article.
Most importantly – have fun with your pup
Puppy rearing is not all play – it can be hard work, frustrating, exhausting and, at times, confusing but the sheer joy of sharing your life with a confident, loyal and loving dog more than makes up for all of those trials and tribulations.
Training is important. And it’s crucial that you use kind and consistent training techniques. But fun is important too. Enjoy your puppy’s antics. Take pictures, make videos and record his or her progress. Time flies and before you know it they will have moved on to the next life stage. Some of the things that are frustrating now, will be funny when you look back at them.
All young things learn from play so make sure your pup has lots of positive experiences whilst having fun. And use play as a training aid. Nosey Barkers’ dog trainers have lots of suggestions for games that teach valuable life skills.
Having a patient and consistent approach to training combined with plenty of play will help you survive puppy overwhelm. And remember, all Nosey Barker’s puppy parents have lots of “out of school” access to support from our team of qualified dog trainers. Help is always at hand.
Useful links to help develop puppy lifeskills
Nosey Barker online puppy school
Learn more about Nosey Barker puppy training classes in Harlow
Don’t take your puppy to a party until you’ve read this article
Top 10 recommended products for puppies and their parents