The worst thing you can do with your new puppy is give them freedom. If you're suddenly shocked and thinking this is cruel, please hear me out. If you have ever been to a rescue centre you'll likely notice that the majority of the dogs are young and most likely adolescent. I'd guess that most of the dogs in rescue centres are between the ages of 8 months and 18 months. Why is this the case?
A lot of new puppy owners tend to assume (incorrectly) or expect puppies to know how to behave around the house or 'adjust' to their (arbitrary) rules relatively quickly. We wouldn't take our eyes off of a 12 week old human child but for a lot of people, they expect their 12 week old puppy to be toilet trained and just generally well adjusted around the house. The most bizarre thing about this is a lot of us think they should just be able to figure it out. We obviously shouldn't expect puppies to know what our rules are and we need to help them out as much as we can. We should bring a puppy into our world knowing and understanding that they will do things that may clash with what we expect of them.
We should bring a puppy into our world knowing and understanding that they will do things that may clash with what we expect of them.
If you give a puppy the freedom of the house you're literally saying to them - You can now choose what to chew on and where to pee and poop. However, I have never met an owner that is okay with their sofa being chewed or okay with having an adult dog shitting on the carpet.
A puppy area isn't a maybe for us. It's a must have. This doesn't mean a sectioned off area in the kitchen, it means an exercise pen set up to be used as the puppy's area or 'bedroom'. It's NOT a punishment area. It's simply their area, just like how we give our kids their own bedroom.
Whenever we've raised a foster puppy we have had areas set up for them before they arrive. We need to set up expectations early on and we have to be fair to them. We can't just wait for them to make mistakes and have a go at them. We need to try to help them get it right straightaway as best we can. You can't do this if your on the sofa and the pup is in your bedroom taking a shit on your new duvet cover. If that doesn't make you want to re-home them, the second or third time may do..
It's a very common problem where we give our puppies all the freedom of the house and after a few weeks they've developed annoying habits. Peeing and pooping in the 'wrong' places and chewing something new but valuable to you each week. Before long the only option most people can think to do, is to banish the puppy to a different/isolated area. This is then when the 'behavioural problems' start to arise. Barking because they are now alone or finding something to focus their energy on - destroying the rose garden or digging holes in the garden for example. Before long the puppy becomes an adolescent, and just like with kids this a really challenging time for them. So now they don't understand the rules of the house, they're removed from the house or separated to prevent the problems and you now have behavioural problems developing due to hormonal changes and frustration. The only option some people can think of is to rehome.
It's very sad but it's also very predictable and in nearly all cases preventable if we just set them up for success from the get go. A puppy with limited freedom will help create an adult dog with all the freedom they want.
We take away their freedom early on and then gradually allow them more freedom depending on the habits they have and are developing. We can teach puppies to chew 'legal' objects quickly and easily. If a puppy has had plenty of options to chew tasty chew toys then the sofas are much less appealing. They are even less appealing if they have zero access to them in the first few weeks. We also need to create puppies that can cope being alone. It's very unnatural for puppies to be isolated or left alone for hours on end so we have to really help them develop independence and to at least tolerate alone time. If a puppy follows you around for a few weeks and then you have to go back to work this is going to be a huge shock and something they will most likely not be able to cope with. Micro absences are so important early on. Nearly all our foster pups have not liked being alone, so we've had to help them out. We usually wake up with them, they do their thing and then within an hour or so they're back to needing a nap. We sit with them in their area whilst having a coffee and reading a book and periodically without saying a thing, leave and come back. The more we do this the more the pups get bored of us going and coming and simply just fall asleep. Before we know it, the pup no longer cares where we are - it's just nap time for them. Their pen helps with so many predictable and preventable problems. Nearly all 'behavioural problems' that dogs develop as they get older can be prevented in the early stages. So if you have just got a pup, know someone getting a pup or are about to get a pup - get their area sorted before anything else. It doesn't have to be fancy it just needs to be puppy proof. A crate/bed, a bowl of water and plenty of chew toys is how basic it can be. We have to enjoy spending time with our dogs if we are going to keep them for 15+ years. If we create unlikeable dogs by allowing them to get things 'wrong' and develop bad/annoying habits during puppyhood we're just setting ourselves and them up for failure. Failure usually means rehoming which is something we really need to avoid if we can. There are too many dogs and too few homes as it is, and we can help prevent these unwanted dogs by educating ourselves and knowing what we need to do from the start. It's not up to the dogs to know what to do, it's up to us.
As the saying goes, 'fail to prepare, prepare to fail'.
Here are some other puppy training tutorials you might be interested in:
Why it's important to 'do nothing' with your dog - https://www.thinkdog.nz/post/why-you-should-do-nothing-with-your-dog
How to stop your puppy biting and mouthing - https://www.thinkdog.nz/post/how-to-stop-your-puppy-biting-and-mouthing-people
The Yes/No game for moulding puppy behaviour - https://www.thinkdog.nz/post/the-yes-no-game-for-pups
Have you raised a puppy recently? What other tips have you discovered along the way? Share with us in the comments below!