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The First Month of Owning a Puppy

As the days and weeks pass after bringing home a puppy, you’ll notice your puppy’s confidence and awareness growing. He’ll initiate routines by going to the door when he has to go out or by standing by his bowls at meal times. Your puppy is communicating to you! By paying attention and interpreting the meaning behind his actions, you forge a bond that will stay with you forever.

As you work through the many joys and frustrations of owning a puppy, remember that even bad behavior is a sign of normal development — it signals that your puppy is engaged, focused, and dependent on you.

Communicating with your puppy

So how do you shape positive communication and discourage mischief while still maintaining a loving bond with your puppy? Following are some key practices:

  • Paying attention to the right behaviors: Your puppy is ever mindful of what gets your attention, and nothing excites him more than a big reaction. Use your excitement to highlight good behaviors like chewing on a bone or playing with toys or sitting for a treat. Minimize your reactions to mischief, calmly using drag leads and vapor sprays.

  • Encouraging more than discouraging: Try to encourage good behavior more than you discourage mischief! Call your puppy to you when he alerts but doesn’t bark at a noise or distraction. Shake a treat cup and call your puppy away from the cats or children when you suspect he’s about to engage in some mischief.

  • Refocusing and redirecting: All puppies chew on things you’d rather they not, jump up, nip, and have accidents. The calmer you are in redirecting his focus to appropriate places to potty or appropriate things to play or chew on, the faster he’ll catch on.

  • Telling and showing: English is a second language to all puppies. Puppies speak with gestures and learn by copying and doing. The first lessons you do with your puppy should be “Tell and Show.” Say a command while you do the commanded action. If you’re asking your dog to go outside, don’t stare at your puppy and repeat yourself: He has no idea what “Outside” means! Instead, say “Outside” as you walk and guide him to the door.

Lessons for the first month

All puppies need to learn certain lessons as they mature and develop, and they can start practicing some lessons when they reach 8 weeks of age. Start working on the following lessons during the first month:

  • “Outside” or “Papers”: Going potty is a big part of life: an unavoidable necessity. To teach your puppy how to navigate to a specific place to potty, say one word as you point and walk to the area. If your puppy hesitates to follow you or squats immediately, use treats or a leash to guide him to the area.

  • “Ball” or “Bone”: Help your puppy identify his things by assigning a word to each object. Repeat the word “toy or ball” as you play with your puppy or when you’re greeting him at the front door.

  • “Mat” or “Settle”: Help your puppy identify his special play areas by leading or guiding your puppy to his spot in each room. Look at the mat or bed as you say “Mat” and have a bone or toy waiting for him.

  • “Bedtime”: As you lead your puppy into his crate or quiet area for a nap, say “Bedtime” and guide your puppy with food or toys as you walk to the area. Calmly place your puppy in the area and leave him with the toy or treats. Save the melodrama for another day: If you want your puppy to rest, stay calm!

Use these same techniques when introducing any new word: Say the command as you lead your puppy to the area, look to where your puppy needs to go, position him calmly if you must — and remember, he won’t know what the words mean until you show him.

Keep a basket of toys at the front door to offer your puppy whenever you’re coming in or gree
Credit: Illustration by Barbara Frake
Keep a basket of toys at the front door to offer your puppy whenever you’re coming in or greeting company.
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