Getting a new puppy is often a joyful experience. All of the sweet kisses and snuggles can be a dream come true. But what about all the training? How do you know what your dog is thinking and feeling?
If you are a first time puppy owner, you may be feeling overwhelmed. Read on to find out about 5 of the most common mistakes new owners make and how you can avoid them!
One Common First Time Puppy Owner Mistake is Punishing or Scolding a Puppy “After the Fact”
We recently wrote about what you should not do with a puppy and this is one of them.
So many people admire their dog’s ability to live in the moment. Even after a scary trip to the vet or an unpleasant activity such as a bath or ear cleaning, your dog seems to rebound to his normal, happy-go-lucky self almost instantly.
Their bouncy, happy demeanors reflect their orientation to the present — they are neither longing for the past or worrying about the future. While humans tend to love their dogs’ enthusiasm for life, they sometimes fail to account for how this ability to live in the moment may affect training techniques.
Let’s consider a first-time puppy owner who finds a puddle on the floor! The puppy had a potty accident when his owner was not looking. Many owners have heard the outdated advice about rubbing a puppy’s nose in their accident or otherwise harshly scolding them at the scene of the accident.
But this is completely ineffective when it comes to potty training and can be a negative when it comes to getting your new puppy to bond with and trust you. When you scold a puppy for an accident that happened hours previously, your puppy is more than likely not going to make the connection with his behavior.
He may realize you are angry and respond by cowering or whimpering, and he may even realize you really do not like the puddle on the floor, but he will not be able to connect the dots to him releasing his bladder previously. Catching your puppy right as he starts to squat and giving him a quick verbal correction followed by taking him outside and rewarding a potty in the right area is far more effective!
This same concept applies to anything bad your puppy does such as chewing a shoe. If you find the shoe already chewed and discarded, you are too late. Your discipline and scolding of your puppy will be much more effective if you find him with the shoe still in his mouth, and better yet, catching him right as he starts to stick his snout into your shoe basket!
If you find an accident or chewed up item after the fact, even if you are feeling frustrated, your best course of action is to simply clean up the area and keep a closer eye on your pup so that you can catch him in the act the next time! We recommend limiting the rooms or area of the house that your puppy has access to so that you can more easily keep him in your sight.
Another First Time Puppy Owner Mistake is Not Understanding Canine Body Language
The more you are around dogs, the more you will come to understand the nuances of their body language from head tilts to tail posture. But if you are new to being around dogs, you may be at a loss for how to interpret some of your puppy’s behaviors.
One of the most common instances is that new puppy owners think their puppy is being aggressive when they are really just exhibiting excited play behavior. Puppies bite a lot and sometimes they bite hard enough to break the skin, even when they are just playing. Puppies lack bite inhibition and often have to be taught this skill from other dogs and their humans.
Tracing their roots back to wolves and other wild canids, dogs are naturally predators and often practice their “attack” skills in the form of play. Stalking, chasing, growling, and nipping are all a natural part of your puppy’s developmental need for play. New owners can sometimes be caught off guard by these behaviors and wonder if their puppy is actually trying to attack them!
They may respond in fear, anger, or an otherwise highly emotional response which often just feeds into the excited state the puppy is already in! If your puppy is wagging his tail and has a relaxed open mouth, chances are he is just trying to play, but does not have good social skills yet!
You can help redirect him to a tug toy or something similar that he can practice all of his wild play behaviors on instead of your hands! Just make sure you stay calm to avoid getting him even more excited and riled up!
The same goes with dogs playing with other dogs. Often novice owners think a dog fight is breaking out, especially if you have a particularly vocal dog on your hands, but the dogs are actually having a delightful game of “pretend attack.”
Dog language is often subtle, and it can take time to learn your dog’s style of play. On the flipside, sometimes dogs are displaying aggression and their owners insist it’s just play! If your dog’s growl or nip is accompanied by snarling and baring his teeth, this is generally a good indicator that your dog is actually being reactive and not just playing.
Finally, many novice owners may not pick up on their dog’s fearful body language cues and may unintentionally push them into something they are anxious of. Tail tucking, lip-licking, yawning, looking away from a perceived threat, or even walking low to the ground are all signs your dog is nervous and uncomfortable even if they are not making any sounds.
As many puppy owners know, puppies are in a critical phase where appropriate socialization is very important for their future confidence. New owners can miss their puppy’s subtle cues of anxiety and continue pushing them towards an unfamiliar person, dog, or situation instead of letting the puppy approach cautiously at his own pace.
If you are new to owning and interacting with dogs, we recommend watching a few YouTube videos on dog body language to avoid making these mistakes!
Unintentionally Rewarding Bad Puppy Behavior
Remember that little fact about how puppies live in the moment, so any form of discipline is very time-sensitive? Well, it goes both ways! New owners often unintentionally reward bad behavior if they aren’t careful to pay attention to the timing of certain rewards.
One of the biggest rewards for any puppy, but especially a doodle, is attention from you, their favorite human. Crate training is the most common example. New puppy owners are often unpleasantly surprised by just how loud their puppy can bark and whine in their crate. As the puppy’s barking escalates, the new owner often gives in and lets the puppy out.
The puppy associates his behavior in the moment with the reward of being let out of the crate. So, to the puppy, the message is simple: if he just barks loud enough, the door of the crate will open and he gets to be with you again! We often recommend waiting until your puppy has been quiet for at least 5 minutes before opening the kennel door.
Other examples may include chasing your puppy around when he has an item you do not want him to have or petting him when he jumps up, barks, or paws at you. New owners often mistakenly pet or interact with their puppy when their puppy gets riled up. After all it is quite difficult to ignore a puppy who is jumping up and licking your face!
Sometimes even saying “No! Stop!” in a high-pitched voice is interpreted as a fun interaction by your puppy. Simply ignoring behaviors you do not like such as barking, jumping, etc. is often the best way to minimize them. Making sure your puppy has all four paws on the ground and is quiet before petting him will go a long way in helping him learn that calm behavior gets rewarded.
New Owners Can Be Inconsistent with Their Corrections or Rewards
While the timing of any discipline or reward is critical to helping your dog connect the dots back to its behavior, it is also important to be consistent and reward or correct a behavior every time you see it!
Allowing your dog to jump on you when you are also excited to see him (such as at the end of a long day at work) but correcting him for jumping on guests can be very confusing for the pup. It can be easy if you are feeling tired or distracted to not follow through on certain training aspects.
It takes some focus and awareness on the part of the owner to correct the puppy each time he begins to nip, jump, etc. as these behaviors happen quite frequently when your puppy is young! It can be easy to correct these behaviors sometimes, but to let them slide at other times. But these missed opportunities will increase the time it takes for your puppy to really understand what behavior is expected of him.
Inconsistency can also be a problem when there are multiple people in the house. One person may be lax on certain behaviors and allow the dog on the furniture or not mind when the dog jumps on him. Similarly, if one person feeds the dog from the table, but another family member corrects the dog for begging at the table, the dog will not be able to consistently follow the rules!
Make sure you and all members of your household are on the same page as far as which behaviors to ignore and which to praise and pet for! We recommend having a discussion before the puppy comes home on your common goals as a family.
For example, will the puppy be allowed on the furniture or not? It’s a good idea to give your friends or guests reminders, too. If everyone the pup meets is told to not pet him if he is jumping up or otherwise displaying overexcited behavior, then your pup will learn to greet others calmly very quickly!
Expecting Your Puppy To Spend Too Much Time Alone
In general, dogs are incredibly social animals and are hardwired with a pack mentality.
We can gather this information simply by observing wolves, dingoes, and other wild dog species that live in tight-knit family groups with complex social lives and hierarchies. The domestic dog was slowly bred down from these wild counterparts to be even more companion-oriented so as to be able to work closely with his master performing many useful jobs such as herding and hunting.
In particular, a young puppy is used to spending every waking (and sleeping) moment with their siblings! Being alone is often a completely new experience for them. It is a skill that you must teach your new pup by slowly getting them used to the crate and creating a positive association by giving them special long-lasting chews, puzzle toys, etc. to engage them while you are gone.
Puppies that are expected to spend 8+ hours alone during the day while their owner is at work can develop serious separation anxiety. If not crated, they will often be quite destructive with chewing. Finally, young puppies typically have to go potty at least every two hours during the day so this will also be a major factor in how long they can spend by themselves each day.
But if you are among the group of Americans who work full time, then you may be wondering if you can ever have a puppy? We recommend breaking up your work day and figuring out a way to offer your puppy some kind of interaction and activity half way through a full work day.
Coming home for your lunch break to play fetch with your pup, hiring a dog walker, or sending your pup to doggy daycare to play with some 4 legged friends, are all options frequently utilized by full time employees.
Another important factor in how long your pup can spend alone is an appropriate amount of exercise. A tired pup will be much more willing to relax and nap when alone than a pup who has pent up energy. Most breeds of dogs need daily exercise – especially when they are young. Taking your pup for a brisk morning walk and/or fetch time out in the yard before leaving for work will definitely help him feel more relaxed while you are away.
New Puppy Owner Mistakes, Honorable Mention: Making Your Puppy’s Harness Too Loose
This is a simple, but nevertheless very common mistake! Puppies are surprisingly quick and nimble and can easily escape a harness or collar that is too loose, leaving you in a panic as you chase your puppy down the street. Make sure the harness or collar is tight enough so that you can only fit two fingers under it.
If you are a new puppy owner, you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the potential blunders you could make. The good news is that dogs are incredibly forgiving of our mistakes. Just as we started out this article, we end by a reminder that dogs live in the moment!
They will easily forget about a handful of training mistakes and really are eager to please and adaptable. As long as you learn from your mistakes and are able to press forward with a fresh understanding of your dog’s behavior and needs, your puppy will be able to adjust and learn how to be your best friend for many years to come.
P.S. Check out our first time puppy owner checklist!
Jenna and the JLDD Team