Your new puppy is a magical creature – they have unlimited potential. They could grow up to be a therapy dog, agility superstar, or the best pet the world has ever seen. What is important is the skillset you want your adult dog to have. If you want them to compete in a sport, you start their foundation exercises young. If you want an assistance dog, you begin teaching their tasks early on. And if you want a fabulous member of your family, there will be other important life skills for them to learn.
The ability to walk nicely on a lead is enviable. No matter what breed your puppy is, they can learn this skill – yes, even spaniels and beagles! Starting early can help prevent issues once your pup grows up and enters adolescence. Allowing them to pull to things they want – even in those early days – teaches them that pulling works. The more they practice, the better they get at it. By rewarding pup for being at your side, they learn that it is a better place to be. Plus, you’ll both experience less discomfort with a slack lead! Using techniques like lead stroking and teaching them when to sniff, you can enjoy walks from day 1. So by encouraging the little one to walk on a loose lead, both of you will be less frustrated and stressed on walks.
Teaching your pup to “check in” with you may sound odd. But this can be super helpful when your puppy is off- or on their lead. While recall is another skill you want to teach, the first stage is asking your dog for attention. Them giving you attention means they aren’t staring at a squirrel or another dog. It means you’re able to walk past the cheese sandwich on the pavement. You can allow them more freedom off the lead as they know looking at you is rewarding. It is also a good measure of how comfortable your little one is in any situation. Can they look at you? Is the environment overwhelming? Are they too interested in what else is happening? You’ll know to leave the area or help bring your puppy’s focus back to you if that’s the case.
Handling is a skill you both need to practice. It’s not just about brushing your puppy’s fur. It covers all manners of grooming, the application of medication, and checking their physical health. For breeds with luscious coats, make grooming time a positive experience. They are going to need extra attention to keep that coat healthy and tangle-free. Nails are going to need trimming, either by yourself or a professional. Plus ears to clean, maybe some eye drops, and teeth needing to be brushed. You can save yourself a lot of stress by teaching your pup to be calm during handling at an early age. Muzzle training can also come under handling. Hopefully, your pup never needs to wear a muzzle but it can help to be prepared. Dogs wear muzzles for lots of different reasons – they may have an issue with vet visits, or unexpected situations. Or they may love to eat mud and other less pleasant things! Plus it is one less thing to worry about in emergencies. Dogs in pain react differently to normal. A muzzle will keep you both safe.
Puppies often appear to have boundless energy. Turns out, they need much more sleep than you’d think – 18 to 20 hours a day! You may find you need to encourage them to settle. An overtired puppy is not so fun to be around – they can be more testing in behaviours like nipping or chewing inappropriate items. Teaching them to settle allows their brain (and you) a rest. Crate training can be useful with this. The crate is a space they can rest in, not used as a punishment. Make it inviting but not overwhelming. Using a crate cover can also be beneficial, as that little extra darkness lets the pup feel secure. You don’t need to use a crate but you want to make sure your puppy will be safe. You’ll also want to make sure they are resting and not investigating everything in the area! Teaching your puppy to settle will also help when you need to leave them. If they are used to resting, it will be easier to move out of the room. Do this in stages, allowing your puppy to adjust to your absence. Dogs are social beings and most enjoy company, so avoid leaving them for extended periods.
So those are some of the life skills you may want to teach your puppy. Bear in mind, you may have other skills you think are essential. If you are wanting any information on teaching these life skills, check out our virtual puppy course – an essential for any new puppy guardians!