Jason Shute is already seeing the aftermath of the first pandemic puppy boom. The owner of Guelph-based Shute Balanced Dog Training welcomed several new clients in 2020, many of them new puppy parents, who have had issues adjusting their family’s adorable addition.
Shute’s not too surprised how things have transpired. His ideal approach to welcoming a new puppy to a household is detailed, and life in the time of COVID-19 has naturally stripped away some of the conditions required for proper training. There are several examples to illustrate the point. Dogs, even young ones, pick up on our cues, he says. If we avoid someone walking towards us on the same path, the puppy figures it must be for a reason. Or if an owner has been home for months then suddenly is gone a huge portion of the day at work, the puppy suffers stress.
“Socialization is a big challenge for COVID puppies,” says Shute, who is a training consultant for LTDO.
The truth is, getting a puppy is a massive decision. And if you are going to do it, the onus is on that owner to do it right, both for the sake of this new life in your control, and the well-being of everyone in the house.
The journey starts long before a puppy sets his paws in your home. In fact, it should begin with reading. Lots of it. You must determine what kind of dog works for your home and lifestyle.
There are the usual questions, but one takes precedent.
“Do you have enough time to do all of the things it will take to fulfill that dog and help it reach its’ fullest potential?” asks Shute.
Shute isn’t a big believer in needing tons of room at your home seeing as getting a puppy out to explore the world is priority. But it is necessary to think about who that space is being shared with. Some people with older dogs think getting a puppy can a) reinvigorate that senior, or b) have that elder be a role model for the new one. Shute disagrees with each premise.
“You should wait until that dog has left you before getting a new puppy,” he says. “The older dog will get less attention. They’ve given you a whole life and frequently, they are passed over for the cute, new puppy when that dog needs the attention more than ever.”
Cats are another consideration. Is your cat(s) familiar/comfortable with dogs or do they dislike them? The point is that the stress level of other animals is something to factor in.
One of the biggest questions remaining is what type of dog will suit your family?
“It’s also so important to research the breed that you’re getting,” says Shute. “You start thinking of the look and the aesthetics of the dog and not necessarily what they have been selected to do.”
What is the dominant trait of the breed? Is it a working dog? Has it been rescued? What issues are commonplace with each breed?
“Do your research and speak to people who have the breeds your considering,” says Shute.
A final thought on the decision-making process…AVOID PUPPY MILLS!
Proof is in the Prep
Your puppy is on the way. The following step is mandatory for creating a good environment – and preserving your sanity. You HAVE to puppy proof your home. Get it ready. Move trinkets out of the way, anything you figure that pup might chew on.
“Be prepared with a selection of toys, both interactive and self-satisfying,” Shute adds.
Home Sweet Home
It’s puppy day! Everyone in the home is eagerly anticipating the little one’s arrival. And the training begins immediately.
“When the puppy comes home, just start living with the dog,” says Shute. “Limit the amount of space and freedom to begin with and gradually expand because you have to be thinking of house training, crate training, basic preliminary introductions to the environment, and the rules around that.”
Shute says that staying a step ahead makes the transition easier. Expect some sleepless nights. And be prepared for the inevitable puppy behaviours that will arise, including the incessant chewing, nipping, and mouthing, seeing as they are teething for as much as the first six months of their lives.
“It will challenge everybody,” says Shute. “They will test your patience, you will get frustrated and maybe wonder what you’ve done.”
But he adds that a trainer can help. A pro will ease the process by providing strategies to get you all past the puppyhood phase.
Ages and Stages
Shute knows that those first six months are imperative in shaping the puppy’s world view. More specifically, the first four months are typically considered the most critical part in development.
“The dog will change week to week to week and the stages are so distinct,” Shute says.
“Things change rapidly – their temperament, behaviour, personality. How that dog is this week isn’t how the dog will be next week.”
A good owner will make the necessary observations and note what they’re seeing. And the more that you can establish good habits and routines, the better. Shute says that those early months should centre on socialization to people and other dogs/animals. That provides a foundation for what kind of adult the pup will grow to be.
“That’s when it all happens, the habituation to different environments, sights, smells, sounds, situations,” he explains. “Get your dog comfortable in the world, exposing them to the world in a safe, fun, and productive way.”
Simple fact – play is huge.
“That ability for young dogs, like people, to play, be creative, and express themselves leads them to being more psychologically balanced and healthy,” says Shute. “Dogs who don’t play are often more anxious.
“Build their confidence and self-esteem when they’re young. And play is the single most important thing, in my mind, to focus on from a training perspective. Most people tend to focus on obedience behaviours.
“I’m much more into connection before direction.”
With those aforementioned COVID puppy issues in mind, Shute has a potential aid for those with new dogs. To avoid creating separation anxiety when a work return is imminent, practice some periodic moments of isolation. Maybe a couple times a day, the puppy can get some quiet time in their crate (assuming they have adapted to it) in a different room.
“Setting up moments for your puppy to be alone before they have to be can help them better accept it when that time does come,” says Shute.
We all love puppies. How can you not? But welcoming one into your home is a major responsibility and the decision should not be taken lightly.
“It’s a covenant,” says Shute. “It’s a contract you enter with this baby that no matter what happens, I’ll be with you. I won’t let you down. I’m going to do my best to give you the happiest life and help you reach your fullest potential, to the best of my ability.
“That’s the contract you sign when you get a puppy. It’s an extremely powerful thing, a significant relationship you enter for the lifetime of that dog. It doesn’t matter what happens, you are now that advocate. You are the human bridge to that dog’s experiences in the world.
“You have to step up and fulfill your end of the bargain – because that dog will fulfill their end.”
Visit https://www.shutetraining.com/ for more information.