Getting a new puppy is always fun and exciting! You are adding a cute and furry friend to your household that will grow to be part of your family. Remember however, that the early development days are very important in shaping your dog’s adult years. The goal is to develop a confident, friendly, social dog that is well behaved and a pleasure to be around.
Sometimes our instinct is to protect a puppy from situations that make them uncomfortable. While it is true that we don’t want to cause fear, we also should be working to expose the puppy to new situations, people and animals in ways that build confidence and comfort with things the puppy may experience later in life.
Some things your puppy may need to become comfortable with are: different people (children, men, people in wheelchairs or with walkers/canes, people wearing hoods or winter clothing that covers their face, etc.), car rides, veterinary visits, medical home care (applying ear or eye medications, grooming, nail trimming, etc.), meeting other dogs (on walks, in their home, at parks, at the vet, etc.), walking calmly on a leash, different places/environments, and baths to name a few.
While your puppy is growing up, it is important to look for opportunities to expose your puppy to as many things as possible in a positive way. If your puppy’s first encounter with a car, a vet visit, etc. are scary or unpleasant that will be the memory that your puppy has. The more proactive you can be to expose your puppy to these things in a positive or fun way, the better.
For example, getting your puppy used to car rides as slowly as possible can shape their future experiences. Start with just being in the car without it running. Give treats and praise. Progress to the same thing with the car running. Then going down the driveway and back. Next, around the block. Watch the puppy’s comfort level to decide when to progress further. Keep in mind that some puppies may experience car sickness. You may need to avoid treats for longer rides if this is the case. Always talk in a happy voice and offer lots of praise to build confidence. Make sure that car rides often end up somewhere fun so that a car ride doesn’t always mean a trip to the vet or groomer.
Use the same process for exposing your puppy to other places, people and things. Make sure to always have small but tasty treats handy for positive reinforcement. Lots of praise and talking in a happy voice will help your puppy’s confidence in the new experience. If you are anxious your puppy will pick up on that and will likely be anxious as well. Controlling your demeanor and showing confidence and a positive attitude will help the puppy feel the same way. Never force a puppy when they are uncomfortable or scared. Let them take their time to get used to the situation and progress slowly as the puppy’s comfort level increases. Keep a distance from things that may be scary at first and only move closer as their confidence level increases. Make sure your demeanor is showing the puppy there is nothing to be afraid of while letting them set their own pace.
Every day and every new experience is a learning opportunity, for better or for worse. Do everything you can to help your puppy learn to enjoy and be comfortable in new situations rather than learning that new things are scary and should be avoided. Whenever possible look for the opportunity to set up situations to build confidence. On walks encourage people to greet the puppy (give them treats to give to the puppy for food motivated dogs), invite people to your house to expose the puppy to others (encourage them to let the puppy come to them – give them treats to give if appropriate), take your puppy to as many places as possible (once they are comfortable in the car) and make them good experiences. Let them meet other dogs that are friendly in a controlled way. Introduce them to children (always carefully supervise interactions with children and other dogs). Most things your puppy will encounter as he/she grows will be new to them. Make it your goal to make these new encounters/experiences as positive as you can.