Read time: 6 mins
13 Aug 2020
By Guest Blogger Jennifer Billot, Owner of Bone Ball Bark Dog Training
You’ve just welcomed a sweet, tiny, 7-8 week old ball of fluff into your home...now what?
Having a young puppy is a real joy but also a lot of hard work. Especially for the first year of the pup’s lives. It’s now up to you to teach them everything they need to know about their world and environment, while also keeping them healthy. Just like having a toddler!
We wanted to tell you our top tips for that first year, as you help your puppy develop. We’ve broken these topics down into 3 sections to help you remember:
1. Health & Nutrition (Bone)
2. Play & Socialisation (Ball)
2. Training & Problem Solving (Bark)
Puppies bones are not stable yet. Their bones are softer than adult bones which make them more prone to injury. Also, puppies have something on the end of many bones called growth plates which stimulate the growth of their bones until they reach adulthood. It’s really important to not let your puppy go up and down stairs multiple times a day, let them jump on and off furniture or big steps, or play very rough with bigger dogs. All these things can cause damage to their bones, growth plates, muscles and ligaments, which will hinder their development and cause a lot of painful and expensive joint problems later in life.
Feed your puppy food that has been made with puppies in mind. Pups require a specific ratio of calcium to phosphorus in their food to ensure their bones and muscles grow at an appropriate rate to each other. They should be given this puppy specific food up to they are about a year old (small breed up to 9 months, giant breed up to 18 months). Guess what...Butternut Box dog food is classed as ‘All Life Stages’ which means it’s appropriate food to feed your puppy as they develop. Your puppy will love it and their body will love it too!
Start training your puppy NOW! There’s no such thing as too early to be training your puppy. The more you can stimulate your puppy, the more neuron pathways are formed, and the more capable they are at learning. It’s also a lot of fun for them, and a really great bonding activity between you and your puppy.
A tired puppy is also a less destructive puppy and that includes mentally tired as well as physically tired! Doing a couple of really short 5-10 minute training exercises each day will do wonders for their brain and development. This training doesn’t have to just be your average commands like sit and down, but can include fun games, puzzle toys and being exposed to new experiences and places.
One of our favourite at-home games to do is to have two people call the puppy between them, running around the garden or house, keeping things upbeat and exciting, and rewarding when the puppy gets to them! You are not only tiring them out physically, but working on recall, and instilling the idea that YOU is where the fun is at!
Practice leaving your puppy alone for short periods of time. It sometimes is seen as being contradictory where you are supposed to take your new pup everywhere to have as many new experiences as possible during that critical socialisation period, but you also should leave them alone! It truly is a balancing act. Getting your puppy used to being on his own is just as important as socialising them in our opinion. It can massively decreases the chance of him developing separation anxiety later, if he is already comfortable with being by himself.
Between 6 weeks and 4 months your puppy will make impressions of the world that will last their whole lives. This is the most crucial time for setting up the building blocks of learning. He learns where his place is in the world, his new family, how to communicate with members of his own species and his human family.
Puppies brain size actually increases up to 10x during this time period as they learn about the environment they’re in, the people and things in it, sounds, smells, tastes and textures. It is your job as his new owner to expose him to as many new things as possible before he is 4 months old, in a positive manner. We call this socialisation!
Aim to introduce him to 100 new people, buses, trains, traffic, hair dryers, blenders, other animals, children, skateboards, bikes, anything that you encounter in your day to day life in their first 4 months of life. Make all these experiences a fun and positive thing by using praise, toys, treats and games to help them understand that these things are not scary. Consult a trainer to help guide you on how to do this.
Unfortunately, during this same critical socialisation time frame, puppies also go through something called a fear period. This is essentially where they learn what there is to be fearful about in the world. Any negative experience that happens during his time can have a lasting impression on the rest of their lives.
Make sure you’re paying close attention to their body language; a tail that is tucked all the way under them, ears flat back, and excessive yawning are signs of stress. If possible, try to turn something they are unsure of, into something fun and positive. Use lots of treats and praise. Resist the urge to fawn over them if they are looking unsure.
Think about when a toddler falls over...they look to their parents for a reaction. If you can say “whoops, come on” and act like it is no big deal, they usually just get up like nothing has happened. If the parent goes running over all in a panic, then the toddler usually bursts into tears….the parent has made it into something to be scared of. Exactly the same with puppies.
Talk to them in a happy voice to show them you feel happy and confident about what is happening. You may feel silly exclaiming “woohoo a car, that's so exciting!”, but the tone you use helps immensely. Let them explore the situation on their own time. Give them the opportunity to use their own brain and senses. Also, be aware that puppies go through another fear period before they hit a year old. This usually occurs around 5 months old, but can be up to 12 months old, and last around a month.
So after all that here are the main takeaway points for what to do with your puppy for the first year of their life as they grow and develop:
1. Food appropriate for puppies, containing the right amount of vitamin and minerals a growing pup needs!
2. Be careful of injury to their muscles and joints as they are not fully developed yet
3. Expose them to as many new things as possible in the first 4 months of their life, in the most positive manner possible
4. Remember they go through a couple of fear periods over the first year so watch out for their body language telling you they are unsure of something
5. A mentally and physically tired puppy means a less destructive puppy, so use play and training to your advantage!
Thank you so much to Jennifer Billot for writing this post. Jennifer is one of our fabulous ambassadors based in London and is head dog trainer at Bone Ball Bark. She is proudly one of the only people on the UK with a Masters Degree in Canine Life Sciences.