Updated: Apr 9, 2021
It can feel as if everything to do with training a well-behaved dog must be accomplished at warp speed to make sure your puppy doesn’t grow up to be a menace, and so that you can do everything together that you imagined. The pressure to be a good pet parent is real and often can lead to added stress when you try to accomplish it all at once.
Before you brought your puppy home did you daydream about having the best dog who will love and be loved by everyone because they will be so well behaved? Did you have visions of “the entertainer” throwing party tricks when company is over? Or of your steadfast hiking companion who will warn you of impending danger and fetch help when you stumble upon a fallen hiker in need of assistance? And that their manners would be reliably on point - always coming when called, walking nicely on a leash, never jumping up on people, never begging for food, and never barking unless it’s to warn you that trouble is brewing of course. While it’s true that the development rate of a dog is exponentially faster than that of us and time is of the essence, it’s also true that when it comes to raising fido, playing the long game will benefit you just as much as it will your dog in a myriad of ways.
Long game: considering the future implications of current choices, thinking ahead, being deliberate and patient. The saying playing the long game refers to active participation in achieving goals which may take some time.
There is an exhaustive list of things you “should” be spending time and effort on with your pup, but since time is not an infinite resource, and it varies in availability from one person to the next, I want to encourage you to prioritize strategically. You only have so many time and energy “eggs” and a multitude of possible puppy parenting baskets to choose from in a day. Knowing which baskets will be the most advantageous for your “eggs” – the ones that will pay dividends and provide the greatest return on investment in the end with the least stress just makes good sense. Not unlike financial investing, continual small deposits in the right places coupled with patience and realistic expectations is the key to long term gains.
Think marathon – not sprint – when it comes to raising fido and the first 16-20 weeks of their life is the preparation stage. Preparation in the time leading up to the race is filled with different exercises and practice to get in tip top shape making a runner better equipped to tackle the actual marathon run and succeed. Similarly, if you take the time to lay a solid foundation by prioritizing the things that will best prepare fido to thrive in our human world you accelerate the ability to accomplish all the other training you wish when the time comes.
My top recommendations for puppy parents is that all available time and energy should be prioritized into these baskets until approximately 16-20 weeks of age:
Safe & Effective Socialization
Housetraining with Structured Alone Time
Resource Guarding Prevention
There will be plenty of time for more formal skill and behaviour training once this preparation period has come and gone.
The opportunity cost can be large if you choose to put your eggs in a basket that is unnecessary during this stage of life because you can’t get that critical development time back. While you work to put however many eggs you have in a day into these four baskets noted above, here are three pieces of advice:
Make a conscious effort to keep a positive mindset and behave in an encouraging way while interacting with your puppy, even if you are feeling frustrated or angry, it has a profound impact on both your own wellbeing and theirs. Remember that they are a baby right now so try to keep realistic expectations.
Remain calm and coolheaded, a feat that can be difficult to achieve all the time. If you feel yourself getting frustrated or overwhelmed (and you likely will) take a minute to collect your thoughts, remind yourself that you are a good pet parent and both you and pup are doing the best you can with the knowledge you have in this moment.
Be proactive, meaning don’t set your puppy up to fail. Make it easy for them to make the right choices and consistently reward them for it. Notice when your puppy does something you like and acknowledge them for it so attention is not just being given when they are up to something you dislike. Setting up management protocols from the get-go, such as a proper long term confinement space in a busy area of your home for example, will make all the difference in keeping stress low because the ability to rehearse the wrong choices just isn’t there – your sanity will thank you for not overlooking this!
Time is a precious commodity for many of us and bringing a puppy into the family should be something that adds to the enjoyment in your life, not take away from it. Knowing what activities to focus on during different stages of your dog’s life is not only an efficient approach to raising fido, but also can keep added stress levels low – a benefit for us all in today’s hectic and demanding world.