My advice to new owners begins with ‘Start how you mean to go on’. A puppy is a learning machine, he comes pre-programmed with survival skills such as persistence and strong visual skills. In order to survive as a tiny puppy he has already learned that he needs to persist in order to get milk from his mother. If he were growing up wild or feral he would need to be persistent to find food - a predator does not get a meal out of every chase, he might only catch his prey one in twenty times, but the reward is enough for him to keep chasing. You might wonder how this is relevant to your cute bundle of fluff? Well if a puppy jumps up at you and you look at him (or worse still!) stroke him, you have just given him a reason to keep jumping up. It is no good deciding that you want to keep four paws on the floor and then letting visitors pet him with his paws on their knee. Even if he only gets attention occasionally this will probably be enough to reinforce the jumping up behaviour. The same applies to letting him on the furniture, or any other behaviour that you might not want in your fully grown dog. If you want to cuddle your puppy, but don't want to encourage him onto the sofa, it is kinder to sit on the floor with him from the start.
For this reason it is a good idea to decide on house rules as a family from the very start. Once behaviour has been rewarded it can be hard to change.
My litters usually go to their new homes almost house trained and already sitting on command. Your young puppy is a fast learner! There is no need to use a verbal cue, such as ‘sit’ to start with, just hold your puppy's food bowl above his head and keep quiet and still. If you give him a chance to calm down he will probably sit down to think - when he does this, immediately reward him with the food. You will soon find that he does this automatically every time you feed him (if you are consistent). You can extend this exercise using treats as a lure and reward until the ‘sit’ is well established.
As early training is so important I recommend a pre-class training visit.
When you pick up your puppy he should go home with a supply of the food he has been weaned on and instructions as to how much food he should be given and at what time. If this is not the case, ask the breeder for this information - it will make a big difference to how quickly your puppy settles into his new home, and will hopefully prevent a messy upset tummy! Unless this food is causing you or your puppy problems, I would stick to it for the first couple of weeks. If you wish to change food to a better quality kibble, or raw food, do this gradually over a five day period to give your puppy a chance to get used to it.
There is a huge difference in the quality of dog food on the market today. Attractive packaging and strong advertising campaigns make it hard for dog owners to make informed choices regarding diet. You might be surprised to learn that 90% of our dog food is manufactured by just four companies, Mars, Nestle, Colgate-Palmolive, and Procter and Gamble. They have taken over a lot of formerly independent brands and also the lion’s share of veterinary diets too, and have the financial power to sponsor events such as Crufts and to make their products attractive to retailers and vets.
When choosing a food for your puppy I would look closely at the ingredients, the better quality foods will name the protein used, along with the other ingredients. You will find that the cheaper brands are usually quite vague and list ‘cereals’, ‘animal derivatives’, ‘vegetable derivatives’ and they will often contain artificial colourings and preservatives. In the case of some dogs you might not see any ill effects, however, potential ingredients in these foods can cause allergies in some dogs and artificial additives can be a factor in behavioural problems. There is no one food that suits all dogs, they are individuals with different requirements and you may need do some research before you find the best food for you and your dog. Sites such as www.allaboutdogfood.co.uk are useful to compare ingredients in different foods and to identify potential allergens.
Puppies are usually highly motivated to work for food. You do not need to go out and buy expensive treats for training your puppy, with a little thought you can prepare your own delicious treats. Many shop bought dog treats have artificial ingredients in and sometimes sugar too. There is not much difference in price between supermarket cooked cocktail sausage and dog specific ones, and I know which I would prefer. If you have a puppy with a good appetite it is a good idea to weigh out your puppy’s food in the morning and to divide it into portions, one of the portions to be used as rewards. This way the puppies are not overfed or spoilt by using special treats. This gives you the opportunity to reserve higher value treats such as ham, cheese, liver, chicken or sausage, for times when you really need them to motivate your dog. A good treat bag is very useful, you will need to dispense a high number of treats easily and quickly whilst training. I like ones that fit my hand in easily and have a magnetic closure so there is no fiddling to shut them.
It is really useful to develop a good relationship with your puppies through play. Gentle tug games (mind their sore mouths when they are teething) are especially useful using soft dog toys. As you puppy grows up he might lose interest in food rewards when out in the wide world, but if you have a good play relationship with your dog this can get even better as they mature, so you still have a good motivator for your dog. Beware of your puppy becoming too dependent on ball throwing, this can cause strain injuries to him if overdone. A soft sheepskin tug toy is easily hidden in a pocket and can be a great distraction for your puppy if you play with it regularly. Keep these special toys away from your puppy unless engaged in a game with you.