9-12 Weeks: Puppy's First Month Home
Now that you have made it through that all-important first week home, you can start setting up for the long term. If you haven't already, check out the other posts in the Puppy Grow-Up Guide for 0-8 week and 8-9 week old puppies. During this first month, we are going to update your schedule for potty training, work on some beginner puppy training, address jumping, and most importantly, puppy socialization!
Your goal is still to prevent your puppy from ever going potty inside. When we last left off, you have been taking your puppy out every 2 hours. By the time they are 12 weeks old, that should grow to every 3 hours. You will want to do this incrementally. So every week, add an additional 15 minutes between potty breaks. This way your puppy won't be used to going every 2 hours and then all of a sudden be expected to hold it for 3. Keep praising whenever they go outside. If they do have an accident, you can tell them "no," but only if you catch them in the act. Then pick them up and take them outside to finish. If you find evidence after the fact, you are too late. All you can do is clean it up. Use a pet odor neutralizer or vinegar on the spot so that your puppy does not learn to associate that spot with a potty area. If you want to teach your puppy a specific cue for them to tell you they have to go out, now is the time to do it. Many dogs will develop one on their own, such as pacing, scratching the door, staring at you, etc. But if you want them to ring a bell or give some other specific cue, you can start teaching that now.
During this period we are going start introducing some new skills to your puppy. Puppies this age have short attention spans, so keep the sessions to about 5 minutes. Now is the time to start teaching some basic commands. Keep your expectations fair, remember they are still young and their brains have not fully developed.
-Leash walking: Start off in a low distraction area, like inside your house. Your puppy should already understand that the leash ties the two of you together from the training you have already been doing. If not, keep working on the leash drill from the last post until they do. Now we want to start teaching walking on a loose leash. So start walking in one direction, every-time the leash gets tight, turn around and start going the other way. What you are trying to show your puppy is that a tight leash means they don't get what you want.
-Sit: Start without giving the word. Use the luring technique you have already been practicing to guide your puppies nose up and over their head. As you do this, they should go into a sit position. As soon as their butt hits the ground, give them their reward. As your puppy starts to offer the behavior quicker, you can start adding in the word and reduce how much luring you are doing.
-Come: Start in a low distraction environment, with your puppy on a leash. Say the word "come" and back up a couple of steps. Your puppy should follow you. When they get to you, give them a treat right next to you. As your puppy progresses, you can change things up a little, by first stopping the steps back, then moving to other areas of your house and yard.
Now that your puppy has gotten used to all the people, animals, textures and sounds in your home and yard, it is time to focus on socializing them outside of your home. Over the next several weeks, you want to take the time to expose them to as many people, animals, places and situations as you can. The most important thing about this stage is not to overwhelm them. So as you are going about the following tasks, watch their behavior and body language. If they appear scared, nervous, or over-stimulated, make things a little easier by putting some distance between them and the situation or reducing the number. For example, if your puppy seems overwhelmed by a bunch of other puppies and dogs, try introducing them to just one at a time and as they gain confidence, you can slowly grow that number . Take them on a walk both in your neighborhood and in different parks so they can see people walking their dogs, bicycles, cars and trucks, wildlife, runners, kids on a playground, cats, dogs barking in their yards, etc. Take them to a puppy socializing class, or on a puppy playdate so they can learn how to interact with other dogs. Allow them to meet a variety of new people; people wearing hats, children, someone in a wheelchair or crutches, tall people, someone in a big puffy jacket, etc. By starting to expose them now to a wide variety of experiences, you are setting them up to grow into a more confident dog. You will also want to start showing them that even with all the interesting things going on, you are still the most interesting and exciting thing. So bring some treats with you and practice some of the training you started last week and the new skills that they are learning now. Practice luring by a playground, name recognition as you pass another dog, practice their leash skills as a bike goes by, come when they see a rabbit, sit when your about to cross a street, etc. Keep mixing and matching so that your puppy never knows what is going to happen to keep them excited.
Puppies are easily excitable and love attention. One of they ways they show that is by jumping up on people. It may be cute now, but as your puppy grows, that will change. It is far easier to start changing this habit now, than when they are a year old and fully grown. Any time your puppy jumps, say no, walk away and turn your back. At first they will keep trying since it is a natural behavior for them. As soon as they try a different behavior, sitting or standing in front of you, bend down and tell them they are a good puppy and give them the attention they are looking for. If they start jumping again, repeat the process. You are trying to show them that they must keep paws on the ground in order to get the attention they want. Practice this with everyone in your house and any new people they meet.
There is a lot going on during these few weeks, and it can be a little overwhelming. But remember, you are putting in a few months of hard work now in order to reap the rewards for a decade or more of living with your pup. If you are having trouble navigating this period in your dogs life, get help from a professional. We will see you next month to guide you through the next stage in your puppies life.