How to Look After and Train a Puppy
Collecting your puppy and taking it home:
Probably the single most stressful time in a dog’s life is when it’s taken away from the place of its birth, and transported to its new home. Although this is an especially joyous time for you (and your children if you have any) try to remember that rehoming’s unlikely to be a happy time for the pup and it almost certainly won’t want to play. From the pup’s point of view, strange people are taking it away from everything and everyone it has ever known (and learned to trust) in its life. With this in mind, the puppy should be transported to its new home with the absolute minimum of stress.
Until the pup is settled into its new home, nobody should attempt to play with it unless it shows signs of wanting to play.
Some puppies travel very well – they quickly go to sleep and stay that way for journeys of several hours. If this is the case, we recommend you try to avoid stopping on the way home if it’s practical. This means the puppy will have the minimum amount of stress, because the first stop will be the puppy’s new home. Of course, road safety is of paramount importance here – tiredness when driving is a killer so please stop for rest and / or refreshments if you need to. Top
Travel sickness in puppies and young dogs:
Not all pups travel well. The most common problem is travel sickness. To help prevent travel sickness, a thoughtful breeder will withhold food from a puppy on the day that it’s going to its new home. For this reason, it’d better to collect the puppy earlier in the day if you can, so that the pup’s next meal will be at its new home. To be on the safe side though, be prepared for the puppy to be sick. It’s a good idea to buy a travel cage or box for the puppy to spend the journey in – make sure it’s plenty big enough and well ventilated. Top
Travel crates – calming and secure – or a nightmare for your puppy?
Travel boxes and crates usually have slippery smooth plastic floors to them. These become even more slippery if any liquids (urine, water, vomit or faeces) come into contact with them. Imagine a nervous puppy that’s just been taken away from its home by some strange people, sliding around, falling over and bumping into the sides of its crate every time the car goes round a corner, accelerates or brakes. Not the sort of start you intended to give it, so it’s very important to put an old rug, piece of carpet or material on the floor to stop the puppy from sliding around. It’s also important to drive smoothly, especially if the road is winding and hilly (see below). Top
Always have fresh water with you:
Puppies need to drink water regularly – and with the serious delays we encounter on trunk roads and motorways these days, it’s important to take a drinking bowl and a bottle of clean water for the puppy – especially if the weather’s likely to get hot. Puppies dehydrate very quickly in hot cars – especially when stressed by being taken away from home. Top
Drive carefully – reduce the chances of your puppy vomiting:
Drive steadily – especially if the roads are winding or hilly. Fast driving is the best way to make a dog sick in the car. If you drive steadily, there’s a good chance the pup will fall asleep and have a pleasant, stress-free journey. Once you’re on the motorway, there are no significant bends to worry about, so as long as you avoid heavy acceleration and braking, it’s OK to speed up! Top
Feeding a young puppy:
Even when the pup isn’t stressed, a sudden change of diet can cause stomach upsets, so it makes sense to find out what type of food the pup’s used to eating and buy some. For the first few days, feed your new puppy the same food that it’s used to. If you want to change to a different brand or type, make the change to your preferred food gradual, and so avoid stomach upsets. Top
Recommended food for a puppy:
We have absolutely no connection with Purina but we recommend their “Beta Puppy” – Lamb and Rice Flavour. It’s so good! We don’t soak the food, because if it’s “soggy”, the puppies tend to eat too much. This can lead to stomach upsets. Once our young puppies open their eyes (at around two weeks of age) we mix Beta Puppy with raw minced lamb (which we buy from a supermarket) and offer them that. There is usually some interest immediately, but even when there’s not, before long, the very small puppies begin eat it. We suspect the youngsters just suck the dry food at first. This introduces the food to their digestive system really steadily.
Assuming you collect the puppy from the breeder at eight week of age (this should be the minimum age) the pup probably won’t have had its mother around to feed it for some time but it’ll still need between 3 and 5 meals at regular intervals through the day. Top
How much food should I give my puppy?
As a general guide, give the pup much food as it will clean-up easily and quickly. This can be reduced to 3 meals at 5 months and by 12 months either 1 or 2, as you prefer.
Some owners feed ad lib, leaving a bowl of dry food available at all times. We don’t feed our adult dogs this way because it’s wasteful and unhygenic. More importantly, if the dog is bored, sometimes it will eat just for something to do. You may find it’s a regime that suits you but in our experience, it encourages the pup to eat too much – with consequent digestive and weight problems. Food can be fed moistened with warm water or fed dry, according to the dog’s taste or your time, but dry food will exercise jaws and keep teeth and gums clean and healthy. As stated earlier, if the dried food is “soggy” (wet, to the point of collapse) the dog may eat too much. Top
Fresh, clean water should always be easily available for all dogs.
Other things you can feed for variety include Ready Brek, Weetabix, rusks, boiled rice, pasta, plain chicken, cooked fish, scrambled eggs, rice pudding, cooked vegetables, natural yoghurt or tinned dog food. Bear in mind that it’s almost certainly YOU who likes the idea of variety, the puppy won’t know what it’s missing! Top
What to do if your puppy has diarrhoea.
If the puppy has an upset stomach soon after going to a new home, the most likely cause is the stress caused by the change of environment, so don’t panic and take the dog to the vet, unless you have other cause for concern, such as seeing blood in the faeces. Just provide water (and no solid food) for 6 hours, and then begin feeding small amounts until all is back to normal. Rice and chicken are good for the first meal or two.
Once the puppy is fully settled into its new home (after several days at least) bear in mind that if the pup has a runny tummy, it’s probably having too much food – either at mealtimes, or maybe someone’s giving it titbits? It’s important to stop the diarrhoea quickly (by not feeding the pup for at least six hours and then introducing small amounts of easily digested food) as stomach upsets make the puppy prone to infections of the stomach.
If your puppy has very serious diarrhoea – and especially if there’s blood in the faeces, take it to your vet for a proper examination – especially if the pup appears to be poorly. Top
Veterinary health check:
This should be at the top of your priority list when you take a new puppy home. The vet will check the puppy over and give it the first vaccination. It’s advisable to worm the pup (unless the breeder has clearly just done this) and apply some anti flea treatment such as Frontline. Top
Always buy wormer from a vet
As far as we are aware, supermarket wormers are not as strong as those you can buy from your vet. In our experience they are quite often ineffective. Top
Your vet may give you alarming information about the puppy, such as “retained testicle” (Cryptorchid) or worse, “heart murmur“. There’s no need to panic, both of these problems are fairly temporary in a young puppy (all puppies are born with a heart murmur and all males have “retained” testicles at first) but they should be normal by about twelve weeks. If the vet tells you the pup has either heart murmur or retained testicle, take it back to the vet when the pup is twelve or preferably fourteen weeks, for a further check. Even after this time, there may be no need to worry about a retained testicle, they can sometimes take quite a number of months to descend. Your pup will require it’s second (booster) vaccination two weeks after the first one. Top
Socialisation and training puppies:
Don’t take your puppy to dog training classes or walking in public areas such as town streets, parks or playing fields until full immunity is achieved – usually 2 weeks after the 2nd vaccination. However, visiting friends and relatives, trips in the car, meeting visitors to the house and encountering as many different animals, noises and experiences as possible at home in the meantime will make your early public appearances that much easier. Top
Dog training groups:
Get in touch with local dog training groups to enrol in puppy classes as soon as possible – there’s often a waiting list – but as with all things in life, there are good and bad dog training classes. Top
Are you getting good advice?
If what your dog trainer is trying to get you to do to your dog clearly isn’t working – or doesn’t seem to make sense, look around for a new class or talk to experienced owners who own well trained dogs to see what they think. If it doesn’t seem right for your dog, it probably isn’t. Top
Training a border collie puppy:
Games are essential for puppy development, physically, mentally and emotionally, but where toys are involved, you should always be able to win the prize at will – and you should regularly demonstrate this to your dog. A mother uses a harsh growl to warn her puppies if they’re making a mistake, and a growl is a good way for you to correct your puppy too. Before long you will have a repertoire of soft and hard growls to suit any occasion, and if you have small children the puppy won’t mistake a reprimand to a child as directed to him – and vice versa. Growling is something children can learn to make themselves understood.
If a puppy nips, for instance, a high pitched squeal can be quite exciting to him and make him repeat the action. A good growl as the child snatches their hand away will be quite effective. A growl will also, usually, make the puppy let go of a toy (or stolen sock!) more efficiently than pulling. Again, as soon as the puppy releases reward him with your voice and if he’s “stolen” something replace it immediately with a toy he can keep.
Incidentally, such is the arrangement of a dog’s teeth and jaw that if it’s pulling back on something, such as a sock, it’s physically incapable of letting go of it. Slacken the pressure on the sock and THEN growl. It does work, and avoids damage to sock or puppy. Top
Rules for good behaviour:
As regards behaviour, a good rule is not to let the puppy do ANYTHING at 6 weeks that you don’t want it to do at 6 months or older. It’s hard to be strict with a puppy when you first get it home. As humans, we feel sorry for the pup but puppies are not humans. If the dog has never never done something – it won’t miss it. It will, however, look to you for guidelines and consistency and both parties will be the happier for it if you make your puppy obey the rules from the word go. You do not need to be cruel to train your dog, just show the dog calm leadership and teach it good manners, such as waiting for you to go through the gate or door you have just opened, rather than barging through. Top
Remember to reward good behaviour, not bad:
If you take the dog out of its bed BEFORE it starts to whine or bark for attention you will be rewarding it for being quiet. Even if the pup’s just lying quietly with a chew, make a point of letting it know you’re pleased. As the pup bonds with you, it will want to repeat the things you like. Top
Puppies and chewing:
All puppies chew. It’s important for the development of jaws and teeth as well as providing entertainment and a release for some pent-up energy or frustration. There are many types of chew on the market, from quite expensive branded “dental” chews, down to rawhide strips, rolls and shoes as well as roasted or sterilised bones.
It’s a good idea to put puppy/dog and chew onto a surface that cleans easily, preferably in the garden or the dog bed, as some chews will stain. If you find the puppy chewing something you don’t approve of, growl, remove the item from the puppy (or vice versa) and then offer the “good” chew with encouraging words and a pleased tone of voice. Always let the puppy understand which are the “good” habits and which are “bad”.
A puppy’s attention span is very short, and it needs regular naps. In the early days at home you can make good use of this. When the pup begins to tire, or if it actually falls asleep, take it to the designated sleeping place – whether it’s a dog crate in the kitchen, outside kennel or the end of your bed – and leave the pup to sleep. It may complain a little but hopefully it’ll be tired enough to sleep.
As soon as the pup wakes up its reward will be to come out and be with you so keep an eye on it and be ready to take it out to the designated toilet area as soon as it’s awake. Refuse to play until the pup has finished and then praise it. Remember, the puppy only wants to do what will make it a part of the pack so make it easy for the youngster to understand. Top
Dog crates, travel boxes and cages:
We thoroughly recommend the use of cages, well ventilated crates and travel boxes for puppies and young dogs. Used sensibly, the are not cruel at all, in fact, puppies and dogs love “dens” and if they encounter an open box or crate, they’re likely to curl up in it and go to sleep. Crates are a very useful place for a young puppy to get away from children (and adults) when they are tired – and it’s a good rule for every member of the family to leave the puppy alone when it’s in the crate. Top
Take care when using crates
Of course, dogs and puppies should not be left in crates for too long and the crate must be large enough for the dog to be able to sleep comfortably and move around. Top
The ‘recall’ or – getting your dog to come back when you want him:
This is something we get asked about an awful lot – it’s all part of everyday puppy training. Make a point of calling the puppy to you, rewarding it (with play or praise) and then releasing it again.
Until it knows its name, or whichever “Come here” command you decide to use, a puppy will be happier to come to you if you crouch down to its level and extend your hands – palm uppermost – while you call it. To a dog, humans appear VERY large and foreboding, so crouching down and making ourselves appear smaller, can help the dog’s confidence.
Fuss, a happy voice, dinner, a toy or the occasional treat will make it worth the pup’s while to come back.
If it’s fun to come back to you it will become a habit, wherever you are. Top
NEVER punish a dog that has returned to you – however long it takes.
If it’s taken a very long time you may not want to fuss the dog or give a treat, but punishing it – even by sounding “grumpy” will only make the pup more reluctant to return next time.
In the early days at home, if you see the puppy coming to you make use of it. Call it and be pleased when it reaches you. Always make use of any opportunity to reward an action you will want the pup to repeat.
On the subject of treats, manufactured treats often contain salt and sugar, and can be quite expensive. Pig’s liver, boiled then cut into small pieces and dried in a medium-hot (190º C) oven makes a good treat. Dogs love it, it’s healthy and cheap and quite smelly (to a dog) so it’ll know when you’ve got it with you and try extra hard. It will also keep fresh for a while in a sealed jar in the ‘fridge. The drier it is the better, and the longer it keeps. Top
House training or toilet training your puppy:
The puppy should have have learned very basic toilet training. It already knows to move out of the “nest” when it needs to, and to move away from its food. Use this to your advantage. Puppies are quite predictable in their toilet routine – they will need to pee when they wake up after a nap, if they’ve been busy playing for a while, immediately after they’ve eaten and at regular intervals just ‘anyway’.
If you don’t give your puppy the opportunity to make a mistake, toilet or house training will be quick and easy. That said, most Border Collies that we’ve house trained have had a day or two when everything they’d learned just disappeared. Just when you think they’re 100% reliable they’re peeing everywhere. My opinion is that this is a ‘testing time’. They seem to need to know that they’ve understood you. My advice is to deal with any accidents that you actually see in progress by growling and whisking the puppy away to an approved toilet area. Put it down and speak kindly, perhaps using any words you want the dog to associate with going to the loo to order (it’s very useful!). Then go and clean up and forget about it, but resolve to take the puppy out earlier next time.
Watch your puppy carefully when it’s in the house. If it starts wandering around with its nose to the carpet as though it’s looking for something, it’s more than likely looking for somewhere to pee (or worse)! Quickly but calmly, take the pup to the toilet area to do its “business” and don’t just leave it there. Once outside, for instance, the first thing that will spring to the pup’s mind is to come back to you – or where the fun was. If you simply leave the pup outside, it will probably spend the time fretting about how to rejoin you in the house. Going to the toilet will be forgotten – until you let the pup back in, and then the pup will do its “business” on the carpet or in the kitchen!
Once you’ve taken the pup to an approved toilet area, stay there with it until it goes to the toilet. We find it helps if you encourage the pup to walk on the grass. Once the business is done, don’t forget to tell the pup what a good boy or girl it is for going in the right place! (This is Very Important)!
If the pup has an accident in the house and you didn’t see it happen, you’ve missed the opportunity to house train the pup (by growling) but you can still whisk it outside to show it that’s where it should go. In this instance, there’s probably not much point in waiting around as the pup has already relieved itself, so your time will be better spent cleaning the mess up.
A hot solution of biological washing powder is very good for cleaning puppy pee – and worse – out of carpets, but you may want to check for colourfastness. Clean up solids, and soak up as much urine as possible (pieces of disposable nappy are ideal for this, and newborn baby size is usually quite enough). Then soak the area with the biological powder solution, leave it to soak for 10 minutes or so, then mop it up, rinse and dry the area. We’ve found this method removes the discernible smell (well enough for humans, anyway!) and the paper or disposable nappy can be left in the puppy’s toilet area for a while to show him where to head for. Top
Preparation for Sheep or Cattle Dog Training
We frequently get asked about preparing a young dog for training on sheep or cattle and yes, there are some things which will help you once the dog’s training begins, but basically, just BONDING with the dog, and teaching it good manners are the main ones.
Bonding with the dog doesn’t mean the dog really likes you to play with it, or make a fuss of it. Bonding means the dog has accepted you as its “pack leader”. This is very important. If the dog has a really good recall, in other words, if it’s having great fun doing something some distance away, when you call it, does the dog IMMEDIATELY turn and come racing back to you, or does it carry on playing, or doing whatever it was doing?
You really need your dog to come running when you call it. EVERY TIME. If it doesn’t, don’t try to force the issue, just work on it quietly. Make yourself more interesting to the dog when it comes to you! Praise it, and make a fuss of it when it pleases you.
Lead training is great for building the bond between you and your dog. Obviously, you need to start very gently with a young puppy, but with lots of patience and praise (at the right times) your dog will quickly begin to walk properly on a lead.
By properly, I mean with the lead SLACK most of the time. If the dog is pulling on its lead, it is clearly trying to train YOU to do what IT wants – so it clearly hasn’t accepted you as its leader yet!
I mentioned teaching the dog good manners just now. By good manners, I mean (for example) when you open a door, the dog should wait for you to call it through, rather than race through first. If the dog is aware that you’re going towards a narrow gap, it should slow a little and allow you to go through first. When you open the car door, the dog should wait to be called in, rather than just jumping in uninvited. That sort of thing.
Teaching the dog to sit or stand somewhere, and STAY THERE can be a very big help when you begin training it to work livestock, so it’s definitely worth spending time getting the dog to stay where it is when you tell it to. If you can get the dog to do it at a distance, that’s even better – but don’t try to progress too quickly. The most common sheepdog training mistake is expecting the dog to make progress too quickly. Start with the dog close to you, and once it can do that, GRADUALLY increase the distance at which you stop it, and tell it to “stay there”.
There’s plenty of help with training young dogs in our Online Sheepdog Training Tutorials.
Remember that your puppy is learning from you the moment it sets eyes on you. So EVERYTHING the puppy sees you do, and everything you encourage the pup to do, will be accepted as normal – even when the dog is much older and bigger.
Don’t make the mistake that so many do, of getting up in the night to take the puppy to the toilet. Dogs are generally very clean animals, and one thing they rarely like to do is mess in their own bed, so provided your pup goes outside last thing at night, and you stay with it to make sure it relieves itself, the chances are, the pup will be clean through the night. In the morning, DON’T have a lie-in, get up early, take the puppy straight outside – and make sure it goes to the toilet before it comes back in. If you do this properly, your puppy will be house trained in just a very few days.
If you make the mistake of getting up in the night, the puppy will expect it, and once you stop doing it, the pup will begin to demand it. Some people even put temporary beds next to the pup’s bed so they can get up whenever the pup begins to whine.
There is so much to be written and learned about living with dogs, this article does no more than scratch the surface of your early days. We recommend a book called “Think Dog!” by John Fisher, to get you off to a good start. There are others, of course, and dog-training classes are excellent for socialising and educating your dog. An Excellent DVD is “The Dog Listener” by Jan Fennell
Do try to look at life, and yourselves, from your puppy’s point of view. Top
You may also like to read our Puppy FAQ.