6 Commandments for Puppy Training, Plus the Worst Time of Year to Bring One Home

Training working with puppy
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Q: I'm a college professor, which means I have time off over the holidays. My kids are grown and gone with their own families far away, and my marriage is a thing of the past. I have done my homework, and I know "the experts" say Christmas isn't a good time to raise a puppy. I get the reasons why, but I'm not expecting company and I have time to get things off to a good start.

I have a dear friend who's a veterinarian, and she knows of a litter by a good breeder, a longtime client. The breeder shows and does all the health tests, and it's a breed I had growing up -- a cocker spaniel. I'm going to get my puppy mid-December. Your best advice? -- W.P., via e-mail

A: My problem with Christmas puppies is twofold, and doesn't necessarily apply to you. First, a lot of the puppies sold at Christmas come from puppy mills or small-scale, quick-buck breeders who either don't know or don't care what it takes to develop a healthy, well-socialized family pet. Your breeder doesn't fit into this category, it seems.

My other concern is that the holidays can be just too much stress for getting a puppy started. Too much noise, change, company -- not your situation, so it's all systems go.

My best advice: Forget everything you ever heard about starting training at 6 months. Your puppy starts learning the moment he's born. And by the time you get him, he's as absorbent as a bath towel, taking in the sights and sounds of his world and trying to figure out his place in it.

The position he decides he has may be quite different from the one you want him to have, which is why you need to be involved in the process as he learns to live with his new family.

It's not that complicated, really. Your puppy wants to be part of your family, and he craves loving leadership. Just keep a few things in mind as you enjoy your youngster:

  • Bond with your puppy.
  • Socialize your puppy.
  • Never let your puppy do anything you wouldn't want a grown dog to do.
  • Teach your puppy using positive methods; make training fun. (Sign up for a good puppy class now, even if you don't start until next month.)
  • Realize your puppy will make mistakes, and don't get angry when he does.
  • Remember always that preventing bad habits is easier than fixing them later.

Every minute you spend with your puppy is not only delightful but also an investment in the future. Best wishes and enjoy every moment. As with children, puppies are grown before you know it!

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