Alright, a few of my favorite things when you have the good fortune of owning a young puppy follow. Many of these could fall under the category of "If I'd Known Then What I Know Now" or "I Wish Someone Had Told Me."
1) CLICKER!! Go ape-shit clicker training. Start by loading it, and using it if you can for catching as well as shaping behaviors.. When you start puppies on clicker, they really get into the game - "what does it take to make you click?" - and you're essentially teaching not just cued or desired behaviors, but HOW to learn & be engaged with you in the training process.
2) REMEMBER: Anything - and I do mean anything - that is practiced gets easier to do, whether you intended it to or not, and whether the behavior being practiced is positive or negative. (Read: sh***ing on the carpet gets easier to do the more puppy is "allowed" to do it.) Don't allow freedom out of your sight until you are positive nothing is going to get chewed up, swallowed, or peed on. In-adherence to this one can mean a death sentence if something toxic or dangerous is ingested - obviously. Utilize tethers - to yourself (belt loop) or door handles, couch legs, etc. to include pup in social time without having to crate, and limit the potential for making bad decisions, and you having to get up and bring the puppy back into the room when it toddles out. Supervise, supervise, supervise.
3) Socialize. Bring the dang thing everywhere you can - while still providing ample down time and sleep! Going to get gas? Bring pup along. Dunkin' Donuts? Bring pup. Car wash? Picking the kids up? Looking at Christmas lights? Bring pup. Lowe's, Bass Pro Shops, Tractor Supply Co., pet stores and many other places allow dogs... Do your research first, be courteous, bring a poop bag and for Dog's sake don't use a Flexi leash, and BRING PUP. Utilize a seat-belt harness as needed.
4) Make sure to socialize your pup outside of its own pack! Don't buy the old vet theory: don't let the dog out anywhere until it's fully vaccinated (at around 4-5 months old). Be smart, but don't miss that valuable socialization window. It is increasingly difficult to make up for that lost time. Optimum socialization period is generally regarded as taking place between seven & sixteen weeks.
5) Don't allow now what won't be cute in six months.
6) Let the older (balanced!) dogs correct the puppy. Don't correct the elders for doing their jobs (see a professional for this one if you are unsure of what you are looking at).
7) Puppies can begin training RIGHT away. Begin with loading the clicker/verbal marker, play the Name Game, and begin creating the dog you want. You want an attentive training partner? Reinforce attention. You want a ball fiend? Build drive for that ball! You want a future breed ambassador? Let other people treat your happy pup. (See this blog on free-shaping: http://www.hexdogs.com/dog-blog/free-shaping-dog-tricks.)
8) Get puppy used to all the stuff that's not necessarily so much fun at first - nail trimming (play with the feet & nails), baths (start slow & easy), handling of all body parts - pup needs to get used to this stuff because the day will come that there is a need to physically manipulate your dog - injuries, vet exams, Holiday photos. Introduce these things right away.
9) Use your affection intelligently. Yes, puppies are cute - doesn't matter what breed. We can all agree on that, BUT resist the urge to a) shower your pup with affection 24/7 for no reason, b) smother your puppy with it. Let him seek it out, but on the other hand, don't always give in either. Shower wanted affection when puppy is in the right state of mind and/or performing a behavior you like, and not DEMANDING the affection.
11) Schedule feedings.
12) Crate train. (See this great article on crates: http://www.hexdogs.com/dog-blog/give-me-my-damn-crate-back.)
13) Provide plenty of physical & mental exercise! Mental exercise opportunities aplenty, and go for short walks, play in the yard, take a class, etc. "A tired dog is a happy dog." Safety first; check with your vet as needed.
14) Take tons of pictures.
15) Research vaccines & the timing of spay/neuter. There is a lot of information out there regarding these topics and the traditional practices may not be in the best interest of your dog. (Vaccinate against DHLPP? Spay at 6 months?) Look into it yourself - you are responsible for that information - and draw your own conclusions. Challenge following information blind.
16) Give your pup plenty of time with you one-on-one (if you have other pack members, human OR canine!), and let him (or her!) be himself under your watchful eye. Play games, and fight the urge to be over-bearing! Create the stable, thoughtful, balanced BFF you wished for when you committed to a puppy. Be proactive in this pursuit!
17) If you have multiple dogs, make sure you aren't dissing the existing pack... Spend one-on-one time with EVERYONE. Change up who goes for "arideinthecarboy!" Having trouble integrating a pack? See this account of my personal experience: http://www.hexdogs.com/dog-blog/ask-me-about-my-pack-it-wasnt-always-easy
Some of these things certainly matter more than others, and there simply isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to puppy-raising, so think of this list as a jumping off point to initiate some research in the interest of becoming a more educated puppy raiser... and future dog owner.
See also Leadership Without Confrontation.
Thanks for reading! Visit the rest of the site at www.hexdogs.com and email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions, comments or suggestions. Happy training!
P.S. We are welcoming guest blogs at this time, so feel free to reach out with submissions, as well.