It was once said that 3 repetitions of any learning & most dogs have got it! The foundations of a behaviour is there, set down for further progress & learning. It this is true, the potential to learn great things is wide open for most pet dogs & their owners. However, think also about the potential to learn bad things, naughty stuff which will make our lives as owners more difficult to deal with as puppy gets older.
Habits are being formed from the moment that puppy comes into his new home, whether we intervene or not. However, it’s our job, as owners, to try to insure that only good habits are growing. This means, to start with at least, hard work & vigilance. It’s crucial to supervise puppy at times he’s likely to make up his own rules or forms of entertainment. Secondly, it means plenty of classical conditioning. This is the inherent link between certain environmental signals, & the promise that good things are about to happen. Finally, it takes management. The use of a crate, puppy pen & leash, to avoid puppy learning habits which could be really difficult to unlearn at a later stage.
Jellybean’s access to the garden is a great example of where bad habits have the potential to be formed. For at least the first 10 months, his garden access is strictly monitored & supervised to avoid all kinds of shenanigans which may become a problem at a later stage. Barking at the neighbour’s noisy dog is very tempting. Chasing my cats is something all my puppies eventually try to engage in (see how to stop this with Time Out! here). What about digging in the flowerbeds or escaping (the garden is pretty dog proof but Jellybean is a terrier after all)?
Throughout my day to day interaction with my new puppy, I’m always ready to step in, to teach good habits at times when I’ve seen the seeds of any annoying behaviour growing. The puppy pen & crate are used at ALL times I’m not directly supervising the Jellybaby so that chewing habits are only formed with things I’m happy for him to chew, stuffed Kongs, Nylabones, Stag Bars etc. Finally, I offer plenty of environmental enrichment, projects to keep him busy so that he’s got very little energy left to find his own entertainment around the house or garden.
It’s far easier to learn, than unlearn. It’s hard work but these early habits are being formed by your puppy whether you, the owner like it or not. Be involved, guide, teach, encourage, manage & reward. Be the director of the habits your puppy is learning, not a witness to them.