Your new puppy – 9 steps to get it right from the start

This cute dog needed some guidance

“I wonder if I’ve done the wrong thing … Perhaps I’m not capable of looking after a dog.”

I don’t know exactly what had caused such a devastating loss of confidence in what 30was clearly a capable individual. But Gwen voiced a sentiment I come across from time to time.

Her family had left home at the same time that she retired from a responsible and caring job. She needed something to nurture. She chose a suitable breed of dog for a pet in a quiet household, and named her Tilly.

She’d done her homework. She’d done everything right. But now she had this little individual to care for she was afraid she wouldn’t measure up.

Her worries were all centered on injuring the puppy in some way. She feared letting her off lead in case she got run over. She feared grooming her in case she hurt her. Keen to use only force-free methods of interacting with her dog, she was in danger of becoming an over-indulgent parent.

You can use positive methods of training without relinquishing control.

Acknowledging and rewarding the good does not mean you turn yourself into a doormat!

Teach the owner first!

So my task was not to change any bad things the puppy was doing, but to show Gwen how she could get Tilly to do what she wanted without using force or nagging. Puppies are happy to take direction. They have no wish to rule the world, to take over the household, to hold their owner to ransom - or any of the other things you may hear will happen if you are not heavy-handed. Dogs in general are not stubborn, obstinate, or disobedient, and they don’t “know they’ve done wrong”. Whenever a new puppy-owner tells me “He knows the meaning of NO,” I flinch inwardly, and reply that my dogs don’t! Because I don’t use NO with them.

NO gives your dog no information about what you want him to do - only that you’re cross with him. He will have no idea what has caused your anger, and no way of knowing how to appease you. So having just been told off for jumping up, he may assume he didn’t jump high enough for your liking and try harder!

Gwen’s fears were unfounded and all she needed was some support and to be shown how to do the things that she was anxious and nervous about.

Here’s what Gwen learnt about how to get the best from her new puppy

Kicking through autumn leaves with your dog1. She learnt a new mantra: Reward what you like, Ignore what you don’t like, Manage what you can’t ignore. And found that life instantly became much easier! No longer was she telling Tilly off endlessly for minor transgressions.

2. She learnt, for instance, that a baby gate silently prevented cat-chasing without any need for Gwen to say a word.

3. She got a firm understanding of what house training her puppy entailed, and that any puddles were not the puppy’s fault, but her own - for not paying attention. And there’s a free Housebreaking Cheat sheet for you here which shows you just what Gwen learnt, so you can get your puppy clean and dry in a couple of weeks!

4. She excised NO, Ah-ah, and other such words from her vocabulary.

5. She learnt that blaming this little scrap, who’d only been on the planet a matter of weeks, was pointless - and unfair.

6. She flourished in our calm Puppy Class environment, and enjoyed seeing that the other puppies were very much like hers!

7. We went on walks together to demonstrate that she was perfectly able to let her puppy off-leash safely and call her  back again.

8. She enrolled on a short grooming course at our local Community College to learn how to trim her puppy’s hair and claws without any danger of hurting her.

9. We tidied up one or two things at her home - like when and how to use the crate, and best practices for feeding - to ensure that the puppy didn’t start to take advantage of her fears! Once Gwen knew what was reasonable to ask of Tilly, she was much clearer with her boundaries.

Forming a relationship with a puppy is much like falling in love. 

In the initial euphoria you are afraid that you may do something wrong and it will all come crashing down around you. But as you get to know and trust each other these fears evaporate.

Just as babies and children need structure and boundaries, so do puppies.

It’s absolutely understandable that Gwen had anxieties around this new person she’d
introduced into her life - just as new parents make mistakes, so did she. She had no qualms about consulting a car mechanic when her car wasn’t running properly - rather than asking her aunt or the greengrocer which tyre to kick! So she had the good sense to invite a professional dog trainer to give her the advice she needed to get quick results with her new charge - and not listen to the endless old wives’ tales circulating amongst friends, neighbors, and online.

A year or two have now passed, and Gwen and Tilly have formed a bond that cannot be broken. They delight in each other’s company. They fit each other like a pair of comfy slippers. Here’s what she wrote a little while ago:

"Thank you very much for all the help and support you have given Tilly and myself (mainly myself!). As a first-time dog owner I feel that I have come from having no idea to having some idea of what I need to do to care for her.

I was worried that, as she is such a cute dog, I would let her get away with whatever she wanted. I know now how to set boundaries, and have the confidence to - but to do it kindly.

With your help Tilly has developed into a confident, funny, friendly, well-behaved (usually) and loving little dog. Obviously she is still a "work in progress" as far as recall is concerned and we will find other things to work on in the coming months but I have the confidence to tackle matters as they arise."Happy Border Terrier recall

I was delighted to receive her letter and see her confidence shining out on the page. And Gwen knows now that when she chose her little dog as her companion she made the very best decision.

To get a look at some of the strategies I taught Gwen, go to and get an 8-email course which goes into all the things you need to be aware of with your new puppy or dog.


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Positively Expert: Beverley Courtney

Beverley Courtney, author of the Brilliant Family Dog book series "Essential Skills for a Brilliant Family Dog" and "Essential Skills for your Growly but Brilliant Family Dog" works with new puppies and rescue dogs, always looking to intensify the bond between dog and owner. She has particular empathy with “growly” dogs.


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