As with raising kids, puppy parents worry whether they're doing the right things to bring up a good dog. The cliche about parenting is that it doesn't come with a manual, but raising a puppy does come with a how-to guide. That's not to say every detail of dog parenting is definitively mapped out, but there's a well-defined, widely accepted strategy for training dogs. If you meet your puppy's needs, keep her happy and healthy, bond with her and properly train her, you should end up with a good adult dog.
Feed your puppy a balanced diet that provides all the nutrients she needs within the appropriate number of calories. Discuss your puppy's needs with your vet, as they vary by breed, age, health and other individual factors. Remember, those needs change as your puppy grows. A well-fed puppy is happier and healthier, and won't develop behavioral irregularities due to malnutrition.
Provide your puppy with plenty of toys indoors and out, and rotate the ones she has access to once in a while. Toys are an important source of mental and physical stimulation, which promote mental health and help prevent destructive or other bad behavior due to boredom. Chronic under-stimulation beginning in a puppy stage will yield a misbehaving adult.
Socialize your puppy with people and other dogs besides those who live in your house. You can do this in puppy classes or daycare, at the neighborhood dog park, at a friend or family member's home or elsewhere if the opportunity presents itself. Socialization simply refers to introducing your puppy to others, allowing her to get acquainted and then having her playfully interact with them. It's essential to your pet's psychological development; a puppy who isn't socialized will experience excessive stress and anxiety around unfamiliar people and animals, which leads to misbehavior.
Encourage your puppy to get lots of exercise. Pent-up energy will only lead to behavior problems in the present and future. Play active games like tug-of-war and fetch with her. Take her for walks every day.
Show your puppy lots of attention and affection. Talk to her, pet her, spend some time down on the floor with her and let her know she's loved. This is a major component of bonding, which makes your pet more responsive to your commands and more eager to please you and keep you happy.
Train your puppy to follow one-word commands, including "sit," "stand," "stay," "heel," "down," "off" and "come." Once she reliably obeys these commands, you'll have the means to tell her what you want her to do at any given time, helping ensure good behavior in the long term.
Use positive reinforcement to train your puppy. That goes for crate, leash, house and other training, not just for teaching verbal commands. When your puppy does something wrong, correct her gently and patiently, then immediately praise her and give her a treat when she does what you want her to do. Reinforce behaviors with treats every time your puppy gets it right until she is fully trained. Gradually reduce how often you reward with treats, but keep the praise and affection coming. Never completely stop giving treats, though.
Refrain from yelling at, physically attacking or otherwise punishing your puppy when she misbehaves or doesn't do what you want her to do. This will only make her afraid of you, not get her to behave any better. She won't bond with you and may develop emotional problems, which usually translate into behavioral problems.
Get everyone in your household on the same page as to what your puppy is allowed and not allowed to do, exactly what words are being taught as commands and how training will proceed. Inconsistency will confuse your dog and she won't properly learn what's expected of her.
Get your puppy all the vaccinations recommended by your vet and take her in for regular checkups -- early on, once every six months is standard, until your vet recommends dropping down to annually. More veterinary attention may be necessary if your puppy has any health conditions. Many illnesses alter a dog's behavior and can cause problems. Proactively protect your pet's health so you can catch problems early and manage them as aggressively as necessary.
Eric Mohrman has been a freelance writer since 2007, focusing on travel, food and lifestyle stories. His creative writing is also widely published. He lives in Orlando, Florida.