When to Give Freedom to a Puppy
When to give freedom to a puppy is a very common question that I’m asked by puppy owners and often one that they’re itching to get an answer to. A lot of owners want to know when the micromanaging stops, when the slogging through puppy behaviors end, and when they can go back to a similar pattern they had Pre-puppy.
There are a couple of problems with this question. The first being that most owners are not setting themselves up for success by following the same patterns that trainers do, which has plenty of unwanted consequences and makes the whole process much more difficult.
Once things become more difficult it’s hard to not let feelings of annoyance, exasperation, and fatigue creep into the general experience of having a puppy. Yes, we trainers feel those things too, but we minimize them due to how we structure our puppy’s lives and how we set things up for our puppies.
I often find that the owners asking when to give freedom to a puppy are sometimes getting close to the end of their patience. Puppy blues hit hard when the problems you’re dealing with are overwhelming, confusing, or never ending.
There is a simple way to make everything easier for yourself and your family, as well as foster the best behaviors from your puppy, both of which get you closer to answering the question of when to give freedom to a puppy.
Let's Talk About Froot
Froot Loop is my rottie puppy who just turned 1 (Dec 2021). He is a youngster and still has many puppy qualities. His brain is not fully developed and he is still changing and maturing, which will continue for the next 2 years.
In his first weeks and months of living with me as a little potato of a pup I had several priorities, the first being that he learn to use a crate and pen. This is a tool that I find many owners not only don’t know how to introduce to their dog, but also there is resistance to learning the proper way to do so.
I want to make it clear that done properly there isn’t a lot of stress involved in the crate training process at all. If you have a puppy who is very noisy or otherwise having a hell of a time using a crate as a place to relax in, that is a big neon flashing sign that crate training is not being done correctly. It shouldn’t be a traumatic experience for anyone involved, humans included!
This is a key difference in how most trainers raise their puppies vs how the average owner raises them.
The reason this was such a high priority for me is because like most normal people, I have other responsibilities that have to be taken care of that don’t involve a keeping hawk like focus on a young pup. Additionally there is a very real safety aspect to this as well. Bringing a puppy into a home that isn’t puppy proofed and giving them too much freedom is a recipe for disaster potentially both medically and behaviorally.
So I focused a lot of energy in two specific places. Making the crate a fun place to go in and a relaxing place to hang out, as well as practicing the idea of being alone. A second pitfall that I see owners make is in this alone stage of training. Puppies are not taught how to be alone and how to cope with that activity and that things are ok. So then we get puppies and dogs who massively struggle with being alone.
When you couple that with dogs who are uncrated that very often creates destruction borne from stress. R.I.P. belongings.
Why Use a Crate?
The use of pens and crates with Froot also allowed me to very clearly teach him what is ok to chew, how to act around other dogs who are loose, and of course had the added benefit of fast tracking potty training. Many habits can be built when you have a puppy safe area that will carry over into how your dog behaves when loose.
When to give a puppy freedom varies, but it is something that you can develop easily just by using a crate/pen or other restriction. At a year old I can safely have Froot out and about and not have to worry about my belongings. He can sleep loose in the home and I won’t wake up to something being destroyed or to him vomiting up a piece of something he accidentally ate. This is due in part to the use of crates and pens.
At the same time I know that his training in this area gives me a tool to use when I do need him to be separate or away. Or when I have to leave home and go on extended errands and whatnot, I know that he is ok and sleeping in his crate, totally fine about the whole situation, not screaming, not injuring himself trying to escape, but able to chill.
I wouldn’t be able to have this without using restriction. At the same time I have prevented a plethora of bad habits from ever developing, like stealing tissues, chewing up the couch, barking out the window or at the other dogs in the home. On and on the list could go of things that I’ve prevented. And that has allowed me to focus on his actual behaviors, rather than have to fix problem behaviors with him.
When to give a puppy freedom depends on you and how the puppy is raised. Giving them freedom too soon is never a good thing and will extend the amount of training you’ll need to teach a dog how to behave. We want to be preventing problem behaviors not building them!
Skills a Puppy Needs Before Getting More Freedom
Giving freedom to a puppy isn’t a waiting game or something you want to use hope with. Without concrete skills there’s going to be friction, and that’s never a good thing.
Skills that I recommend a puppy have before getting more freedom in the home include:
- A strong recall away from most any situation around the home or yard
- Instant ability to get the pup’s attention
- Solid understanding that being alone is safe and ok
- Chews are for chewing, everything else isn’t
- Potty training rock solid
- Able to settle and do nothing for at least 45-60 minutes
- Sleeping through the night
- Crates on cue with zero issues