How to train the new puppy you brought home during the pandemic

Did you get a pet during the coronavirus pandemic? We’ve got tips for what to do now.
Puppy Scout is the newest member of the Hawk family in St. Petersburg.
Puppy Scout is the newest member of the Hawk family in St. Petersburg. [ Courtesy of Gavin Hawk ]
Published May 4, 2020|Updated May 5, 2020

Gavin and Peyton Hawk took turns getting up every time the new baby whined during the night.

Scout, a 2-month-old golden doodle, was expected to join the Hawk family this summer. But when family members were forced to stay home because of the coronavirus pandemic, they decided to pick him up earlier, in late April.

“The first night was tough,” said Gavin Hawk, a theater professor at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg. “We were up every hour.”

After a few days, though, Scout was settling into his new home with his new parents, sister Lorelai and brother Julian. He also has a canine companion, the family’s 5-year-old beagle, Coco.

“He’s very cute and he looks like a raccoon,” said Julian, 10, of the new puppy. “He’s very playful and he bounces when he walks.”

Hawk said he did some research before getting Scout from a breeder. He wanted a dog that didn’t shed as much as Coco, and one that would be good with children.

He is crate training the puppy for times when the family is not always home. And he plans to take the dog to obedience training as soon as some of the local programs reopen. Oh, and he just bought a pen to give the puppy a safe space to play in the house.

Dog trainers say the Hawk family is one of many picking up new puppies while sheltering at home.

“If you’re home, it’s a really good time to transition a dog into your family, particularly a young dog,” said Loni Coleman, training director for the Dog Training Club of St. Petersburg.

Since the safe-at-home directives were issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Southeastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto has seen an increase in applications for volunteer puppy raisers and sitters willing to take puppies from the kennels until permanent raisers are found. Raisers volunteer to care for puppies for about a year, until they are old enough for formal training. They are responsible for housebreaking, teaching house manners and working on basic obedience training to give trainers a good foundation on which to build.

For new pet owners, that initial training period can be a lot of work. Christie Bane, a Southeastern trainer and regional manager who works with puppy raisers, said training should begin immediately when you bring home a dog. Southeastern Guide Dogs has posted a number of training videos on YouTube.

“It’s never too early to start teaching good manners,” said Bane, who is raising a guide dog puppy along with three other dogs in her household, a Labrador retriever who was career-changed from the program, a German shepherd and a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

She and Coleman, who has two poodles, recommend positive reinforcement training. That means rewarding puppies with food or toys when they do what you want.

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“You can easily teach them to sit before they eat, sit before they walk out the door and to stay off the furniture,” said Bane.

Both are also big proponents of crate training.

“Everybody should crate train their puppies because it gives you a safe place to put the puppy when you can’t watch it,” said Bane. “Nobody can watch their puppy 24/7.”

Coleman agreed. She said the safety of the crate will be especially important when pet owners return to their offices and children go back to school.

“You can’t just pat them on the head one fine day and say, ‘We’ll be back in 10 hours.’ You are liable to find out that they have decided to unstuff your sofa,” she said.

New puppy owners also should know they can’t leave dogs alone all day — in or out of a crate — when they return to work and school. In general, trainers say puppies should not be crated during the day any longer than one hour for each month of the puppy’s age.

Training puppies to stay in their crates for short sessions is also recommended.

“Just a couple minutes, a few times a day” is all they need, said Coleman.

Guide dog raisers teach puppies to be comfortable in their crates by offering treats and also by crating the puppies while family members are at home, to prevent separation anxiety in the future.

Coleman said she is concerned the new “pandemic puppies” will have trouble self-soothing when owners return to their old schedules.

“These dogs are getting a lot of attention now and I worry about future separation anxiety,” she said. "They need to learn how to self-calm and that’s where the crate comes in.”

Training classes for puppies beginning at 12 weeks old will be offered at the nonprofit, all-volunteer Dog Training Club as soon as it’s safe to reopen, possibly next week on a limited basis. For information, to go

Southeastern Guide Dogs is accepting applications for puppy raisers and offers career-changed dogs for public adoption for a donation at

Here are some tips from the trainers about what to do and what not to do when you get a new puppy.

What to do

1. Remember that puppies aren’t born knowing what people consider good or bad behavior. You have to teach them.

2. Supervise, supervise, supervise. House training and good house behavior can only be accomplished if the puppy is always supervised early on.

3. Get a crate and teach your puppy to accept and enjoy it. Every puppy needs a secure space for when you can’t supervise them.

4. Take your puppy for short car rides frequently, and increase the length of those car rides as the puppy gets older.

5. Learn how to use positive reinforcement training instead of punishment to teach your puppy the things you would like it to learn. Google “positive reinforcement training for puppies” for lots of good information.

6. The younger the puppy, the smaller its bladder. Most puppies in the range of 8 or 9 weeks old can’t hold it all night long.

7. Find a skilled, experienced trainer to give you advice.

8. Make sure your dog sees different people and dogs, even if they can’t interact with them during the shutdown. You can expose your puppy to a lot of new experiences just on a typical neighborhood walk.

9. Keep your dog on a regular feeding and watering schedule; this will make housebreaking much easier.

10. Different puppies learn at different rates; try not to compare your new puppy to previous dogs. They’re all individuals.

— Christie Bane, regional manager of Southeastern Guide Dogs

What not to do

1. Do not give your puppy too many treats — especially “people” food. Use the puppy’s regular food as a treat, using a half portion as reward and the rest at meal time.

2. Do not change the rules. Dogs need consistency. Make sure everyone in the household is on the same page.

3. Do not allow behaviors in your puppy you don’t want in an adult. A little puppy jumping on you might be cute, but when the puppy is an 80-pound adult dog, it won’t be cute.

4. Do not let your puppy have free run of the house. They will find trouble.

5. Do not let them play too rough.

6. Do not let the puppy (or any dog) and children play unsupervised.

7. Do not punish the puppy. They are babies. Show them what you want. If they have a shoe in their mouth, for example, remove the shoe and redirect their attention to a suitable chew toy. Praise and reward them when they make the right decisions.

8. Do not force your puppy into uncomfortable situations. New things can be frightening. Give them time to adjust. Encourage and praise them for each successful step.

9. Do not entertain the puppy all the time. Puppies need to learn how to settle and be comfortable on their own.

10. Do not leave your puppy untrained. Training is the best thing you can do for your new family member.

Loni Coleman, training director for the Dog Training Club of St. Petersburg

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