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Ten Things You Should Know About Your Puppy

By: Dr. Nicholas Dodman

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It's always a happy moment for parents and children when they first acquire a new puppy. Most people receive a few elementary instructions on how to proceed from the breeder and all except the most foolhardy will have made preparations at home for the youngster's arrival at their home.

Food bowls and dog beds, collars and leads, toys, and an ample supply of puppy rations, should await the pup on homecoming. With luck, the breeder will also point out the necessity of vaccination and deworming, recommending a timely veterinary visit so that health matters are in hand.

What else then do new puppy owners need to know during the early weeks and months of ownership if they are to give their pup the best chance of becoming a well-balanced, well-behaved, and loving family dog? Below is a list of 10 important things that new puppy owners should know or realize if they are to stand the best chance of success:

  • Appropriate psychological support is required. It is extremely important that young puppies, of say 8 to 12 weeks of age, do not suffer any psychological trauma. They should be nurtured at this stage and allowed to develop confidence, which will remain with them as a positive aspect of their personalities for the remainder of their lives. In this respect, there should be no physical punishment, no yelling, no hitting, and no intimidating of the pup for apparent misdeeds. Negative punishment, i.e. withdrawal of a valued resource [such as your attention] can be employed later as a corrective measure to address any emerging problem behaviors. It is particularly important to 'be there' for puppies at times of need and not to leave them alone for long hours. This is especially important at night when the new pup cries for attention. While some folk say, "Leave the pup alone or you'll make a rod for your own back," or "Just let them cry themselves to sleep," this is totally the wrong approach. Rather, the pup should be allowed to sleep in the owner's bedroom and should be attended to and spoken to gently if it shows signs of distress. It is not necessary to allow the pup to come into the owner's bed, simply for it to know that someone is there for it and is attentive.

  • Socialization is imperative. While a lot of people pay lip service to the word "socialization" as it relates to puppy training, very few people realize that this should be a carefully thought out, active and ongoing process if it is to achieve the requisite goals. The concept of "puppy parties" is a useful one which entails the introduction of young pups to an assortment of benign individuals of different ages and genders, wearing different types of apparel, whilst arranging for the circumstances to be pleasurable for the pup. This ensures that the pup comes to regard all people, familiar and unfamiliar, as potential friends and benefactors and staves off future fearfulness and even fear aggression. Socialization is an extremely important measure and one to understand and practice. Desensitization to various things that the pup is likely to encounter in its present and future environment is also important. Vacuum cleaners, ironing boards, various sounds, sights, and even smells can be introduced in a graded way for the puppy's controlled acceptance.

  • Expectations for house training. There is a formula for the amount of time for which a puppy can go without having an accident on the floor. The formula is N + 1 hour, where N is the age of the puppy in months. So a two-month old puppy might be able to hold its urine for 3 hours and a three-month old puppy might make it as long as 4 hours. The point is that if you leave the puppy alone for greater than the time that it can contain itself, an accident is inevitable. Obviously, punishing a puppy for having an accident under these circumstances is totally inappropriate and will lead to great confusion on the puppy's part. Instead, owners should realize that housebreaking is a time consuming business that requires their close supervision and attention. They must chaperone the puppy out into the yard and reward it for eliminating in the right place while they prevent accidents indoors by giving the pup proper attention and somewhat restricting its access to all areas of the house.

  • How and what to feed the puppy. Hopefully most people now realize that puppies require somewhat specialized rations because they are growing. The safest thing to do is for the puppy owner to buy AAFCO-approved puppy food, either dry or wet or a mixture of the two and meal feed the pup an appropriate number of times a day. Initially, this may be 4 times a day, at three months it could be down to 3 times a day and later it can be reduced to twice a day. It is probably a bad idea to feed pups table scraps partly because human food will unbalance an otherwise properly balanced ration but also because it will encourage begging behavior at the table later on which is something that most owners do not want to experience with an adult dog.

  • No two puppies are the same. We've all heard about puppy temperament testing and, while the scientific jury is still out on this equivocal procedure, the fact is that different puppies do have different temperaments. There are different strokes for different pups. Owners need to appreciate this and adjust their interactions accordingly. Some pups, for example, may be very forward and do a lot of yapping, mouthing, and jumping up. These pups need to be gently reigned in to discourage their rowdy behavior. At the other end of the spectrum are the timid shy pups that need to be coaxed out of their shell. In the latter case, it is helpful to play games that the pup is allowed to win to build its confidence and self-esteem. 'Tug of War' is an excellent example of a game that can be used to the benefit of these timid dogs.

  • The territorial dog and the need for owner leadership. Dogs are a territorial species. With no proper guidance, some will take residence in your home and, as they mature, may gradually assume territorial responsibility for the home, deciding who is and who is not welcome at your door. At this stage, they may simply allow you to be there because you feed them. This is an untenable situation so it is important that from early age you display your leadership and control within your home. The way for owners to demonstrate their leadership is simple and, for some pups, essential. It is simply to insist, right from the getgo, that pups earn their food and treats from their owner. Young pups should be instructed, using a single-word command, to "Sit", followed by appropriate positioning, before their food is served. Meal feeding is, of course, essential with this technique. Similarly, pups should be required to ear all treats: First a command, then a response, then the treat. It has been shown that these two simple measures, requiring a pup to sit for food and obey a command in order to receive treats, will prevent the development of dominance toward owners and will also likely help prevent untoward dominance-related territoriality.

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