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Ten Things You Should Know About Your Puppy

By: Dr. Nicholas Dodman

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  • Communication and proper training are key to successful puppy raising. Owners should understand that some kind of training is essential for their pup and the earlier this is started the better. While taking a puppy to puppy-training class at 4 months of age is better than no training at all, the general rule is that the earlier training is started the better - even if it simply involves pairing certain words with certain actions to build the pups vocabulary. It has been shown recently that pups can learn up to 200 words and some can learn many more than that, possibly as many as 500-1000 words. There's no reason to stop teaching your dog once it has mastered Sit and Down. Proper communication between owner and pup, later young dog, is a sure way to minimize stress and ensure proper behavior. Training should not be about forcing the pup to obey under threat of punishment but rather should entail encouraging the dog to obey because of the positive consequences of its actions. Positive training using a clicker, for example [see clicker training elsewhere on this website] and early acclimation to a head halter control system are really all that is required, if used properly. Choke collars, prong collars, and electric shock collars should not be used to train puppies or adult dogs. Other techniques that are inappropriate (and perhaps even harmful) when training a puppy are jowl grabbing, chin chapping, and alpha-rolling (flipping the puppy on its back and pinning it until it stops struggling).

  • Desensitization to being touched is important. There are lots of things that people need to do with dogs once they grow up and it is as well to get puppies used to any many of these interventions as soon as possible. Handle the pup's muzzle, pry open its mouth, play with its ears, gently grab folds of skin on its back, chest, abdomen and legs, handle its feet, and get it used to having its tail and nether regions touched and manipulated (your vet will thank you one day). Practice these things every day.

  • Crates are forever. Many owners think that crates are just used as a tool to assist in housebreaking a pup. Once proper house training has been accomplished, they then pass the crate on to a friend or neighbor or store it indefinitely in the cellar. This should not be so. Dogs are den dwellers and appreciate having a crate around for life. There is no need to shut the door on the crate – simply provide it as a retreat for the pup from the madding crowd of life. A crate should be available at all times for the dog to 'get away from it all' or to use if it simply wants to rest. Preferably the crate should be solid-sided to make it den-like and preferably it should have a comfortable pad and bumpers making it a comfortable place for the dog to be. Food treats can be hidden in the crate for enticement and chew toys should be available inside. If you make your pup comfortable in its crate, make the crate a safe asylum from a busy world, it will appreciate it and would thank you if it could. If a dog is comfortable inside its crate, its not unacceptable to shut the door from time to time, if necessary, but not if this induces attempts to escape and not for too long (1-2 hours should be the maximum time and even so, only if the dog has food or toys to occupy it while sequestered).

  • Health matters. Every owner should make it his or her business to learn something about their pet's health. They should be cognizant of their dog's disposition. They should watch out for changes in appetite and body weight and should be wary of other indicators of illness, such as coughing, breathlessness, exercise intolerance, alimentary disturbances and various discharges. If there is any doubt as to the state of a dog's health it should be taken to a veterinarian immediately for a physical examination, diagnosis of the problem, and treatment, if necessary. Vaccination and de-worming are necessary for young pups. They should be undertaken at a veterinarian's direction at the appropriate times, usually between 10 – 14 weeks of age. The vet should also be asked about neutering. Dogs that are not intended for breeding should be neutered for health reasons, for behavioral reasons, and for birth control.


    Reference to the 10 items discussed above will help to keep puppy owners on the right track and help them avoid making mistakes that may have far-reaching effects throughout the pup's life. With these provisions in mind, a pup can grow up to be the best that he can be, happy and healthy, trusting and loyal, obedient yet confident, a model of the way a dog should be. Aside from all-important health considerations, appropriate socialization and protection of the pup from being exposed to abusive and disturbing circumstances are keys to success.

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