Welcome to the Family: How to Raise a Healthy Puppy
There’s nothing quite like bringing a new puppy home.
When first-time puppy owners pick up their 8-week-old pup, they usually glow with pride and affection. At this time, they set their hearts on doing everything possible to make the new pup welcome in their home and try to help him adjust to the considerable change in lifestyle that the pup inevitably faces.
Owners are often inundated with information on how to feed the puppy, take care of his medical needs, and so on, but other questions soon arise and the correct answers aren’t always easily available.
Opinions vary on these subjects, but this article provides some guidance to help the owner make reasonable and, most importantly, humane decisions. Raising a puppy is not easy. Half the new puppies born in this country do not live to see their second birthday largely because of supposedly unsolvable behavior problems. The fact is, many people don’t know how to communicate the right messages to their dogs as they go through highly sensitive periods of development and sow the seeds of disaster early.
Here’s what you need to know about the newest member of your family.
To Spoil or Not to Spoil?
. One is wrong and the other is right. The wrong theory tells people that the less attention they pay to a pup when he cries or acts out, the sooner he will learn independence.
Actually, the reverse is true. The more attention you pay a puppy when he is young the more independent he will become later in life (the same is true for children too). So, if the pup cries in the car on the way home, you should cradle him on your lap (unless you are the one driving), and if he cries at home for the first few nights, give him all the attention he needs. That doesn’t mean you have to pick him up, pet him, or feed him, but you should let him know you’re there and that you care. To make this easier on everyone, it is best to have the pup sleep in the bedroom so that he has company and doesn’t think he’s alone in his new home. Kind behavior of this sort will help forge a healthy bond between new owners and their pet and help build the pups’ confidence. The puppy’s independence will come later, once he has overcome the trauma of separation from his mom and littermates.
The sensitive period of learning occurs between 3 and 12 weeks of age. It is critical for owners to expose a new puppy to as many different kinds of people as possible during this period. If your puppy enjoys these encounters with strangers, he will eventually accept strangers as potential friends. Other animals should be introduced at this early stage too, so that they can be familiarized and recognized as non-threatening. The animals the puppy meets (dogs especially) should be healthy and vaccinated. If you stage-manage these encounters in your home, you can follow the veterinarian’s recommendation to avoid public places until the pup is fully vaccinated while, at the same time, achieving a useful measure of socialization.
What Not to Do
The sensitive period has been defined as a time during development when the puppy is dependent upon (the correct) environmental influences for its development to continue normally.
This is a time when primary social relationships and emotional attachments develop between dogs and people and between dogs and other dogs. Note that only half of this sensitive period has elapsed at the usual time for adoption, which is why it is so important for owners to get a grasp of the essential features of proper puppy socialization and training.
How to raise a good puppy has been discussed almost ad nauseam by numerous authorities though the message has still not penetrated to all new puppy owners. In essence, for training a new puppy, new owners need to concentrate on being patient and considerate while using primarily positive reinforcement with, if necessary, negative punishment (withholding benefits) as a consequence for any deliberate, unacceptable behavior.
But even informed owners sometimes fail to appreciate the absolute no-no’s of puppy raising, which include yelling, threatening, or physical punishment, expecting too much, keeping your puppy in a crate as punishment, and keeping your puppy completely isolated from the outside world.
Common Puppy Behavior Problems
Typical puppy problems include unacceptable behaviors such as destructive chewing, biting or nipping, jumping up, and excessive barking. How should the hapless owner deal with such problems? The answer to this problem is universally applicable to all the behaviors described and, though simple, seems to be a hard one for some owners to grasp. It is that you should reward behaviors that you find acceptable or pleasing and ignore or redirect behaviors that you find unacceptable or annoying.
The name of the game, when it comes to training puppies or dogs, is reinforcement; reinforcement of behaviors that you want. The opposite of reinforcement (reward if you will) is not punishment, it is no reward.
Simply stated, you reward behaviors you want while you ignore behaviors that you do not appreciate. If you do this, you will not encourage problem behaviors that you subsequently have to deal with. Puppies need to know the limits of acceptable behavior from the earliest possible time.
It is too late to wait until a pup is 6 or 8 months old and then start training. Training should begin at the get go, at home, under your benign supervision and should be consistent between family members. There is nothing confusing about this strategy but, for some reason, it is one that many find difficult to grasp or, at least, to stick to. For puppies that grow up to have problems related to destructive chewing, biting, nipping, jumping, and excessive barking, the main mistakes that owners have made, with respect to training, are too little too late. That, and using the wrong approach. It’s time to reverse this tide of misunderstanding and to start creating well-behaved and well-mannered dogs. And it’s perfectly possible for anybody who wishes to try.
Communicating With a Puppy
One thing you have to remember in any dealings with puppies, especially very young ones in the two to four-month window of age, is that they are very impressionable.
In the first few months of their lives you can set them up for success or failure based on your interactions with them and your ability to guard them against psychological trauma. If you care for them when they need care, have reasonable expectations for them, set limits of acceptable behavior, and protect them from adversity, all should be well.
Raising puppies properly is an active process that requires you to understand how they might interpret your behavior toward them, including how you address them and how you handle them. If we largely ignore them, rarely speak to them, and hardly ever pet or touch them, they may grow up to be overly needy or withdrawn. On the other hand, if we burble at pups constantly, and pinch and prod them as if they were produce in a grocery store, that too can have negative consequences. Pups so treated become desensitized to human speech and averse to handling, and this can lead to problems down the road.
It is far better to meter speech and handle the pup in a way that it appreciates, so that it comes to enjoy human company, understands our utterances, and appreciates petting and physical contact.
Resources for Raising a Healthy Puppy
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