When you acquire a new puppy, things that you do, or don’t do, can make a big difference to the way the puppy turns out. Happy and confident adult dogs don’t just happen but are the product of good decisions and correct treatment of the puppy from birth right up until the juvenile period (around six months of age).
A pup’s genetic makeup may be out of your control once you have selected the right breed and individual for you, but you can sculpt or distort the raw clay of the pup’s genetic legacy by how you look after him and act toward him. If you do the right things – and, most importantly, don’t do the wrong things – the pup will turn out to be (as the US Army jingle goes) “all that he can be.”
The so-called sensitive period of development for puppies is between 3 and 12 weeks of age. The sensitive period has been defined as a time during development when the puppy is dependant 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-nos of puppy raising. True, some of the biggest of them is simply the converse of what should be done, but it doesn’t hurt to include these items in the list for even greater clarity.
- No Yelling, Threatening, Or Physical Punishment.
Punishment teaches a dog nothing, except how to avoid the punishment. It is far better, and far more humane, to teach the pup what to do rather than punish it for something it is doing. Also note, that punishment after the fact is not only inappropriate; it is pointless. The only type of positive (direct) punishment that might, on occasion be acceptable is that delivered remotely by some anonymous contraption. E.g., some kind of booby trap arrangement to discourage pups from “counter surfing.”
- Don’t Expect Too Much.
Setting one’s standards high is one thing, but a puppy cannot do what it is physically incapable of or doesn’t understand. For example, young pups cannot hold their urine for long periods of time. They are like children and need frequent opportunities to empty their bladder.
The general rule is that pups can hold their urine for some hours (“N” hours) equal to their age in months (“A”) plus 1 (up to about nine months of age). [I.e., N = A + 1] To punish a pup of 3-months old for urinating on the floor when you have not taken it out for 5 hours is not fair. To instruct a pup to Come from a distance, and get angry with him for not coming to you is unfair if you have not practiced and honed off-lead recalls at a distance. Temper your expectations. Think.
- Do Not Keep Your Pup Shut In A Crate For Anything Other Than The Briefest Time (20 Minutes).
Some folk who acquire new puppies don’t have the time to take care of them properly. There’s no getting around it, raising a puppy properly takes time. If you haven’t got time, don’t get a puppy. As a solution to their puppy’s … well, puppy behavior, they lock it in a crate for hours on end. It is shut up while they are out, while they are busy, and while they are asleep. Some pups are crated for almost 20 hours a day for this reason. Of course, when the pup is let out, it goes ballistic, and the owner is horrified. The Catch-22 solution, to put the puppy back in the crate: This is all wrong.
Most puppies do benefit from having a crate, a place of comfort and security where they can engage in occasional self-imposed time-outs. A crate can come to be viewed by the pup as a den, of sorts, but note: Dens don’t have doors. It is not bad to use the crate for house training, confining the pup in the crate for 15-20 minutes between “bathroom breaks” to ensure to requisite deposition of urine outside but long periods of confinement are counterproductive, leading to a type of kennel dog syndrome of hyperactivity, excessive reactivity, compulsivity, and introversion.
If a pup cries for attention at night, whether crated or not, provide it this attention, as you would a child. Do NOT ignore its separation cries. You don’t have to pick it up or pet it, just let it know you are there for it and everything’s okay. The less attention you give a pup growing up, the needier it becomes when mature (this accounts for separation anxiety being prevalent in shelter dogs and dogs from abusive backgrounds). Conversely, the more attention you can give a pup as it is growing up, the more independent it will become. It sounds like a paradox, but its true.
- Don’t Keep Your Pup Completely Isolated From The Outside World.
For the very best of reasons, veterinarians often tell new puppy owners “keep your puppy in until his vaccinations are complete.” But what they are not factoring in is the terrible price of failure to properly socialize puppies within the sensitive period of learning window.
Half the puppies born in this country (US) fail to see their second birthday, and that (unacceptable) behavior is the primary reason for this continuing holocaust. Proper early socialization would go a long way toward addressing this problem and is as life-saving as vaccinations. It should not be a matter of vaccination or socialization: Both are equally important and can be dove-tailed.
Work with your vet to see what is acceptable regarding your puppy’s possible exposure to infection. Perhaps the veterinarian might agree that some limited contact with “safe” vaccinated dogs and unfamiliar people in safe locations might be acceptable.
Puppy parties at home are one way of socializing pups to people. The idea is that people unfamiliar with the pup come and visit your home arranging themselves around, say, your family room. The strangers are encouraged to interact positively with the pup and then pass it on until all have handled the pup at least once. These gatherings should be held at least once a week (preferably 2 or 3 times weekly) from the time of the pup’s acquisition until it is 14 weeks of age. It is a good idea to select people of all shapes and sizes, sexes and colors and wearing various forms of garb (hats, fake beards, uniforms, even scuba gear) for these exercises. And don’t forget to take pictures for the family photograph album!
- Don’t Expect Your Pup To Understand Sentences.
It’s okay to burble along to your pup as you take care of it, just don’t expect it to understand anything except for the tone of your address. Dogs can learn some word cues (“commands”) – even hundreds of them – but they are just that, word cues. A pup can, and should, be taught at least a few words of human language. In English, “Sit!” and “Dinner!” are a couple that might be useful on occasion. But if you tell the dog, “Sit in your Dinner,” the meaning is lost. Dogs do not have a language center in their brains, like humans and cannot fathom syntax. Use one-word commands when communicating, say them clearly, say them once and importantly…Reward the desired response immediately.
Do not use the pups name when addressing it (unless it is at a distance), and do not repeat commands. Dogs hear even better than we do: Their “deafness” is usually not through not attributable to poor hearing, it’s selective through their choice of not to obey. By the way, remember that if a dog does not respond to a verbal cue, it should not be punished (see above). The opposite of reward is not punishment – it is no reward.
- Don’t Allow Young Children (Under 6 Years Old) To Interact With Your Pup Unsupervised.
It comes as a surprise to many people to learn that children and puppies, though both cute, cannot be trusted alone together. Bad things can happen. The most obvious one is that the child will do “something bad” to the pup by way of experimentation, exercising their natural curiosity. In one case, a dog bit a child and had to be euthanatized. On post-mortem, it was found that the child had jammed a pencil into the dog’s ear and had snapped off then end after penetrating the dog’s eardrum. If accidents like this are to be avoided, complete supervision is necessary. It’s not usually the dog that starts the trouble; it’s the child: If you can childproof your dog, there should be no cause for concern.
- Do Not Feed It Human Food: Do Not Feed It From The Table.
Puppy food is best for pups (AAFCO approved, is most desirable). Adding who-knows-what quantities or an assortment of human foods will not only detract from the optimal (proprietary) food but will encourage fussiness. Also, if the human food is fed from the table, you will wind up with a dog that mooches around the table at mealtimes, always begging for food. Start out the way you intend to continue. Set limits and be firm about them.
- Do Not Expect Love And Attention To Substitute For Good Puppy Parenting.
Although it is very tempting to always give young pups all the love and attention possible, it is also important to set limits on acceptable behavior. This is especially important as they go through the canine equivalent of “the terrible twos” at about 4-5 months of age. Bad behavior, like excessive or hard nipping, should be punished by immediate withdrawal of attention (following sharp exclamation of a word like Ouch or No-bite). This is how puppies communicate their likes and dislike to each other. Spare the Ouch and spoil the dog!
- DO NOT SUPPLY ALL THE GOOD THINGS IN LIFE FOR FREE.
One simple rule is to make the pup work for food and treats. What’s work, you ask. It has the pup Sit or Down to receive them (like Grace). This will make sure that the pup always views you as it true (resource rich) provider and, therefore, leader. Problems of owner-directed aggression downstream can be all but completely addressed by this simple measure. Don’t give everything away. Insist on good puppy manners: Manners maketh pup.
- DO NOT EVER GET ANGRY WITH YOUR PUP.
Work hard to remind yourself, whatever happens, that this is a baby you are dealing with. If you lose your cool, you will act incorrectly, your puppy will think you have gone crazy, and you will lose its respect and trust. Be a good puppy parent. Think cool.
Following these ten simple rules can help create the dog of your dreams as opposed to a canine nightmare. The basics are the same as in child raising. Be fun, be fair, but be firm (the 3 F’s) and set limits. Children are happier when their parents are obviously at the helm, and so are dogs. Dogs need strong leaders if they are to be model canine citizens. The moral of this story is “As you reap, so shall you sow.” Pay attention at the beginning, and the rewards will be unimaginable.