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 6 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-no’s of puppy raising. True, some of the biggest of them are simply the converse of what should be done, but it doesn’t hurt to include these items in the list for even greater clarity.
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.”
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 a number of hours (“N” hours) equal to their age in months (“A”) plus 1 (up to about 9 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.
Some folk who acquire new puppies really 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 horribly 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 more needy 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.
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 in terms of 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 to 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!