People purchasing new puppies often acquire them at around 7 or 8 weeks of age when they are really cute, lots of fun to watch, and a joy to have around. They may, initially, show signs that they miss their first family, their mother and littermates, but they soon blend in and bond with their new human family.
Even though they’re so cute at this early stage, they are totally untrained, and it requires your time and patience to teach them how to behave in socially acceptable ways. From 8 weeks of age to 6 months, pups develop rapidly, emerging as ruly or unruly canine “teenagers” as they embark on the next so-called juvenile or adolescent stage of their development. If you compare an 8-week old pup with a 6-month old pup, you will see the dramatic change that takes place between these two ages, and it is true to say that a corresponding maturing of behaviors also occurs during this time.
8 Weeks to 4 Months
I mentioned earlier that when new pups first come into the home they may have some issues pertaining to separation from their former canine family. They may, for example, appear lonely or lost and may whimper or cry for attention, especially at night when crated. Although some people take a hard-line approach dealing with this needy behavior and advise new owners to simply, “tough it out or you will make a rod for their own back,” I believe this advice is incorrect. Instead, I feel it is important to attend to a puppy’s needs as you would (or should) attend to a child’s needs.
Paradoxically, the more attention you’re able to provide them in their times of need the more independent and confident they will become later in life. Conversely, the more they are ignored, and the longer they are left alone, the needier they subsequently become – and this can develop into something of a problem. The solution: If they want to sleep in the same room as you at night, let them. If they cry to be let out of their crate, let them out. If they need a hug or a cuddle, oblige them. With the right treatment, pups can soon come to like and trust you, but if you’re not careful they can move in an opposite direction of unruliness and lack of respect.
The only rules they understand are the ones they learned with their former family, and those are the laws of the pack. Even at this young and tender age, they will start to evaluate you as a leader and certain of them may discover that you are a pushover if you don’t set some limits of acceptable behavior. This lack of respect for you can cause problems down the road if not addressed at this stage. Think about it: A mother dog, in her wisdom, and brimming with affection for her pups, would have cared but would have disciplined them in a mild way if they pushed too hard and contravened some unwritten rules. You have to do your best to emulate what she might have done by being fair but also being firm. When you have decided that a particular behavior is unacceptable, you must take steps to prevent or avoid it. Don’t just shrug your shoulders and think, “What can I do?” There is always something you can do but you need resolve and willingness to learn to find out what. You don’t have to be Machiavellian about correcting a misbehavior; in fact, yelling, hitting, and physical punishment are never indicated. It is best to use a sharp corrective word, such as Naaa! and then eliminate any positive experiences the pup may be gleaning from the misbehavior (e.g. withdraw the inappropriate chew object, extricate your hand from the pup’s mouth, cease playing the game, or just exit the scene and deprive him of your attention for awhile.
At this very young age a puppy will likely look up to you as his leader, especially if you are conducting yourself appropriately. When you take him on walks, his natural instinct will be to stay close to you and you can ensure that this instinct remains strong by temporarily behind a tree or bush when he starts to wander off on you. When he turns around and finds you’re not there, he will panic briefly and then you can reappear to assuage his fear. He will likely not forget this lesson and will keep his eyes on you during walks from that time forward.
One specific issue facing a new puppy owner is the attachment of a collar and lead. These will likely be unfamiliar objects and will produce strange sensations which might incite him to panic. Take your time and go slowly. Use a flat buckle collar, without tags, and allow him to wear it around the house for a few days to acclimate to it. Some pups may panic initially but the rolling around and scratching of the collar rarely lasts for more than a minute or so. It makes sense to reward him for tolerating this imposition by arranging fun activities accompanied by plenty of food treats. A week or so later, you can attach a training lead to the collar and allow him to drag it around the house. Initially, sessions with training lead attached should be short and associated with much fun. After a few days, you could try picking up the end of the lead and allowing him to tow you around behind him for awhile. At some point, though, when the two of you are thoroughly comfortable with the arrangement, you must become the leader and determine the direction that you’re both headed.
Another all important issue with new puppies is that of housetraining. While it is possible to adopt even young pups of 8 or 9 weeks of age that have a degree of housetraining in place, many are totally untrained and anyway, none can contain themselves for more than a couple or three hours. Your attention in this respect is still needed. The rule, when it comes to pups’ ability to hold their urine, is the number of months old that the pup is plus 1 = the number of hours the pup can hold urine. This gives you some idea of how long you can go between “pit stops.” For completely un-housetrained pups, the positive aspects of housetraining are to clearly demonstrate to the pup the outside location that you favor. This means taking the pup out on lead and rewarding him for eliminating at the chosen site. Success is greeted by immediate praise and allowing a degree of freedom over the pup’s movements when back in the house (i.e. he might be permitted to roam free in the kitchen and hall where you can keep an eye on him). Free access to the whole house is not a good idea at this stage. If the trip outside is unsuccessful, the pup should be confined for 15 minutes before being taken out again, to ensure that he does not have accidents around the house. This process is repeated until it meets with success. In addition, any accidents should be cleaned up thoroughly, with soiled spots being treated with an enzymatic odor neutralizer.
4 Months to 6 Months
At 4 months old, pups begin to teethe and chewing becomes an issue. This is a stage where, like young children, pups want to put everything in their mouth. What you, the new owner, have to do is “go with the flow.” That is, accept that puppy chewing is an inevitability. Do not try to prevent it but rather redirect it onto appropriate objects. For example, if you catch the pup chewing on an electric wire, issue a short sharp command such as “Out,” abruptly remove the wire from the puppy, or the puppy from the wire, and relocate him onto an acceptable chew object, say a puppy-sized Kong or olfactorily-enhanced rope chew toy.
At this stage of development, puppies often exhibit fits of “the maddies” and periodically tear around the house, running across the furniture, practically bouncing off the walls. This is a release of their natural exuberance and is to be expected. However, you shouldn’t have to tolerate destruction of your home. One way to circumvent the latter is to puppy-proof your home to prevent the damage or, when possible, to herd the youngster outside to blow off steam.
At about 5 months, if you have more than one pup, you may find that play becomes more aggressive and associated with some nipping, growling, and general displays of dominance. Many males, and some females, will begin humping each other at this stage as they rehearse for their adult roles. Such behavior is acceptable as long as it is not directed towards you. If you find yourselves the substrate for any aggressive behavior or leg humping it should be immediately addressed in the manner described above.
Although you should have been training your puppy from the time you acquired him, the 4 to 6 month window, with vaccinations in place, is the usual time for formal puppy training classes outside the home. Such classes are extremely helpful as long as they are conducted in a non-confrontational way. Puppies can be taught to sit, lie down, wait, stay, leave it, and other such useful commands that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Once these behaviors have been learned they can be reinforced, even insisted upon, periodically throughout life to make sure that they stay well-honed.
The 8 week to 6 month period of puppy development is a thrilling one in which development is rapid and the effects of proper schooling are immediately apparent. This period of development is almost as important for the puppy as the first two months of life. Good coaching goes a long way toward producing a happy, respectful, and well-behaved juvenile and later, adult dog. And the reverse is also true that lack of attention or improper training will leave its mark. The thing that many new puppy owners fail to appreciate is that puppies, during this period, are really quite like human toddlers. They rely on us, they need us, they look up to us, and they learn from us. During this time, they need a lot of our attention and time if they are to be properly looked after. It is not sufficient to acquire an 8-week old pup and imagine you can simply tend it like a house plant and watch it develop and blossom. No, it requires our attentiveness, physical presence, and guidance, to produce the kind of adult dog that we all dream of.