Puppyhood does not last long, and it’s the most important development period in a dog’s life. While behavior issues can absolutely be corrected in adulthood, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
Throughout a dog’s life they will constantly encounter new things, situations, and people. Your goal is to teach your puppy how to interact with their world by positively and safely introducing them to as many new things and people as you can while they are still in their puppyhood stage of development. You want to teach them that “new” doesn’t have to be scary. This way, when they do encounter that oddball experience, they are prepared, confident, and react positively.
We’ve outlined the five key areas you’ll want to make sure your puppy learns before they enter adulthood. If you want some help, check out our Puppy Head Start program—it’s a purely positive, force-free, science-based program that provides the foundation for a thriving adolescence and adulthood.
#1: Puppy Manners
It’s important to teach your puppy to sit, stay, lay down, and rollover. In addition, puppyhood is the best time to teach them “settle,” recall (to come when called), and loose leash walking.
#2: How to play with others and have fun
Appropriate interactions are the name of the game, particularly in learning bite inhibition. Puppies bite — and thank goodness they do. Puppy play biting is the means by which dogs develop bite inhibition and soft mouth.
The more your puppy bites and receives appropriate feedback, the safer his jaws will be in adulthood. It is very important to teach your dog about healthy social relationships, canine communication, how to take treats, and how to enjoy chew toys while they are still in puppyhood. This is also the perfect time to identify his/her play style so they can be appropriately placed in groups for play dates and dog day care.
#3: How to learn
Motor skills, attention, self control, and patience are the keys to learning. We often take them for granted, but these are actually all learned skills that must be taught. Intentionally teaching your puppy how to use his/her mind to solve problems will help them avoid “freezing” and “learned helplessness” later in life.
This is also the age where you can most easily teach them “whoops” — a way to communicate gently with your dog when you want to let them know that they have made a mistake, without being scary or using punishment.
#4: How to rest, be independent, and go to the bathroom appropriately
While we recognize that dogs are social animals, short term confinement on a schedule in a comfortable doggy den or nap condo is the key to easy, efficient housetraining. It’s also the key to independence and teaching the dog to amuse herself happily when she will inevitably be alone for periods of time in her life. By teaching your puppy how to be independent with frequent visits to an enclosed space in a public area, you avoid developing dependency and separation anxiety (the most common behavior behavior disorder in dogs) before it starts.
#5: Choice, Consent, and Motivation
You’ll want to teach your puppy that doing what you ask is their choice, but worth it if they do it. Understanding and applying praise, motivation, and a reward for doing what is asked is the key to a lifelong healthy relationship between dogs and humans.
It also makes life so much easier for us humans: when the dogs know how to get on a grooming or examination table by choice, or how to wear a basket muzzle at the veterinarian by choice, or how to have a nail trim by choice. Why struggle and force through fear when you can just ask and receive consent?
Wondering how soon is too soon to begin socializing your puppy?
“You should know that there is some risk of disease transmission when young puppies are exposed to the world at large before they’ve been fully vaccinated. Most pups have not completed their series of vaccinations until about 16 weeks of age, but the critical socialization period ends around 12-14 weeks. If you wait until your pup is fully vaccinated, you risk inadequate socialization. It’s a balancing act that every owner has to handle depending on their circumstances and comfort level. We recommend utilizing areas like responsible puppy classes where all the dogs have had at least one or two shots, and the houses of friends with fully vaccinated dogs. Avoid areas in which you don’t know if other dogs have been vaccinated. In over twenty years, we’ve seen very few cases of healthy puppies catching a disease from other dogs, but hundreds of examples of dogs with serious behavioral problems related to inadequate or improper socialization. Please talk to your veterinarian about ways to cut the risks, while still taking advantage of this sensitive period of socialization.”
–Patricia McConnell, PhD The Puppy Primer (p.5)
Don’t have your puppy yet?
If you’re just getting started or planning for your future puppy, we recommend you get one or more of these three fantastic books:
- The Puppy Primer by Patricia B. McConell, PhD
- Before & After Getting Your Puppy by Dr. Ian Dunbar, PhD
- Puppy Start Right by Dr. Kenneth M. Martin, DVM
Getting a new puppy and integrating them successfully into your household is an enormous commitment and a lot of work. It’s up to you, the owners, to establish household etiquette, a schedule, and routine that will set you, your family, and your dog up for success. You will make mistakes as we all do, but we are here to help you, support you, and serve as a resource throughout your journey. If you’d like help, reach out to us to learn more about our Puppy Head Start program.