Getting a new puppy is exciting! They are cute and cuddly and everything they do seem to make our hearts skip a beat. It’s no wonder puppies have grown from the role of pet to beloved family member. For many of us, our pets are like our children. We want what’s best for them and we will do anything to make them happy. This requires us to understand our dogs, such as breed standards, dietary requirements, how they communicate, and what they are going to need to live a long and healthy life. Too often pet parents misunderstand the needs of their pet and they inadvertently make simple mistakes that can cause lifelong behavioral issues.
Behaviors such as chewing, peeing, barking, and jumping, are some of the main reasons we see pet relinquishment. Nearly 40% of dogs relinquished to shelters are due to behavioral issues. The simple steps in this guide will help you get off to the right start and hopefully keep more pets in their loving homes. Before we address specific behaviors, we need to first understand our environment, what it means to “socialize” your puppy, and common health risks.
The Home Environment
If there is anything the study of animal behavior has taught us, it’s that many behavioral issues can be fixed or avoided by a simple change in the environment. Always consider this when traditional training doesn’t seem to be working. If you find yourself with a teething puppy that insists on chewing up your rugs, simply remove the rug. If you find your puppy peeing in the same part of the house, block their access to that area. What’s important is that you don’t allow your puppy to develop bad habits. We find that puppies, given the right tools and proper training, will grow out of these undesirable behaviors and you will be able to eventually return to your normal routine.
Just like with children, keeping a routine is just as important as the physical environment when trying to develop a positive experience for your puppy. You must set them up for success so they know what to expect and when to expect it. There should always be routines for pottying, eating, playtime and sleeping.
Socializing your pet means more than allowing them to play with other dogs. Socialization, in this context, refers to the introduction of outside stimuli to your puppy so it can understand the world it is growing up in and it can gain the confidence it needs to enjoy it. Whether it be other dogs at the park, riding in a car, scary grooming tools, or strangers, your puppy will need exposure early on to decrease its chances of developing unwanted behaviors driven by fear.
This requires you to be proactive and work with your puppy to desensitize them to such stimuli. The optimal time for puppy socialization is between 3 and 12 weeks. A puppy’s brain is fully developed by 8 weeks, so they begin to retain detailed memories of their experiences and it is key to make these experiences as positive as possible. If there are no immediate health risks, sometimes it is better to hold off on their first vet visit until they have settled into their new environment. Alternatively, you can visit a Fear Free Certified vet clinic to make sure the experience is as comfortable as possible.
A great way to begin puppy socialization is through classes at your local doggie daycare or training center. These classes can help introduce your puppy to other breeds of dogs, unfamiliar environments, and different stimuli that are commonly associated with fears in older dogs.
Health & Safety
Bringing a new puppy into your home can have its risks. Not only are young puppies more susceptible to contagions in the environment but they can also be carrying unidentified diseases or parasites that could be transferred to other pets or family members in your household. It is highly recommended that every new pet get a full physical and check-up by a trusted veterinarian. This will increase your chances of identifying any of the contagious diseases that can unfortunately come from breeders or shelters. In addition, becoming familiar with the current health status of your puppy will help you better treat it in the future and in most cases, saving you from unnecessary vet expenses.
With these things in mind, there are common undesirable behaviors that every puppy owner must deal with. Below is a quick guide to such behaviors and some simple starting points to help improve the behavior. For more information, we always refer you to your local dog trainer or veterinary behaviorist.
The most common and dreaded of all puppy behaviors is soiling in the house. This is one of those behaviors in which every trainer has a different opinion on how to fix. The truth is that every puppy is different and each method has its merits. Common forms of potty training include crate training, potty bells, or potty pads. Each method CAN work but you need to consider everything from the breed of the dog to your daily routine.
What each method has in common is that they require a lot of effort and consistency. A good rule of thumb is that the more involved the pet owner, the more successful the outcome. There is no easy fix for this kind of behavior but the more attention you give it, the faster your puppy will learn. And just as important, the more positive the experience is for the puppy, the faster they will learn. Owners who commonly get upset and correct their puppy for soiling, often are making the situation worse by adding fear to the equation and slowing the learning process. This method doesn’t work and should be avoided due to the risk of developing fear and unwanted behaviors that put your relationship with your pet at risk.
If you are one of those owners that will do anything for your pet, there is one very simple way to potty train your puppy that only requires time. Understanding that, in general, a puppy can only hold its bladder comfortably for as many hours as it is months old, it is easy to create a regular schedule for potty training. It’s a matter of consistency and proactively allowing them to potty before they feel the NEED to do it in the house. Not all of us can afford waking up every few hours in the middle of the night, but if all other methods fail, this is one to consider.
We as pet owners commonly forget that puppies go through a teething phase. When we have a puppy that is chewing up everything it can find and destroying furniture, we fear that we got the “bad dog” in the litter.
Teething can be managed by offering resources that will take the attention away from your expensive things and redirect them to toys or treats that are designed to handle heavy chewing. Every puppy has its own preference but some common toys and treats that we have found to be successful are:
- Rubber Chew Toys (anything designed to be chewed and can hold treats inside)
- Kong products
- Bionic Products
- Busy Buddy Products
- Deer or Elk Antlers
- Bully sticks
The goal is to find something that is non-destructible or will last a while. One trick to keeping the puppy more entertained and increasing the value of the toy is to fill it with dog friendly treats such as peanut butter or cheese and freezing it to make it last as long as possible. This is a common method of enrichment at lodging facilities and shelters.
Play-biting, not to be confused with teething, is when a puppy excessively tries to bite at its owner in an effort to be playful. This behavior may seem cute at first but as the dog grows up, it becomes an increasingly unwanted behavior. This should be avoided at all cost at an early age by stopping play anytime the puppy starts to bite. Because the puppy is doing it for attention, no correction is necessary. Simply stopping the play and taking away your attention will be enough to teach the puppy that it is not appropriate.
So much of what puppies do is driven by the need for attention. Canines in the wild rarely exhibit behaviors such as barking, jumping, or whining. Domestication has taught dogs that these behaviors elicit attention from their human counterparts. This is important to understand, because the human-dog relationship is so important, and preventing these behaviors will create a much happier, healthier connection.
When a puppy begins an undesirable behavior such as barking or jumping, the best thing to do is divert your attention and ignore the dog. When the undesirable behavior stops, you then return to the dog and reward them (with treats or praise). If done properly, this is a simple and effective way of reducing unwanted, attention-grabbing behaviors. You will be impressed with how quickly these cues can be noticed by your puppy. Just remember to be consistent and keep the interaction positive.
Reactiveness or Aggression
Early reactiveness or aggression in puppies is a serious concern for most owners. Reactiveness or aggression can refer to a lot of things, but in this context, we are talking about behaviors that trigger a negative response in the puppy. We aren’t referring to play-biting or growling. We are talking about behaviors that are driven by fear or the desire to do harm. A common example we see right now is resource guarding. This is where a puppy is protective of a resource such as food, toys, or people and won’t let others near it.
These behaviors are rarely outgrown but rather get worse with age. Luckily, with intervention, a puppy can reduce these undesired behaviors. The method is called Behavior Modification and can be done by a knowledgeable dog trainer or veterinary behaviorist. If you have concerns about a behavior, even if it seems small and of little importance now, contact a professional and they can help evaluate your puppy and give you a better idea of the magnitude of the problem.
The world of puppies is exciting and full of surprises, so we hope that this guide gives you some helpful tools and tricks to start your relationship off on a positive note. We know there is a lot to consider but there is a world of resources out there that have been designated to the topic of puppy enrichment and socialization. With a little effort, you should be able to find a professional near you.