Mental health is just as important as physical health! You want your new puppy to grow into a happy, obedient, well-socialized, well-mannered dog, and we want to help give you the tools to make that happen. The first step is understanding that puppies are constantly learning, and we want them to learn the right way to do things, not the wrong way.
The most critical socialization period extends from birth to about 18 weeks old. During this time frame, your puppy will develop their future attitudes towards their family, strangers, other dogs, children, and other things in their environment, such as riding in the car, hearing the garbage truck go by, vacuum cleaners, etc. Interacting with only members of their family is not enough. This is why we want your puppy to have as many POSITIVE interactions during this time frame as possible. What we don’t want is for your puppy to be exposed to things and left to make their own opinion as to good or bad, but we want to shape their experiences to make sure they are positive through treats, toys, and praise.
This brings us to positive reinforcement behavior training. The basic concept of this is consistently rewarding your puppy for the behavior you want, and not accidentally rewarding behaviors you do not want. Below are some steps you can take to help your puppy become a well-adjusted dog:
Socialize with a variety of unfamiliar people – this includes people of different sizes, genders, and ethnicities. Encourage people to interact with the puppy while giving treats and toys. If your puppy acts nervous and won’t take treats/trembles, etc., then make a real effort to have guests come over frequently and give special high reward treats (such as small pieces of cheese or chicken). If possible, have visitors wear different types of clothing, including hats, sweatshirts, and boots.
Socialize with children – With their sometimes quick, unpredictable movements and high-pitched voices, children can be very scary to puppies and dogs. They can also resemble toys or even prey to chase. Children interacting with your puppy should be taught how to properly behave around dogs (i.e. no running, screaming, or grabbing) and know how to feed them treats with the treat in the palm of the hand, not the fingers. It may be cute to see your small puppy chasing the kids, but try not to encourage this behavior as it could turn into nipping as the puppy gets older. If you have small children at home, it is also important to allow the puppy some quiet time away from children and have certain “safe escape zones” such as their open crate where the puppy is not to be bothered, as they need a break sometimes too.
Socialize with dogs – Puppy socialization classes can be a very good way to have your puppy learn to interact with other dogs and these classes are highly recommended at an early age. It should be stressed that a class geared exclusively to puppies is much better then a class with adult dogs, as adult dogs treat puppies much differently then other puppies do. Along with learning to socialize with other puppies, they will meet other people and learn to be calm in a high excitement atmosphere. As well as your puppy may obey commands at home, it can be a whole other story in a room full of people and puppies!
o Note: Any puppy class instructor should be constantly observing puppies while they are playing so they can immediately put a stop to unwanted behaviors such as growling, bullying, etc, that may actually make your dog worse. Puppy play should always be accompanied by come to heel exercises and focus on owner exercises so that the puppy doesn’t learn to ignore you to go play. Sometimes a dragging leash needs to be left on the puppy at first to help with this.
Socialize with other species – Puppies may live with cats or other species during their lives, so it is important to teach your puppy to be calm and not chase these animals. Reward calm behavior while around any new animals.
Expose your puppy to different surfaces to walk on such as wet grass, tile/linoleum flooring, metal (such as manhole covers or exam tables), and snow.
Expose your puppy to different objects and sounds, such as garbage cans/trucks, skateboards, bikes, metal signs, laundry flapping on a line, vacuums, brooms, etc. Give high quality treats when you are passing these things, and even start treating before the dog notices the (potentially) scary thing.
Desensitize to restraint and handling – As you touch your puppy’s feet, face, ears, etc., give them treats so they learn to associate touching these sometimes sensitive areas with treats. Remember to not give the treat randomly while touching, but give the treat immediately as soon as you touch the foot/ear/etc.
Learn to Earn Program (AKA Nothing in Life is Free)
One way to shape your puppy to have self control and be obedient is to adhere to the “learn to earn” program. The basis of this program is to “ask” for what they want by sitting. First, hold treats in your hand, then when they sit, immediately give them the treat while they are still sitting, then reward with a few more treats for remaining seated. With food motivated puppies, you can even use their allotment of dry kibble as the treats – think how quickly they will learn getting 50 treats for sitting and remaining seated! This trains your puppy to sit when they want something instead of jumping or barking to get your attention.
This program can be expanded by having your puppy sit before getting what they want, such as before you open the door to let them out, before putting on the leash, or before a new visitor is allowed to pet them. By being consistent with reinforcing this behavior, your puppy will automatically sit as their default behavior.
In the last decade, research has shown that dog aggression is NOT rooted in dominance or “alpha” status, but rather in fear and anxiety, which lead to self-defense behaviors such as growling or biting. Recent studies show that the use of confrontational training techniques can induce fear in dogs and lead to more aggressive behaviors. In fact, 20-41% of owners reported aggression as a response to this type of training. Examples of these confrontational techniques include staring dogs down, striking them, manipulating them forcefully (such as with an “alpha-dog rollover”), or spraying them with water.
In contrast, using non-aversive training methods led to only 2% aggressive response. Examples include training the dog to sit for everything it wants (see above), rewarding the dog for eye contact with you, and food exchange for an item in its mouth instead of forcing it out.
The bottom line is that positive reinforcement techniques are far more effective in training dogs compared to punishment and lead to a happier, more well-adjusted dog and a better bond with you!
For more information on the above topics (and many more including how to correct problems such as potty training issues, separation anxiety, pulling on leash, etc.) please refer to the following website from veterinary behaviorist Dr. Sophia Yin:
Click on Resources, then Dog Behavior Issues, then Puppy Training and Socialization or any of the other behavior topics.
Other good websites:
Animal Behavior Resources Institute – videos and information on general training and correcting behavior problems
A great website run by veterinarians with tons of great information about health and behavior problems.
Trainers/ Puppy Classes:
Dog’s Best Friend LLC (Jody Diehl) 966-5684 www.dogswithjody.com
All Dawgs Training Services 831-9192 www.alldawgstraining.com
Albany Obedience Club 767-0097 www.berk.com/aoc
Schenectady Dog Training Club 393-6088 www.sdtcdogs.com
Note: These facilities/individuals come highly recommended by our clients. However, The Animal Hospital PC makes not representations or warranties as to their services or qualifications.