By Lisa Kerley, Bsc, KPA-CTP
Thanks to modern media, there is fast access to information on just about anything related to your puppy and their care. Unfortunately, although outdated and erroneous ideas abound, some vital facts regarding the development of your puppy are not as readily available.
1. Puppies need to stay with their litter until 8 weeks of age.
Being separated any earlier is unacceptable. Absolutely nothing can make up for missing the experiences gained by remaining with the litter. This time together is precious – even a week less can have a huge impact on the puppy’s development. Pups help each other learn many lessons better than we can teach them. Your pup being denied this opportunity will only make things harder on everyone.
We have clear evidence that curtailing this period can have devastating effects on a grown dog’s ability to develop tolerance, impulse control, bite inhibition, social skills and confidence. Remaining with the litter until eight weeks maximizes the benefits of this vital time while still leaving some valuable imprinting time for socializing in their new life. Anyone trying to get rid of puppies before 8 weeks of age does not understand or care about raising an emotionally healthy puppy. Accept no excuses. If the supplier is willing to separate the pups before 8 weeks you should find your pup from another source.
2. Puppy biting is normal.
Mouthing and biting is normal for a young pup. It’s how they explore and learn about their environment and one way of interacting with their own kind. By using their mouth on their siblings, pups learn how to use care and inhibit their bite. Puppies only have until about 51/2 months of age to learn this lesson. Once home, most puppies choose members in the family to interact with like their siblings – typically young children.
Although bothersome and often frustrating, they must continue practicing how to use their mouth appropriately. As most of us don’t have daily access to other pups, we need to take a primary role in this part of their education. We need to provide useful feedback, by redirecting them to appropriate chew items and calmly indicating when they have been too rough. Punishing biting, or stopping it from happening, can lead to serious problems later.
3. Use only positive training methods.
Has someone told you to:
- Hold your pup’s mouth shut if they bark or bite?
- Rub their nose in it when they have an accident inside?
- Hold them down if they get too excited or pushy?
- Grab them by the scruff if they growl at you?
These methods often cause very serious problems in adults dogs. Many ‘undesirable’ puppy behaviours can be ‘fixed’ when you learn to read dog body language, recognize signs of stress, and use management and reinforcement effectively. If you don’t have these tools or skills at your disposal, you should seek the assistance of a knowledgeable, experienced positive trainer. See end of article for resources.
4. Begin socializing your puppy as soon as you get them home.
Decades ago, we were told not to take our young pups out until they were 16 weeks of age to reduce the risk of disease. We now know that the risk of behavioural problems is much higher than the risk of disease for pups. Many more dogs are euthanized every year because of behavioural issues than die of disease. The importance of beginning a puppy’s socializing by 9-10 weeks of age has been recognized and accepted in the scientific community and amongst informed professionals for decades. We’ve been following these protocols for 15 years in our puppy classes.
There are critical skills that must be learned by 14 -18 weeks of age – developing a gentle mouth, acquiring good social skills and getting used to all the different sights, sounds and people that are part of the world your dog will live in. If you begin this work immediately, your puppy will learn these things quite quickly. You’ll create a more relaxed adolescent who already has some great beginning skills. If you don’t spend time on these early on, you definitely will be later. After 14 – 18 weeks of age, learning is much slower. For some dogs, other learning will be stalled until these lessons are completed.
Early socializing doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to take your young pup just anywhere or meet any dog, however. Your pup should meet dogs that you know are healthy and stay away from places where large numbers of dogs hang out.
5. Not all socializing is good socializing.
A good socializing plan includes an assortment ofpeople, dogs, places, objects and situations. It’s important to expose your pup not only to things that they will come across in regular day-to-day life, but also things that are not part of your present lifestyle. Live in a house? Include elevators as part of your pup’s socializing in case you move to or need to visit an apartment. No kids at the moment? Help prepare your dog for grandkids in the future. You get the idea… Map out what your life might look like over the next 15 years.
Good socializing is not just a matter of checking things off a socializing list, though. Yes, variety is important, but just as important is how the pup is socialized. Socialization IS beneficial when the pup is gently exposed and allowed to explore at their own pace. It is crucial that your pup’s experiences with new things are pleasant. Only then can positive associations be developed. It is NOT about being bombarded. Feeling overwhelmed or uncomfortable will have the opposite effect, causing a sensitization to the object or situation. Remember, the learning and experiences that take place during the first 14-week period of your puppy’s life stay with them for a lifetime – good or bad. Creating good socializing opportunities for your pup takes some thought and creativity along with care and patience on your part.
6. Don’t Skip Puppy Class
To professionals in the industry, puppy classes are simply a “must-do”. Over two decades of studies confirm the benefits of attending a well-run class early in your puppy’s life with you. Most of the issues mentioned above can be addressed or prevented by going to a good puppy class. Still think you don’t need puppy class? Here are some of the common excuses I hear for not participating in a class:
“I don’t need puppy classes because I have another dog at home.”
Although another dog in the home can be helpful, not all dogs are emotionally and socially capable of teaching a puppy about boundaries and polite behaviour. Even if they are, your puppy is still only potentially socializing with one dog. To develop good skills young puppies need to interact with a variety of dogs in a safe and appropriate way – which by the way, does NOT include a dog park.
“I don’t need puppy classes because I’m doing private training at home.”
Teaching your puppy to sit and down and getting help with basic management is important and should be included in any good puppy class. The value of attending a puppy class is that your puppy will have the chance to learn and practice vital social skills as well as get exposure to things you may not be able to duplicate in your home.
By creating a puppy playgroup, your pup will be able to continue lessons started while in the litter. Pups playing together practice bite inhibition and learn to handle minor squabbles – essential life skills. A good puppy class will also introduce all aspects of socialization, not just with people and dogs. You will be shown a variety of ways to safely and effectively introduce your pup to what the world has to offer. The critical lessons that need to be learned before the imprinting phase is over at 14-18 weeks, cannot be delayed.
“I don’t need puppy classes because my puppy gets lots of socializing at the dog
As youngsters, dogs, like humans, need role models to teach them good lessons and help them develop good skills. The atmosphere of a dog park can present social and behavioural risks as well as a health risk. Typically, dogs are left to play for too long and without proper supervision at dog parks. As a result, inexperienced dogs can become fearful and reactive as a means to protect themselves. More confident pups can learn that being rough and ignoring other dogs’ signals is OK and bullies get created.
In a good class, the pups will be carefully supervised so that all socializing is positive and productive. The skilled eyes of a trainer will help you learn to recognize key points of body language and healthy interactions.
Do you know how to do a “consent check” to ensure all the dogs want to continue playing together?
Do you know 3 ways that dogs show they don’t want to interact?
Can you recognize more than 5 body language signals that indicate stress?
If you answered ‘no’ to any of these, then you would benefit from the advice of a skilled positive trainer before being ready to supervise your pup’s playtimes on your own.
What happens in the first 14 weeks of a puppy’s life has more influence on their personality, confidence and ability to learn than any other single factor during their lifetime. We now recognize that vaccination and socialization should happen together and that puppies ideally should begin a positive socialization program by 9- 10 weeks of age. A puppy that is able to learn about their world and how to behave in it in a positive way stands a much better chance of leading a full and happy life with their family. So don’t wait – your puppy will thank you for it!
Look for our upcoming article:
The good, the bad and the ugly: A socializing exposé
A letter on socialization and vaccination from renowned veterinarian RK Anderson to
his colleagues: http://goo.gl/xLB5iJ
For good reading material on raising puppies: