Puppies are born only knowing how to be dogs, so it's normal for them to jump, bark, nip and even bite. As you will soon discover, most normal, healthy puppies go through phases (some of them more than once) that can make you wonder why you wanted a puppy to begin with. But with the right amount of care and attention, you can teach your puppy how to behave and grow up to become a model citizen!
It's important to introduce puppies to as many new experiences with people and other dogs as possible, while they are still young enough to take everything in their stride. Their first big learning period begins at about three weeks, when the eyes and ears first open and they start to explore the big, wide world around them.
The next big jump is between about 7-12 weeks which, confusingly, is exactly the same time your vet will tell you to keep your puppy away from public places while vaccinations take effect. But even so, there are ways around this apparent contradiction to ensure your puppy grows into a well adjusted, sociable dog.
- If you can't take your puppy into the world, bring the world to your puppy!
- Invite people to your home to help your puppy get used to people of different sexes, ages, heights, builds and races. Encourage them to wear different types of clothing. Arm everyone with treats!
- Ask friends to bring around friendly dogs that are up to date with their vaccinations.
- Puppy parties are also a great way to introduce your new pet to pups of a similar age. Ask your vet about puppy parties in your area.
- Take your pup out in the car for short trips. Not only does this get puppies used to car travel, but also gives them the chance to see the world. It also gets them used to loud motorbikes, lorries, sirens etc.
- Socialisation sound tapes are also available and can be a helpful training aid.
- Think about everything your puppy may encounter in life and write a checklist. Then cross off each item as your puppy encounters and accepts it.
- Remember, don't do anything as a one-off. Repeated exposure is essential.
Actions and reactions
Whenever your puppy encounters anything new, act confidently as if there's nothing to worry about. Try not to be too anxious or nervous yourself: your puppy will pick up on your signals and think something is wrong. An occasional ‘good dog’, a bag of treats and a calm attitude is all you need. Constant and dramatic reassurance will only serve to increase fear.
Out and about
Once your puppy's vaccinations are completed (10-12 weeks), it's time to step things up a gear.
- Walk your puppy on the lead along pavements in quiet streets, building up to busy traffic areas.
- Take your puppy to a shopping centre, sit on a bench and watch the world go by. Passers-by are bound to come up and say hello to the puppy - an added bonus.
- Take a trip on public transport and spend some time just sitting in a busy station, getting used to the hustle and bustle.
- Visit dog-friendly shops, pubs and cafes.
- Take your puppy to a beach (first checking the local regulations) and as many other environments as you can think of.
- Again, remember to repeat the experiences whenever possible.
- Say your puppy's name over and over during enjoyable experiences, such as when he is eating or when you are petting him.
- Never shout the name if you are angry - puppies must associate their names with good things.
- Make sure all family members are consistent - if your puppy's name is Ben, use Ben and not Benjamin, Bennie or Benji which will all just lead to confusion!
Your puppy needs to learn that it's wrong to bite people. All puppies 'mouth', especially during teething, but this shouldn't be tolerated: continuing to mouth into adulthood can cause some serious damage.
- Tell your friends and family to make a loud, high-pitched yelp and then turn away from the puppy if it bites or mouths them. This is a much more effective way of getting through than a reprimand or playing more roughly.
- This response must be given even if the pup does not hurt you - even gentle mouthing should be discouraged.
- The pup must then be ignored, to show bad behaviour means the game is over.
- This is a similar reaction to that shown by littermates when they get hurt by a pup, so your puppy will quickly understand that this kind of behaviour is wrong.
The information contained in this article is not a substitute for individual veterinary or behavioural advice and is for information purposes only. You should always consult a veterinary surgeon if you have any concerns about your pet’s health. He or she will be able to take a complete medical history and physically examine your pet, to then recommend appropriate individual advice or treatment options. For detailed behavioural advice tailored specifically for your pet, we recommend that you contact a qualified pet behaviourist. For further details of local canine and feline behaviourists practising in your area and how they offer help for with problem pets, please contact The Coape Association of Pet Behaviourists and Trainers at www.capbt.org, or the Association of Pet Dog Trainers at www.apdt.co.uk.. Do bear in mind that while dog trainers can take you on as a client directly, pet behaviourists will always require a referral from your veterinary surgeon.