As requested, I have written a short(ish) post about puppies. Once I got going, I realized there's probably going to have to be a part two. But for now, enjoy! And share!
So you’ve brought home a puppy. Whether you fell in love and it was a bit of an impulse “buy” or you have been planning on it for a year. Whether you adopted from a rescue or bought from a breeder. There are some things that everyone should know when they bring a puppy home.
- Socialization! This is a word tossed around so much that it seems to have lost proper meaning. “We took him to the dog park every day” and “she was always in the car with us” are often heard statements. But simple presence and exposure to new stimuli won’t necessarily cut it. What happened to him at the dog park? Did she ever get treats for her encounters with new people? GOOD socialization is positive associations with new things. Which puppy is going to react better in the future – the one who received a yummy hot dog or awesome play session every time he met a stranger, or the one who simply existed near and was not harmed every time he met a stranger?
- More on socialization – the way to give your puppy the best chance at being a happy-go-lucky fluffball for life is to build those positive associations with 100 new people, 100 new places, and 100 new dogs EVERY month for the first year of life. Yep, that is a hard number to hit but it can be done. And make sure you provide a variety. The dog who only meets 3 men in that first year has a HUGE chance of being fearful or aggressive with men. Or it can happen with kids. Or small dogs. Or giant dogs. If there is a hole in your puppy’s socialization, it will show later, likely as fear or aggression. Just to give you a taste of how extensive this is: has your puppy been socialized with men? How about men of different skin colours? Tall? Short? Rail thin? Overweight? Walking with a limp? Bald? Long hair? Bearded? Glasses? Wearing a hat? Walking with a cane? Have I made my point?
- This socialization doesn’t just end at dogs, people, and places. Think about all the different noises in our world – thunder, fireworks, traffic. Surfaces – grass, concrete, marble. Handling – you have to make your puppy believe that having his paws held is a great thing!
- I realize that in today’s world, we all have very busy lives. However, we MUST make time for that little puppy we brought home. If you absolutely MUST choose between teaching obedience commands (sit, down, come, etc) or socialization. Please pick socialization! Dogs can learn commands at any age, but your window for optimal socialization is very small. You get the most “bang for your buck” under that year mark – beyond that, it’s possible to get them to like new things but it’s much more difficult.
- Keep in mind, however, that there are many different things that influence a puppy’s personality. Socialization and positive experiences can be vehemently countered by genetics or other aspects we may not have control over. If your puppy is abnormally fearful, please seek professional help. Actually, ideally, I’d recommend new puppy owners sitting down with a behavior consultant to get a rundown of how to prevent behavior issues – it’s far too often that I see an adult dog who has had years to practice bad behaviors that started in puppyhood, and could have been easily avoided with proper training.
- Aha, there’s the point I was dreading – training – because it’s so hard to condense into a short, few sentences. Make sure you reward behaviors you like, and never reward something you don’t. You do not have to say “yes good boy!” and deliver a treat to reward – if he jumps on you and you look at him, that’s a reward. Please don’t use physical corrections to raise your puppy. Choke chains, alpha rolls, “rubbing his nose” in a house soiling mistake – all of these make for a likely recipe of disaster – please see my other post on punishment-based training for more information!
When in doubt, refer to a professional! I, and many of my colleagues, would rather help someone pick a suitable puppy and give them a basic training plan than wait until the person has a devilish little adult beast that’s made their life unlivable for years. Puppies can be amazingly fun companions, if we help them to be!