Congratulations on getting a new puppy!

There are many time sensitive topics to cover in raising a puppy.  We are providing resources, below, to get you started.  We want you to get a jump start to helping your puppy learn the world is a safe place and how they are expected to behave.  Unfortunately, it is easy to find a lot of outdated information out there, so proceed with caution when doing your research and getting advice.  Positive early experiences and appropriate challenges are so important to building resilient and optimistic puppies.

Puppies are most open to new experiences up to 12 to 14 weeks.  They are learning about bite pressure and how to inhibit their bite by 20 weeks.  They need to cope with being alone and confined.  These topics should be your first stop.  From there, you will find a variety of topics to help your puppy thrive and be a good canine citizen.

Each puppy will be different, always adjust your plans based on your puppy’s comfort and ability.  If your puppy is displaying fearful or aggressive behaviors, please let your trainer and vet know as soon as possible so it can be addressed.

If you would like to join a puppy kindergarten class, we suggest you contact the OSU Behavior Department.  Their class is open to puppies under 12 weeks.  If your puppy is over 12 weeks, you can start Skills and Manners classes with us as soon as your puppy is fully vaccinated.

Why is early socialization so important?

Socialization is a familiar buzzword, but we find most people only understand the surface of what dog behavior professionals are trying to communicate when they use this word.  Socialization refers to how we think about setting our dogs up to cope with all of the aspects of the environment they will need to negotiate throughout their lives.  Yes, they need positive experiences with a variety of different dogs and people behaving in different ways.  They also need to learn to cope with being handled by the vet and groomer, negotiate different surfaces, tolerate sudden scary noises, and problem solve how to get what they want when presented with new objects.  Frustration, challenge, and problem solving with a positive outcome are important aspects of any socialization plan.

Expose your puppy to a variety of surfaces.

 

Socialization is a lifelong process, starting with the primary socialization period before 16 weeks (puppies will be most receptive to new experiences at this time).  We can’t expose them to every single thing they will experience as adults, but we can teach them to be polite with social partners, stay calm when they aren’t sure what something is, and work out how to problem solve.  A well run puppy class, like found at Ohio State , will help you develop the skills you need to go out into the world and set your puppy up for success.  See the AVSAB Position Statement on Puppy Socialization.

What to Do:

  • Plan ahead to curate a positive experience when taking your puppy into a new place, exposing them to new people, dogs, or experiences
  • Allow your puppy to be challenged but safe – problem solving and choosing to be brave are important skills to hone
  • Observe how your puppy is interacting, decide if that is how you want them to behave in that context.  If not, interrupt them, and help them get it right or remove if necessary.  Puppies will practice and get better at behaviors that work for them – will it be cute when they are an adult?
  • Be flexible – sometimes your puppy will go through fear periods and other developmental changes where they are more sensitive or find something more challenging than you anticipated.  Adjust to your puppy in the moment
  • Continue to purposefully set up positive experiences through 18 months old

Mythbusting:

  • Puppies are not blank slates, and although some are resilient and can overcome some of these – their behavior and development will be impacted by their experiences prior to your bringing them home and genetics:
    • Genetics of both the mom and dad – fearful, anxious, and aggressive behavior all have genetic components
    • Prenatal stress of the mom
    • Nutrition and care of the mom before and during pregnancy
    • Experiences (or lack thereof) when with the breeder, rescue or shelter
    • Early stress and trauma, including being bullied by mom or siblings
  • Confining your puppy to the house prior to having all of their shots will have a negative impact on their socialization.  Getting them out and about can be done safely.
    • Visit family and friends with vaccinated and friendly adult dogs who enjoy puppies – they can be indoors or in a fenced yard
    • Carry your puppy in any area that may be exposed to unvaccinated dogs or animals that may carry diseases like parvo or distemper
  • The following does not replace proper socialization:
    • Getting a breed known for being friendly
    • Having a puppy that ‘seems fine’
    • Having other dogs next door or in your home
    • Inviting a few friendly people by the week you get your puppy
    • A puppy class
    • Coming from a location with a lot of dogs/people

Where is the Potty?

Teaching your puppy to go potty where you prefer will be one of the first things you do!  Choose where your primary potty will be, and get started on potty training to that area right away.  Most puppies are getting the hang of potty training by 6 months.  Make sure you maintain good reinforcement through a year or so, where you puppy should have a solid grasp on this basic behavior.  See your vet if your puppy really struggles with potty training or has a sudden relapse that doesn’t recover quickly.  Want all of the details to get potty training done right the first time?  Check out the video on demand Potty Training Seminar with everything you need to succeed!

Prevent:

  • When your puppy is inside you must be actively watching them. Use gates or pens to limit access to areas you cannot see
  • If you cannot actively supervise, then confine your puppy to a crate or pen and give them an activity to keep them happy
  • Feed your puppy on a regular schedule (pick up leftovers) to make potty time more predictable
  • Use an enzymatic cleaner liberally if there is an accident – if it smells like a potty, they will keep going in that spot

What to do:

  • Supervise, supervise, supervise
  • Track it – keep a potty journal to track patterns
  • Reinforce what you want – fancy treats come out for a party when they finish going in the right spot
  • Take your puppy outside regularly – a baseline is that your puppy can probably hold their potty their age in months plus one.  They will need to go out after activities, eating/drinking, waking up, and when taken out of their crate

Mythbusting:

  • Punishment isn’t helpful – it is more likely to make your puppy scared to go potty around you
  • If your puppy looks guilty, they don’t understand what they did was bad – they are trying to tell you that they don’t want you to be upset with them
  • Your puppy isn’t making a mess to upset or spite you, they just couldn’t hold it

Chewing and Teething

Chewing and mouthing is normal puppy behavior – it is all they have to explore the brand new world!  They will learn which types of substrates and objects they like to chew on.  It is up to you to help them get it right, so they grow up choosing appropriate places to put those teeth.  Keep in mind, toys appropriate for baby teeth may not work well for adults – watch through development, and you may need to swap things out.  Avoid super hard chews for puppies.  Growing teeth and jaws can’t handle really hard chews.

Prevent:

  • Active supervision! When your puppy is out exploring, you should be watching them, not doing something else
  • What if you can’t actively supervise? Have a puppy proof space they can go to if you can’t watch them – try a crate or pen with an activity
  • Puppy proof! Keep items you don’t want your puppy to have out of reach, use gates and pens to prevent access to areas where you can’t remove items
  • Use bitter spray daily on items you can’t remove (there are different brands, test to find one your puppy doesn’t like)

What to do:

  • Don’t let your puppy chew items you don’t want them to be chewing as adults:  shoes, socks, rugs, furniture, kid toys
  • Have appropriate chew items available free choice – pick up some of the toys and swap with others every few days to keep things fresh
  • Interrupt inappropriate chewing before or just as your puppy engages, and redirect them to something they are allowed to chew
  • Trade inappropriate items your puppy has for items they are allowed to have.  Use a tasty treat in exchange for that sock, then replace with a stuffed toy!
  • Chewing is self rewarding, so letting your puppy chew the correct items will help them learn which items they should choose

Give your puppy lots of opportunities to do the correct thing! Always have items you want them to chew available.

Myth busting:

  • If your puppy likes to steal items – chasing them to remove it can be a fun game for them.  Focus on getting something to trade, and get your puppy to come to you with the item
  • Removing items by force can teach puppies to guard items – set them up to feel like they are choosing something better by offering a high value trade (a treat, cheese or meat)
  • Telling puppies ‘no’ doesn’t help them learn what to chew, help them make a good choice
  • Attaching an item a puppy was chewing to them will not help them understand that they shouldn’t chew the item

Mouthing and Biting

Chewing and mouthing is normal puppy behavior – it is all they have to explore the brand new world!  They will learn which types of substrates and objects they like to chew on.  It is up to you to help them get it right, so they grow up choosing appropriate places to put those teeth.  Keep in mind, toys appropriate for baby teeth may not work well for adults – watch through development, and you may need to swap things out.  Avoid super hard chews for puppies.  Growing teeth and jaws can’t handle really hard chews.

Prevent:

  • Puppies interact with other dogs by mouthing and biting and learn to inhibit their bite pressure to not hurt their friends.  They have to learn that people are more sensitive than dogs and require a more inhibited bite – they learn this with practice, by about 20 weeks
  • You are not a chew toy, and you should encourage your puppy to play with toys when interacting with people. Avoid wrestle play with your body, tugging with your clothes or other items that are not toys
  • Toys that can be rolled, tossed, or are a little longer can be used to keep puppy teeth away from your skin when playing.  Toss treats to the ground to keep fingers away from teeth if needed.
  • Provide lots of appropriate outlets for mouthing and chewing, redirect your puppy to these items if they need to chew
  • Avoid getting your puppy so amped up they turn into a land shark.  Play gently with lots of breaks – remember puppies are babies and need lots or rest and sleep in between activity

What to Do:

  • Engage your puppy in play or activities when they are calm and settled
  • Play with a toy between puppy and human
  • Try to keep your play gentle enough your puppy is able to play with a soft mouth
  • Under 20 weeks: If your puppy bites softly enough not to leave marks or hurt, keep playing!
  • After 20 weeks: If your puppy makes contact with skin or clothes, you can stop the interaction and redirect to a toy when they are calm again
  • If your puppy bites with enough pressure to leave marks, stop the interaction.  Puppies will usually disengage when biting you makes you stop being fun
  • Puppies that bite clothes or pants when you are walking – stop moving and let them move on after they have made a different choice, redirect tugging
  • If they don’t disengage, you can leave the area or put them on confinement in a pen or crate.  Keep it matter of fact, there should be something to chew or work on in their confinement space
  • If your puppy is biting in contexts outside of play or typical social interactions, consider if they feel trapped or unsure, and try to give them more choice.  This is where a behavior professional can step in to help you address any concerns you have (practice will make perfect – address early).

Mythbusting:

  • Puppies are not biting to dominate or become alpha – they explore the world with their mouths just like babies, and biting/mouthing is normal puppy behavior
  • Behaviorally normal dogs no not respond to mouthing or too hard bites during play with aggression – they walk away and won’t keep playing
  • Grabbing, growling/yelling at, getting in the face, holding the mouth shut, pinching the lips against the teeth, alpha rolling/pinning a puppy are all aggressive responses – and can trigger defensive aggression and/or fearful behavior.  This will not make your puppy feel safe
  • Kids can’t be expected to give good feedback on mouthing to puppies – supervise well, and adults should interrupt.  Kids should always play with a toy between their body and the puppy

Crate or Confinement Training

Crates, pens and gates are great management tools to prevent your puppy from practicing unwanted behaviors.  Confinement can be frustrating, so we need to be sure we teach our puppies to enjoy spending time in their crate and how to be calm while they wait for us to return.

While we are touching on confinement, we want to refer you to the Naked Dog Project.  Collars present a strangulation risk, and we suggest they be worn only when your dog is supervised.  Always remove any collar or harness before leaving your dog alone – especially when crated or confined.

Prevent:

  • You can use wire or airline crates, exercise or playpens, or gates to create confinement spaces in your home.  Ideally, you will have a crate for the car to transport your puppy safely.
  • When potty training, your puppy should be confined to a space which is at least large enough for them to stand with their head up and lie flat on their side.  Some crates come with a divider so the crate can grow with the puppy.  Once potty trained, use a crate or puppy proofed space as large as you can comfortably offer.
  • Having multiple crates or confinement spaces makes management easier! At least one in your bedroom and one in the main area of the house gives your puppy multiple safe spots, so you can be consistent with management when you can’t actively supervised.
  • Set up the space with easy to wash comfortable bedding, appropriate enrichment (chews, food stuffed toys).  Food and water do not need to be in the space if your puppy will be in the space overnight or for 3 to 4 hours at a time.

What to Do:

  • Introduce the confinement space without closing your puppy in:
    • Feed your puppy in their space
    • Offer food stuffed toys inside their space
    • Spend time with them in or next to their confinement space (passive – like watching tv or reading a book) while they do an activity
    • Hide special treats or toys for them to find in their space
    • Pay them for choosing to rest in their confinement space with a chew, some treats, or gentle attention
  • Do not disturb your puppy when they choose to go to their space, call them out if you need them.  This will help them learn this is their safe retreat – so they can choose to rest or avoid something that makes them uncomfortable
  • Introduce closing them in:
    • Get your puppy to go into the confinement space when asked by tossing treats in, then letting your puppy come out
    • When that is easy and fun, then briefly close them in, feed a few yummy treats, and open the door while they are still calm
    • Being calm should make the door open.  You can ask your puppy to sit before you open the door if they know the cue  – treats stop when the door opens
    • Slowly increase the duration – and then replace the few treats with a food stuffed toy

Myth Busting:

  • Puppies do not love crates because dogs are den animals – if a dog does den, the puppies will leave by 8 to 10 weeks.  Our dogs like crates because we teach them that it is a safe space where good things happen
  • Puppies will potty where they sleep and eat if they are left too long, and some puppies get confused about where to potty when crated too long.  Crates don’t potty train your puppy, they are just a tool to prevent them from sneaking off to potty anywhere in the house
  • Puppies should not be expected to tolerate people bothering them while they are sleeping, especially when they have chosen to go into their confinement space.  Kids (and some adults) need to be told if the puppy is in bed, leave them alone.  Gently wake by calling them or getting some treats if needed
  • If your puppy is not able to settle on confinement within a few minutes, don’t let them cry it out.  Allowing a puppy to feel abandoned and panic can damage their ability to cope with being confined or alone as adults.  We need to help them cope, not just expect them to figure it out by themselves.

Alone Training

Your puppy loves their crate – so now you can leave for the day, right?  If your puppy doesn’t have much experience being alone, you will want to make sure they feel comfortable before you leave them.  Once they are comfortable in the space you expect them to stay when alone, you work to help them understand when you leave, you will come back.

Prevent:

  • Check with the breeder, shelter or rescue you have acquired your puppy to learn if they have been introduced to a crate or confinement, if they have ever been away from their mom or siblings, and if they have been in any unfamiliar environments.
  • Remember your puppy is a baby, and they will need time to adjust to your expectations.  Bring your puppy home when you have time to help them settle in and don’t need to leave them for any longer than they are used to while you help them feel comfortable.
  • The maximum time any dog should be crated is 6 to 8 hours at a time.  Puppies can tolerate being alone at most their age in months – then add 1.  If you can’t be home to let out for a potty break, meal, and activity – hire a pet sitter, or have a neighbor/family member check in on them.
  • Record or live stream with your puppy when you bring them home, and throughout their development (it is nice to be able to check in).  This will help you  determine if they are ok with being left alone. If your puppy seems distressed for more than 5 minutes, or restless for more than 15 minutes after your departure, alert your trainer and vet.

What to Do:

  • Offer food stuffed toys and chews that your puppy will not destroy or could be potential choking hazards.  An activity is a great way for a puppy to practice soothing themselves.  Getting special things when left alone will also help build strong positive associations when they need to be left alone.
  • Gradually increase the amount of time your puppy can be confined, then work to leaving them alone while you are in the house, then add leaving the house.  Return prior to them getting distressed, and let them out of confinement when calm.  They should think leaving and coming back is a really boring game that people like to play.
  • Work on alone training when your puppy is a little tired and likely to take a nap.  This is the perfect opportunity to get things done around the house!
  • Keep leaving and returning low key.  Wait to do exciting and fun things until after your puppy has had a chance to settle from the excitement of your returning home.  It is ok to say hi!  It is ok to take them out to potty right away.  Just try not to make a huge fuss as you walk in the door.

Mythbusting:

  • Letting a puppy ‘cry it out’ can have long term impacts and predispose them to developing anxiety as they grow.
  • Dogs are social animals, so it is normal for them to initially feel distressed by being left alone.  It is up to us to help them feel confident we will return before expecting them to cope with being left for longer durations.
  • Soiling, destructive behavior, and vocalizing for long durations are not signs that your dog is angry when alone – these are potential symptoms of separation anxiety. Watch out for lack of interest in food or chews typically eaten right away, heavy panting, drooling and restless behavior as well. Alert your trainer and vet if you notice any of these behaviors.  They often appear between 6 months and 1year.

Exercise and Activity

Puppies are a lot of work!  Having a mix of free choice and structured activity during the day is an important part of proactive puppy raising.  Engaging your puppy before they are being naughty should be the goal.  Then work on figuring out what your puppy enjoys, and doesn’t – then adjust!  Learning who your puppy is – so much fun!

Prevent:

  • Know how much exercise your puppy can do before they get tired can help prevent puppy tantrums, refusal to walk or participate in an activity, problem mouthing/biting and jumping. Puppies, just like kids, can get more hyper the more exhausted they get!
  • Teach your puppy an end of session release cue (such as ‘all done’) to clearly communicate when you are finished with an activity.  Be ready with an activity to do on their own that will help them calm, like a chew or food stuffed toy.  This is a great time to focus on crate and alone training.

What to Do:

  • All dogs are individuals and the amount your puppy requires will vary based on breed and individuality.  They can do lots of free choice activity, encourage regular breaks.  A good rule of thumb for structured activity (like tug/fetch, walks and training sessions) is 5 minutes or less of structured activity per month of age per bout.  If your puppy doesn’t want to participate anymore, it is time for a break!  Try to stop before your puppy is too tired to participate.
  • Avoid significant jumping (take care with furniture), or hard surface running until their bones and soft tissues have had a chance to fully develop (12 to 18mo). Take care with stairs, rushing up and down or doing excessive numbers of stairs can have negative impacts to your puppies bones and joints.  Discuss what is appropriate for your breed and age of puppy with your vet.
  • Offer a wide variety of age appropriate activities and learn your puppies preferences.  Balance social bonding, mental enrichment and physical activity.  If your puppy needs more of a particular type of activity, they will let you know by choosing inappropriate behaviors to get what they would like.  If their needs are met, these behaviors will resolve.
  • Chewing will be really important for your puppy through their first year.  Be sure to offer a variety of appropriate substrates for them to try out, and swap options regularly so they will chew the items you prefer.
  • Positive reinforcement based training can start right away, but make sure socialization is your big priority through the first 16 weeks.  Your puppy can learn new tricks anytime!

Myth-busting:

  • Puppies don’t just need physical activity. Trying to run their legs off can leave you with a puppy who is too tired and frustrated to stop themselves from mouthing and struggle to calm down.
  • Playing tug with your puppy does not cause aggression.  It is a great way to build confidence (let them win most of the time) and an opportunity to bond with your puppy.  Keep the game gentle and fun – start with dragging the toy and apply gentle resistance.  High energy tug should be avoided with small puppies to avoid potential injury.

Puppies and Kids

Puppies are a handful, but puppies and kids together presents an extra challenge.  With great, active supervision, helping to raise a puppy can be a wonderful learning experience for kids.  They should be offered structured opportunities to help in ways they enjoy.  Kids shouldn’t be expected to be in charge of primary care taking of a puppy, an adult should always be ready to help and coach. Kids shouldn’t be left alone with any dog or puppy until it would be safe for them to be left home alone without adult supervision.  Consider the developmental stage of both the child and puppy. 

When active supervision isn’t possible, puppies should be separated with physical management.  Kids should be taught to respect their puppy’s space – crate, food, and toys the puppy is in possession of should be off limits.  Play with toys should be supervised, and all toys should encourage the puppy to keep their mouth off of kid’s skin and clothes.  Remove the puppy from kids participating in active play in which they run or scream to avoid injuries to both the kids and the puppy.

Training is a great activity to help bond kids in the family with their puppy.  Treats can be dropped to the ground to help keep mouths and fingers seperated.  Teach easy behaviors like eye contact and sitting to start.  Older kids will be able to do more advanced skills and participate in activities like leash walking.  Kids shouldn’t be expected to walk a dog they cannot handle if it pulled on the leash or were approached by an off leash dog.

Here are some easy rules:

  • Never put your face near a dog’s face – dogs don’t like to be approached for hugs and kisses and can find staring threatening
  • Be quiet and walk slowly. Dogs can get over excited or scared by loud noises and fast movements!
  • Always wait or encourage a dog to come to you! If they don’t, walk away.  When they want to be petted or play, they will come to you.
  • Never disturb dogs while they are sleeping or resting.  Dog beds and crates or confinement areas should be off limits to kids.
  • Never go up to a dog if they are eating, have a chew or have a toy.  If you want to play, get a toy and see if they will play with you.
  • Dogs growl when they are angry or scared. Simply look away, fold your arms THEN hold still or slowly walk away.

Check out these resources:

Living with Kids and Dogs

The Family Dog

Veterinarian:

Vet visits are something all dogs will have to do for the rest of their lives. We want them to be as low stress as possible for our puppies and for our dogs to know what to expect!  See the AVSAB Position Statement for Positive Vet Visits.

  • Find a vet you and your puppy are comfortable with – you can look for vets who use Fear Free or Low Stress Handling techniques
  • Ask your vet if they promote positive reinforcement or rewards based training
  • Ask your vet if you can do happy visits – stop by for some treats at reception, get on the scale and eat treats, go stand on an exam table to eat some treats, find a tech to feed some treats and visit your puppy
  • Take a mat along so your puppy can get some traction on the table or floor
  • Take your own treats (enough to share), the special ones your puppy loves best
  • Make sure early visits to the vet are positive – use lots of food and take things slow, stop if your puppy is very upset or shut down
  • Teach your puppy to enjoy gentle restraint, being touched all over, and being touched by implements by doing a little and feeding a treat
  • Introduce muzzles and post surgery cones before your puppy needs one

 

Introducing all aspects of grooming before your puppy needs it means you can stay within their comfort zone!

Grooming:

Bathing, brushing, nail trims, and ear cleaning are a necessary part of all dog’s routines.  Depending on your preferences and what type of dog you have they could also be spending a lot of time with a groomer.   Decide before you need a groomer who you will use.  Interview a few, and find someone who is a good fit for your breed and your family.  If you will be using a groomer, ask them how to prepare your puppy to enjoy their first experience.  Learn about what the groomer will do and how they work with new puppies to help them feel comfortable with grooming.  Ask how often your puppy will need to be groomed and how to do any maintenance between sessions.

  • Ask your groomer if you can do happy visits – visit the shop, hear the trimmers and dryers, stand on a table, experience the type of restraint used, learn to stand still during handling.  Pair treats with each experience, and keep sessions short and positive
  • See the area where dogs are held between and after grooming – are the dogs supervised?
  • Ask if you can watch the groomer while they bathe and trim a dog
  • Ask what they do if a puppy is uncomfortable during a bath, groom or procedure
  • Ask if they have stopped a groom when they saw a dog was uncomfortable and sent a dog home to come back later
  • Ask them to show you how to identify which areas to check for matting if your breed is prone to matting
  • Introduce your puppy to body handling and implements at home – go slow and pair with treats so they can feel comfortable with grooming

Communication – Dog Body Language

Dogs are social animals like us, but they primarily communicate by reading and displaying body language.  Luckily, dogs are willing to pick up some of our verbal language (when we train them well).  We can do them the favor of learning more about how they communicate too.  When we understand our dog’s body language, we can feel confident when they are having positive experiences, intervene when they are not and better help them negotiate living in our world.

Some things to know:

  • Most behavior we call aggressive is the dog’s attempt to increase distance from something making them feel uncomfortable – heed these signals as soon as they are noticed.  Stop what is making them feel uncomfortable, take a break, and decide to remove them or make it easier for them to cope.
    • These behaviors should not be corrected or punished, we want to keep our dog’s warning system intact!
  • Belly up isn’t always an invitation to pet.  Many dogs will display their belly when they are uncomfortable.  If you aren’t sure, wait till they get up!  They will choose to approach or leave.
  • A dog with low posture and that ‘guilty’ look doesn’t know what they did wrong, they can tell you are upset and are offering an appeasement display to try to communicate they are worried they will be punished
  • Resource guarding against dogs, and often unfamiliar people, is normal behavior (human directed guarding is usually resolved with appropriate training).  Your dog is feeling like you would if someone on the street wanted to take your wallet.  Limit access to high value resources in contexts where your dog may feel this way.
  • Good dog play will have lots of breaks or pauses and will be bouncy.  If your dog has trouble taking breaks, help them.  Avoid letting them get so worked up they have trouble disengaging or get into scuffles.
  • When dogs approach and jump or lick, they are often trying to greet politely or just too excited.  They often just don’t understand our expectations.  It is up to us to teach them how to greet people politely.  They aren’t trying to be dominant or alpha.

Want to learn more?

Interested in dog body language and understanding the concepts needed to train your new dog effectively?  Check out the How to Train and Dog Body Language Seminar. No matter where your training journey leads you, you can feel confident you will start off your new relationship with up to date, modern dog training information.

 

 

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