How can I best socialize and train my new puppy?

Many older puppies and dogs end up in shelters or euthanized because of behavioural problems that can be prevented as puppies. If you are ever concerned or have questions (What is normal? Should you be worried? What can I do? Am I doing something wrong?) about your puppies behaviour, please do not hesitate to ask!

Socialization

Why is this important? Puppies that are well socialized to people tend to be more confident and friendly. Unsocialized dogs have a more difficult time in life and suffer stress from being handled by strangers. And although genetics play an important role in behavior, environmental influences and training exert a far greater influence on the overall temperament of a dog. The first 3-4 months of a puppy’s life will have the greatest impact on his/her development!

‘Socialization’ is a broad category that involves getting your puppy used to, and behaving appropriately in a variety of situations. Examples include socializing your puppy with regards to:

  1.  other animal species,
  2. new surfaces,
  3. scary sounds,
  4. unfamiliar people,
  5. unfamiliar dogs,
  6. handling (hugging, examining mouth, squeezing feet, etc),
  7. objects with wheels,
  8. man-made objects (brooms, balloons, etc), and
  9. new environments in general (inside buildings, residential city streets, etc).

This aspect of your puppies care is VERY IMPORTANT! It will set the stage for his adaptation into our human world, allowing your puppy to feel as comfortable as possible in many different situations, and it will definitely allow for a stronger bond between puppy and caregiver. By considering the list above, it may also bring to light potential problems early on, when prognosis for treating potential behavioural problems is best (for example, thunderstorm phobias and aggression).

Please check out and download a copy of an excellent puppy socialization checklist at www.drsophiayin.com, and begin keeping track of your puppy’s progress!!!

Housetraining

Puppies can be housetrained easily and successfully if you dedicate the necessary time and patience to the task. This requires constant supervision, or appropriate confinement when not supervised, as well as rewards (treats!) to reinforce good behaviour.  The entire process can take several weeks - and you should consider your puppy housetrained only when he or she has gone at least 4 consecutive weeks without an accident in the house. Crate training comes in handy when you are unable to closely supervise your puppy.

It is important to understand what cues your puppy to eliminate - these include eating, drinking, playing and waking up from a nap. Next, is it important to be clear and consistent about where your puppy needs to go to the bathroom. Also, puppy's do best with schedules - by controlling your puppy's feeding schedule, you can somewhat control when they will need to eliminate.

At the beginning, mistakes will be made by both you and your puppy! It is important to not get frustrated, and harshly discipline your puppy. The only time it makes sense to discipline is if you catch your puppy in the act, and then a short, firm reprimand may be useful to stop the behaviour. Remember that if the punishment is too harsh, the only thing that the puppy may learn, is to not eliminate in front of you, even outdoors. In the end, consistency is key! If you give your puppy clear guidelines to follow and reward them when they eliminate appropriately, they should learn quickly. If you feel you are having a lot of trouble, despite following a consistent approach, consult with your veterinarian. Sometimes an underlying medical problem, such as a bladder infection (common in puppies!), must be addressed before we can expect a puppy to be housetrained.   

 

Obedience

Teaching simple commands to promote obedience can begin as soon as you get your puppy home. Starting early will help you communicate with your puppy, and to stop unwanted behaviours from the start. Puppy classes are an excellent idea, even as early as 8 weeks of age. The most important aspect to training and shaping desirable behaviours is to use positive reinforcement - food, a favorite toy, affection and attention - when your puppy is exhibiting desirable behaviours. A common mistake is to give your puppy attention only when they are behaving badly or in an undesirable way (Do you tend to ignore your puppy when it is being quiet and 'good' but start to give your puppy attention, even in the form of scolding, when it begins jumping up on you or barking? Your puppy may see this as a desirable response and the attention and reprimand may actually reinforce the behaviour). You should be paying close attention to your puppy at all times, and reward even simple desirable behaviour (Is your puppy sitting beside you and staying calm even though the door bell just rang? Reward this with a 'Good Dog!' and a treat!)

Simple commands that are a good place to start are "come", "sit", "lie down" and "stay". Always use the same cues for each command and teach only one command at a time so that your puppy does not get confused. Start training in a quiet area and use both hand a verbal signals to relay a command for best results. Remember that puppies are going to fidgety and have a short attention span at times, so keep training sessions short. As always, remember to be consistent and patient! Puppies love the challenge of learning, seem to have a sense of fulfilment when completing tricks or tasks and always enjoy pleasing their caregivers. Having an obedient and well trained puppy is good for everybody involved!

Behavioural Problems

Other issues that often come up with puppies are:

  • Puppies that are pushy and unruly
  • Difficulty crate training
  • Unwanted barking
  • Anxieties and fearful behaviour
  • Introducing your puppy to a baby, children
  • Introducing you others animals to a new puppy
  • Puppies who dig, chew and destroy
  • Puppies who 'mouth' / bite excessively

If you are worried about any of these behaviours with your puppy, please ask one of our Veterinarians or Animal Health Technicians, even before your next appointment (give us a call!). The best time to correct unwanted behaviours is when your puppy is young and most impressionable!