Your puppy is in a critical stage of learning at this young age. Many dog owners fall into the trap of thinking that their puppies will inherently be naughty or angelic based on their breed or genetic factors. This is far from the case! The truth is that it takes time, work and the active participation of everyone in the household to produce a friendly, well-mannered and hassle-free adult dog.
Why it is important to promote good behaviour when your puppy is young
Undesirable behaviours such as barking, chewing, counter surfing, house-soiling and jumping up commonly begin to occur at around 3-6 months of age. Your puppy will not grow out of these behaviours. On the contrary, it is more likely that these behaviours will worsen if not addressed early on.
Behavioural problems are the leading cause for pets to be relinquished to shelters or euthanised, so they present a major animal welfare issue.
The key to managing problem behaviours is early intervention. Many puppy behaviours that we deem to be ‘unacceptable’ (e.g digging, chewing, jumping up) are actually very normal dog behaviours that puppies are bound to perform if they are not taught otherwise.
Sensitive socialisation period:
From 3 weeks old to 16 weeks old, puppies are primed for learning about their social environment. This is called the ‘sensitive socialisation period’. If puppies do not receive adequate exposure, training and guidance during this period, they are much more likely develop into timid, anxious and poorly-adjusted adult dogs who may be fearful, aggressive or destructive.
Did you know: Most owners don’t take their puppy out of the home environment until after 16 weeks old. This is the equivalent of socially isolating a child until the age of 7!
During this period of development, it is very important for puppies to have frequent, positive exposure to any social situations that they are expected to tolerate as adults. Things you should consider socialising your puppy to include people (including men, women and children), other dogs (of all shapes and sizes), other animals (cats, rabbits, horses, etc), different places (the vet, the groomer, the the car, the bath), and different noises. It is crucial that these experiences are positive and do not overwhelm your puppy. Offer them treats for exploring these new situations in their own time and never force them into situations that make them uncomfortable.
Prior to your puppy’s final vaccination at 14-16 weeks old, avoid areas considered to be ‘high risk’ for parvovirus. This includes any areas with high dog traffic where a virus would be able to survive in the environment. Examples include dog parks, grassy ovals and the beach. Examples of ‘low risk’ areas to socialise your puppy include friend’s houses, walking on the sidewalk or asphalt, or areas with exposed concrete. For small puppies, you can carry them with you on shopping expeditions. Fun trips in the car can also be a good way for your puppy to get out of the house.
Just like any other types of learning, practice makes perfect. Give your puppy as many socialisation opportunities as possible to enable them to hone their social skills. This doesn’t just apply for the socialisation period. It is important that your puppy continues to have positive exposure to a variety of people and other animals throughout life to maintain these social skills.
Puppy preschool offers a great opportunity for puppies to have regular contact with a variety of people and other dogs during their socialisation period. Going to puppy school also gives owners an opportunity to understand their puppy, and vice versa, and to build a harmonious and rewarding relationship built on trust.
Positive training methods:
The best way to foster good behaviours in your puppy is by using positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement means giving your puppy a reward for behaviours you like, and ignoring or redirecting behaviours that you don’t like. See the resources at the end of the handout to learn more about how to utilise positive reinforcement techniques.
In order to raise a confident, happy and well-behaved puppy, it is also very important to avoid using punishment. Punishment includes anything that is intended to scare or intimidate your puppy, including harsh scolding or physical punishments. These methods may seem to halt a behaviour in the short term, but they have been shown to be ineffective at preventing the behaviour happening again in the long term. Using punishment will also damage your relationship with your puppy. Dogs that are trained using punishment have been shown to have a much higher incidence of anxiety problems and aggression than dogs trained with positive methods.
Crate training is an incredibly helpful tool for shaping your puppy’s behaviour. It involves training a puppy to enjoy spending time in a crate or play-pen while they are not being directly supervised. This restricts their access to areas of the house where they may have the opportunity to engage in ‘unwanted behaviours’ such as house soiling or chewing.
Alternatives to a crate include confining your puppy in a play pen, run, or puppy-proofed room.
Many of our staff have used and recommend the training techniques outlined in Simpawtico Dog Training’s Youtube videos- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4K_lNLw83k.
Pheromones are chemicals produced by animals that are important in coordinating social behaviour. Adaptil is a veterinary product that contains a synthetic dog appeasing pheromone. This pheromone is released by the female dog as her puppies nurse. It is believed to have a calming effect on dogs, and has been proven to help puppies adjust to new environments. We recommend having your puppy wear an Adaptil collar as soon as they arrive at their new home.
When should I book in for a behaviour consultation?
Just like humans, dogs can develop mental health problems. Some can become apparent very early in life. Some red flags that your puppy may need help with their social development include:
- Excessive fear responses to new people, noises, and/or new environments. Signs include cowering, hiding and signs of stress (pacing, panting, yawning and lip licking)
- Aggressive behaviour such as growling, snapping, biting, lunging towards people and/or other dogs
- Compulsive behaviours such as shadow or tail chasing
- Separation distress (destruction, howling, barking and house soiling when left alone)
Excellent resources for learning puppy management and training
- “Decoding Your Dog: Explaining Common Dog Behaviors and How to Prevent or Change Unwanted Ones”, 2015 by American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, edited by DF, Horowitz, J Ciribassi & S Dale. We have this available at reception for $25.
- “Perfect Puppy in 7 Days: How to Start Your Puppy Off Right” by Sophia A. Yin
- Simpawtico Dog Training – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMgKNPC0O91FgvS94YMgIag
- Kristin Crestejo Dog Training – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUXvRAsL5Q41h-KkhbNY3_w
- Zak George’s Dog Training Revolution – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZzFRKsgVMhGTxffpzgTJlQ