Congratulations on your new family member! Owning a dog is extremely rewarding, but often takes a lot of work. Your puppy is trying its hardest to understand the world and its role in it. Our responsibility is to let it do this in a safe environment with lots of things to see, hear, and smell. Your puppy can be easily overwhelmed by all of these new things, so be compassionate if it has trouble paying attention to you. If you follow these puppy behaviour tips, you can expect some insight into the mind of your new furry friend.
Socializing your Puppy
Between 4 to 16 weeks of age is the best time to socialize your puppy. This is the time at which your puppy’s interactions with its environment will most affect its future experiences with the world. It is during this period that your puppy learns how to act around other dogs, to show respect to the leader of the pack, and to gain trust in others, human or animal.
Your puppy must learn to interact with other dogs, as well as with people. There is some danger of it contracting an illness from other dogs as its immune system builds, but as long as you follow your veterinarian’s advice on healthcare and vaccinations, as well as make sure it is only around healthy animals, everything should be okay.
Activities like obedience training encourage positive social interactions with other dogs. They can desensitize your puppy, while at the same time training it to behave appropriately.
The most basic part of dog obedience is the sit behaviour. When a dog is sitting, it is in a submissive position, and we are in control of the situation. It acknowledges us as the pack leader. Teaching a puppy to sit is usually very easy, and your veterinarian will be happy to explain techniques to you. Try using both a verbal command (“Sit”) as well as a hand signal. Pairing these with food or a treat will help your puppy associate sitting with something positive.
Once your puppy has learned to sit, you should get it to sit whenever you give it something. This can be likened to asking a child to say please before receiving something. Your puppy should sit before it gets fed, before it is let outside, or before it gets attention.
Crate Training Your Puppy
Similar to a small child, your puppy can be dangerously curious. If not supervised properly, its curiosity can get it into trouble. This is why crate training is a good idea. It is like a playpen for your dog: it might hate it at first, but will learn to associate it with rest and feelings of safety. If your puppy becomes noisy in its crate, do not yell, as this will just encourage the behaviour because it has accomplished its goal of getting your attention. Instead, wait until your puppy has settled down before you let it out. This will also teach your puppy that it does not always get what it wants.
Like a toddler, a puppy puts everything into its mouth, and for the same reason: they are teething. Since dogs cannot explore objects using their paws, your puppy’s mouth is its primary tool at manipulating the environment. Light biting is natural experimentation, but when your puppy bites with pressure it can not only cause us discomfort, but it will learn bad habits. If your puppy was still around its litter-mates, they would yelp to let it know it is playing too rough. You should behave the same way, and yelp and stop playing if your puppy bites too hard.
Desensitizing Your Puppy
Over the next month, your puppy will be exposed to all sorts of stimulation, including other dogs and people, the veterinarian, cars, the phone, and so on. Its reactions can vary, depending on your puppy’s natural temperament, but if it is anxious, the most important thing for you to do is to try to make everything a positive experience for your puppy. You must show your puppy that it can trust that you will protect it.
You can accomplish this through daily desensitizing exercises. These are basically handling exercises to show your puppy that it will be okay during physical restraint, and that nothing painful happens when we examine their eyes, ears, and mouth. If your puppy has exposure to these experiences regularly, it will be better adjusted and gain trust in you.
The social world of the dog depends on a very important concept: dominance. Your puppy wants you to be pack leader, but if you do not step up to the plate, it will take over the job. Without a clear indication of who is in the leadership role, your puppy will naturally gravitate toward that role itself.
Strangely, many of our ways of giving our dog love (feeding, grooming, petting, letting it lead on walks, etc.) also tell your puppy that it is “top dog”. These things are okay- as long as your puppy does not expect you to do them, or worse, demand that you do. These are the times when asking your puppy to sit will best define its role in the family. Do not reward behaviour like barking, begging, or pawing with attention.
So what if your puppy is already behaving badly? Here are a few steps you can take.
1. IGNORE: Puppies love to play. If it is trying to play but is being naughty, stopping the play will quickly tell your puppy that you do not like or approve of its behaviour.
2. REPRIMAND: The word “NO” is the human form of growling. It is a severe warning that consequences will come about if your puppy does not stop what it is doing. The command must be deep and forceful, so as to startle it without causing it to get anxious.
3. PHYSICAL: Physical correction is a last resort. It is appropriate only when your puppy ignores the NO or challenges you. Done correctly, it will help the puppy understand the consequences of its actions, but done incorrectly, it will cause fear or panic. The best form of physical punishment is restraint. By preventing your puppy from acting freely, you are showing dominance. You can restrain your puppy in your arms or on its side until it submits. However, please ask someone who is knowledgeable in dog training to show you the correct way to restrain your puppy so as not to hurt it.
While this all sounds like a lot of work, every minute you spend showing your puppy the correct way to behave will be rewarded with years of happy memories! Problems that you ignore will only be harder to get rid of later on.