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How to Raise Puppies So They Have the Best Lives Possible

Become fluent in "dog," let them show you what they need, and listen to them.

Key points

  • A new dog-centric book based on the latest research on puppy behavior explains what they need to flourish so you both can be happy.
  • Puppies are individuals with unique personalities, and it's best to take their point of view and let them tell you what they need to thrive.
  • Making a puppy's life "easy" doesn't mean it's better, so enrich them by challenging them in positive ways.
CRC Press, with permission.
Source: CRC Press, with permission.

Deciding to bring a dog of any age into your home and heart is a huge decision. You are their lifeline, and they are totally dependent on your goodwill. Puppies, perhaps especially, need all the love they can get, and a new book by Stephanie Rousseau and Turid Rugaas, How to Raise a Puppy: A Dog-centric Approach, clearly shows why the only way to teach these deeply feeling sentient beings how to adapt to a human-oriented world is by using force-free, positive methods.1,2

This excellent guide should be required reading for everyone who wants to become a trusted guardian for these deeply emotional canines and develop and maintain mutually respectful, beneficial, and safe friendships. Puppies and all dogs need real love, not tough love, to thrive.

Puppies are individuals with different personalities, so there are no one-size-fits-all ways to raise them. It's essential to give them what they need, including all the real love you can, and to continually enrich their lives and encourage them to be creative in what can be a rather demanding human-oriented world.

Here's what Stephanie and Turid had to say about their wonderful book.

Marc Bekoff: Why did you write How to Raise a Puppy?

Stephanie Rousseau and Turid Rugaas: Back in 2016/17 when Steph was completing Turid’s Dog Trainer’s Education, a participant asked Turid if she could recommend a puppy book in English. "No," came the characteristically blunt response! A few years later, at a Pet Dog Trainers of Europe gathering, no puppy book meeting Turid’s approval having yet made an appearance, Stephanie persuaded Turid to write one with her. The idea was that this book would provide people with the information and tools they needed to raise a puppy in a way that was reflective of Turid’s philosophy.

We both felt that the puppy books available were very focused on obedience and control, concentrating on the "wants" of the humans, and failing to recognise the needs of the puppies! We wanted to write a book that would give people a better understanding of their puppies and empower them to take a more natural, more relaxed, and, we think, easier route to raising their puppies—one that didn’t involve them listening to a puppy crying in distress while locked in a crate, or require them to introduce their puppy to hundreds of people before they were 16 weeks old or to spend hours training them to perform tricks that had no useful application to life! We wanted people to remember that puppies are only infants and cannot be expected to behave like sensible adults. In meeting their needs in an appropriate manner, however, we can help them become sensible adults.3

MB: Who is your intended audience?

SR & TR: Our intended audience is anyone who has any dealings with puppies! We obviously hope to reach puppy parents, but also dog professionals such as breeders, trainers, and anyone else who works with puppies, either directly or indirectly.

MB: What are some of the topics you weave into your book, and what are some of your major messages?

SR & TR: With this book, we’ve steered the reader away from the traditional approach to puppy raising, which has been focused largely on obedience, training, and control. Instead, we take a more holistic, dog-centred approach. Drawing on research into how dogs naturally rear their young, and how they have evolved to behave and spend their time, it supports a new way of sharing our lives with our dogs. We look at how we can raise them in a way that is in keeping with their natural behaviours, meets their needs, and allows them the time and consideration they require to develop physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Of course, we also offer advice on dealing with the common challenges that people encounter with their puppies: the bigger ones, such as toilet training and nipping, and the more minor ones such as picking up things on their walks, not wishing to walk, "picky" eating, and much more. Much of the advice given, however, is not based on training, but rather on recognising what is happening for the puppy and responding appropriately.

Our readers may find some surprises and deviations from advice they may have seen elsewhere— we strongly advise against using crates, walking dogs in collars, and playing fetch; urge great caution when it comes to dog parks; and advocate for puppies having constant company (even when they’re sleeping!).

In terms of our major messages, we wish to really emphasise that puppies are not adult dogs—they are not fully developed physically or psychologically, and we humans need to accept them as such. They are still under construction and need time to develop at a natural speed, without us making unnecessary demands of them. Their development cannot be forced—you cannot, for instance, be cross with a puppy for going to the toilet on your floor any more than you could be cross with a baby for going to the toilet in their nappy, or with a young child for wetting their bed. We cannot expect them to be independent—independence comes with age and confidence.

Puppies, like babies, need care and guidance. Everything must be done gradually, step by step. If we expect too much from them, problems later on can be wide-ranging: from joint problems to stress-related behaviours. While they are puppies, we must allow them to be puppies—there will be a time for them to be sensible adult dogs, but puppyhood is not that time!

MB: Are you hopeful that as people learn what puppies need and want they will raise dogs who are happier and more content?

SR & TR: Yes, we are always hopeful! Of course, there are always people who are set in their ways, but we have found there are also many people who wish to do better by their dogs—people who are relieved when you tell them they don’t need to lock their dog in a cage to toilet train them! Another thing that makes us hopeful that people will be happy to follow our model of care is that it’s easy! We’re asking people to do less rather than more, and who doesn’t want to take the easier path when it’s more effective than the harder route!

References

In conversation with dog trainers Stephanie Rousseau and Turid Rugaas.

1. The book's description reads: "How to Raise a Puppy moves away from the traditional approach to raising puppies, focused on obedience and control, and instead takes an holistic, dog-centred approach. Drawing on research into how dogs naturally rear their young, and how dogs have evolved to behave and spend their time, it supports a new way of sharing our lives with our dogs. It also offers advice on dealing with some of the common challenges people experience with puppies, and tips for managing adolescence. A much-needed resource for dog trainers, veterinarians, and behaviourists to recommend to clients, this conveys a powerful message to help overcome all too common issues so many people have with their puppies. Packed with practical advice, it offers an overdue "puppy perspective," with respect for a dog as a sentient being at its core."

2. I strongly encourage people to read the groundbreaking work of Michael W. Fox and John Paul Scott and John L. Fuller.

3. MB: How does your book relate to your backgrounds and general areas of interest? SR & TR: Thousands of puppies have passed through our combined doors! Turid began running puppy classes and groups in the 1980s, and seeing the results, both short- and long-term, gave her a profound interest in finding ways that these classes and groups could be improved. Turid recorded statistics on how the puppies did after the courses, and the long-term results helped her establish the best ways of running them, which are now reflected in the book. She stopped running ordinary classes in 2000, but continued with puppy groups, because of the need that puppy owners had for good information and the lack of books on the market about puppies that she felt she could recommend. Stephanie began running puppy classes in London in 2014, and was struck by the proliferation of poor information about puppies. The use of crates was ubiquitous, many people perceived puppy nipping as an indication of an aggressive dog, people feared "dominant" behaviour in their puppies, and many young puppies were being exercised inappropriately. Like Turid, Stephanie has a strong interest in education and spreading up-to-date information that will help improve the lives and welfare of our dogs. This book addresses the issues that we, the authors, encountered time and time again in our work with puppies.

Why Dogs Don't Need Tough Love.

Words of Wisdom on Raising and Training a Happy Puppy,

Giving Puppies Extra Socialization Is Beneficial for Them.

Does Early Puppy Training Lead to Fewer Behavior Problems?

The Psychology and Art of Positive "Do No Harm" Dog Training.

Fox, Michael W. Behaviour of wolves, dogs and related canids. Cape, 1971.

_____. Integrative development of brain and behavior in the dog. University of Chicago Press, 1971.

Scott, John Paul and John L. Fuller. Genetics and the Social Behaviour of the Dog. reprint 1998.

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