The Best Things You Can Do for Your Puppy
For #NationalPuppyDay, three essential tips for puppy owners.
Posted Mar 23, 2018
It's #NationalPuppyDay!! It’s hard to think of anything but “PUPPY!!!” when you have a cute puppy in front of your eyes. But if you’re getting a puppy, there are some things you need to know to help your puppy become a friendly, confident dog—and to help you have a good human-animal bond.
Get your puppy from a reputable source
If you are getting a puppy, it’s important to pay attention to where the puppy comes from. Unfortunately, many puppies come from puppy mills, commercial breeding sites that vary in quality all the way down to dire. Puppies from pet stores (that typically originate from a commercial breeding establishment) are more likely to have behavior problems as adult dogs (McMillan, 2017; Pirrone, 2016). So avoid the pet store, and be aware that if someone is selling a puppy on the internet and will bring the puppy to meet you in a parking lot, it’s a sign they could be trying to hide where the puppy came from.
Try to see the puppy with both parents if possible. One study found if people did not see either parent, the puppy was 3.8 times more likely to be referred for a behavior problem later in life than if both parents were seen (Westgarth et al 2012).
Because some breeds are prone to particular health problems, ask about the health of the parents and if they have had any medical issues that might be passed on to the puppy.
The sensitive period for socialization begins at 3 weeks of age (e.g. Freedman et al 1961). Since this is before puppy comes to live with you, you should also ask the breeder what they are doing for socialization. They should be raising puppies in a home environment where they are already getting used to the kinds of household sounds and activities they will experience throughout their lives.
As well as breeders, reputable rescues and shelters can sometimes be a good source of puppies.
Socialize your puppy the right way
The sensitive period for socialization starts at 3 weeks and continues until 12-14 weeks, meaning you have important socialization to do as soon as the puppy arrives at your home. The American Veterinary Society for Animal Behaviour says “it should be the standard of care for puppies to receive such socialization before they are fully vaccinated.” This is because infectious diseases are not the main cause of death in dogs under 3 years old—instead, behavior problems are. Good socialization can help prevent problems.
Socializing your puppy means lots of positive exposures to other people and other animals. At the same time, they should be habituated to different sounds, surfaces, and environments.
It’s important to note this does not mean forcing your puppy. Instead, give them a choice, encourage them to interact, and try to ensure all experiences are positive. Keep an eye on your puppy’s body language so you can intervene if they start to look scared. Use play, food, and petting to ensure the puppy is having a nice time.
Although we don’t know exactly how much socialization is needed, research with guide dog puppies suggests more is better (Vaterlaws-Whiteside and Hartmann, 2017).
Sign up for puppy class
An easy way to get some much-needed socialization is to sign up for a good puppy class, where your puppy will meet other people and puppies.
Puppy class is not just about obedience training. A good puppy class will also include exercises to help your puppy get used to body handling (such as at the vet, grooming, tooth brushing). Opportunities to play with other puppies will help your pup learn canine social skills—but it should be done carefully to ensure it is fun, and not overwhelming, for all. This may mean shy puppies are kept separate from bouncier ones, and/or that play is interrupted to check both puppies are consenting.
Because dog training is not regulated, it is essential to check the dog trainer will use positive reinforcement. The use of aversive methods (technically, positive punishment and negative reinforcement) is linked to risks to canine welfare including fear and aggression (Ziv, 2017).
Worried about health issues? The AVSAB says, “Puppies should receive a minimum of one set of vaccines at least 7 days prior to the first class and a first deworming. They should be kept up-to-date on vaccines throughout the class.”
Unfortunately, up to a third of puppies are not getting enough socialization (Cutler et al 2017). People who attend puppy class expose their puppy to more stimuli and are more likely to reward good behavior—which means they are giving their puppy a better start in life.
These tips should help your pup grow up into a friendly, confident adult dog. Have fun with your puppy!
Cutler, J. H., Coe, J. B., & Niel, L. (2017). Puppy socialization practices of a sample of dog owners from across Canada and the United States. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 251(12), 1415-1423. https://doi.org/10.2460/javma.251.12.1415
McMillan, F. D. (2017). Behavioral and psychological outcomes for dogs sold as puppies through pet stores and/or born in commercial breeding establishments: Current knowledge and putative causes. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research.
Pirrone, F., Pierantoni, L., Pastorino, G. Q., & Albertini, M. (2016). Owner-reported aggressive behavior towards familiar people may be a more prominent occurrence in pet shop-traded dogs. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 11, 13-17.
Vaterlaws-Whiteside, H., & Hartmann, A. (2017). Improving puppy behavior using a new standardized socialization program. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 197, 55-61. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2017.08.003
Westgarth C, Reevell K, & Barclay R (2012). Association between prospective owner viewing of the parents of a puppy and later referral for behavioural problems. The Veterinary record, 170 (20) PMID: 22562104
Ziv, G. (2017) The effects of using aversive training methods in dogs – a review. Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, 19:50-60.
Freedman, D., King, J., & Elliot, O. (1961). Critical Period in the Social Development of Dogs Science, 133 (3457), 1016-1017 DOI: 10.1126/science.133.3457.1016
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