Bringing a new puppy into your home—whether one you’ve purchased from a breeder, adopted from the shelter, or are fostering for a rescue organization—can be exciting, yet overwhelming. Raising a puppy is rewarding and the bond you’ll share will be lifelong, but you’ll need to keep them physically and mentally healthy. Mt. Horeb Animal Hospital believes that a happy puppy starts with proper training and problem prevention, rather than correcting problems down the line. Here are five tips to help prevent behavior problems in your new puppy.
#1: Research breeds before bringing home a puppy
Behavior is driven by a combination of nature and nurture, so your puppy’s behavioral traits are partly determined by their breed and individual genetics, and partly shaped by their environment and upbringing. Problems arise when inexperienced dog owners choose breeds—often based on looks—incompatible with their lifestyle, so do your research if you decide you want a pure-bred or “designer” cross-bred dog. If you’re adopting from a shelter, use the parents’ breed or shelter’s guess (i.e., terrier mix, hound mix) as a guide. Consider the pet’s energy level, intelligence, and breed purpose—for example, herding breeds are high-energy and intelligent, hound breeds can be noisy and may wander off following their noses, terriers love to dig, and guardian breeds are meant to be free-thinking problem solvers. Understanding a breed’s purpose can provide a starting point for your puppy’s behavioral needs.
#2: Find a qualified trainer for puppy class and beyond
Puppy classes are a great way to introduce your dog to foundational skills and socialization, and then group classes or one-on-one training can help with your pet’s individual quirks. Finding the right trainer can be tough, however, because a central governing body doesn’t exist for dog trainers. Follow these four tips when evaluating potential trainers:
- Look for positive-reinforcement methods — Science tells us that this training type strengthens the human-pet bond, forms positive associations in your pet’s brain, and has better outcomes.
- Avoid aversive methods — Prong collars, shock collars, leash corrections, “alpha” rolls, or other physical punishment can lead to behavior problems, such as generalized anxiety and aggression, and a breakdown in your relationship.
- Look for open communication — Your trainer should keep you involved in your dog’s training, and address your concerns along the way.
- Avoid closed facilities — If your trainer or facility won’t allow you to take a tour, or see your dog’s training in action, something fishy is afoot.
#3: Socialize your puppy
Socialization is how your puppy becomes accustomed to the world, best achieved when they are young (i.e., between 3 and 16 weeks) and most receptive to new things. Puppy class can jump-start socialization with other puppies, but proper socialization goes far beyond puppy class. Think big! Expose your puppy to everyone and anyone—tall people, short people, people with hats, glasses, umbrellas, bicycles, and wheelchairs. Introduce them to water through grooming, bathing, and swimming, medical procedures, travel, and other pets. Most importantly, keep the experiences positive, and don’t stop socializing once puppyhood ends—this is a lifelong process.
#4: Don’t let your puppy practice bad manners
Don’t make the mistake of letting your puppy get away with bad manners. The more you allow your puppy to “practice” a bad behavior, the more difficult you will find correcting that behavior. On the flip side, the more you reinforce good behavior, the more likely your puppy will repeat that behavior. If necessary, get help from a trainer as soon as you get your puppy, to reinforce these three basic behaviors:
- Checking in — Teach your puppy to “check in” with you often, by rewarding them for eye contact. When they consistently do this, you can add a command like “Look” or “Watch me.” Reinforce this often, so your puppy looks to you for guidance and learns to pay attention.
- Four on the floor — Jumping is a common puppy problem, which can be a big problem with large breeds. When your puppy jumps up, turn your back and ignore them until they are calm. When they have “four on the floor,” reward them with the attention they are seeking, as well as treats.
- Leash walking — Walking outside the home environment is highly enriching and provides much-needed exercise. Reinforce loose-leash skills by providing treats when your pet walks beside you. If they pull ahead, turn and walk in the other direction, and give them a treat when they catch up to your side. Harnesses or head halters are good tools for strong-pulling puppies, but consult your trainer for proper use.
#5: Ensure your puppy gets enough sleep
Puppies are a lot like toddlers—they are unable to pay attention and become emotionally labile when they’re overtired—and they need a lot of sleep compared with adult dogs. Some new pet owners, especially those with active families, over-exercise their puppies without realizing the pup also needs alone time to rest. Ensuring your puppy gets enough sleep is essential.
Behavioral health won’t be complicated if you follow these tips and lay a solid foundation for your puppy. Call us if you have questions about your puppy’s behavior, or if you would like to schedule a consultation with our Mt. Horeb Animal Hospital team.