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The Puppy has arrived

The first weeks of life together will set the pattern for your pup’s behaviour in future years and lay the foundation for the relationship between you and your pup. In order to avoid problems of miscommunication and misunderstanding it is important to appreciate that:

Dogs are not the same as human beings. Although many of their emotions may be similar and they are thinking beings, these emotions will differ from those of their owners. Dogs are dogs and people are people.

But equally:

Dogs are not devoid of feeling and understanding.

Your puppy is a living creature with a range of behavioural needs of its own and unique communication methods, which differ from ours.

Canine communication involves all of the senses (sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch). Dogs use a combination of instinctive behaviours and more complex learned responses in order to get their message across.

The way your puppy reacts and adapts to its new surroundings will be unique to your pup. Its behaviour will have been moulded by a combination of factors including genetic influences from its parents, early environmental influences and early social interaction with other dogs and other species and what it has learnt from these experiences.

Social behaviour

When your puppy arrives in your home it may be the first time that it has been separated from its mother and littermates. Until now its mother will have been the most important figure in the puppy’s life and when it enters your family it will need to form new attachments and social bonds.

Young puppies will transfer the attachment they’ve had with their mother onto new family members who can provide its essential needs for food, warmth and comfort.

In some cases the new puppy will appear to form a particularly close bond with individual family members. The puppy will value the family as a source of comfort, and with the security of a reliable relationship as a foundation, the puppy is able to set off on its voyage of discovery in a human orientated world.

Although a strong bond between puppy and owner is beneficial in the early stages, there comes a time when the puppy needs to develop its own independence. Loosening the bond may be difficult for both pup and owner at first, but you need to remember that this is a vital part of your puppy’s development. Decreasing the level of attachment does not involve ceasing all affectionate interaction and you can still have a great relationship with your puppy. As your puppy grows it will need to spend increasing periods of time without human company. This can be done by slowly introducing the puppy to ‘quiet time’ where the puppy is rewarded for lying quietly on its mat or in its crate. The period of time that the puppy can spend by itself is very slowly increased, always working within the puppy’s capabilities and needs. If this process is completed successfully, your puppy will learn that social interaction is not always available and this will enable them to cope with the periods of solitude that are associated with being a domestic pet (e.g. times when you go to work etc). Some puppies may remain dependent on their owner for all their social needs and may develop behavioural problems such as separation anxiety, when they are left alone. There may be a genetic predisposition for some breeds or individuals that find it more difficult to adapt to being alone compared with other breeds.

Destruction, howling and toileting in inappropriate places are common signs of separation anxiety and while the condition is well-recognised and may be manageable, it is far better to try to prevent it in the first place.

Importance of play

Play is an important part of development as it provides opportunities for mental as well as physical stimulation, helping to reduce the chance of problematic behaviours developing as well as keeping dogs cognitively fit for longer. Dogs should be offered safe toys to play with and these should be changed on a regular basis to provide novelty. Be sure to check all toys on a regular basis for any damage and remove them before they can harm your puppy.

Puppies should also have lots of opportunities to play with you but remember not to use your hands or feet as toys. Playing games like hide and seek, chasing or retrieving a ball or frisbee can be a great way to exercise your pup’s mind and body and helps to keep you fit as well.

 

Lessons to learn

House-training

Very few puppies are fully house-trained when they enter their new home and most owners are prepared for a period of extra cleaning when they take on a young pup. However, in many cases the process of house-training may take longer than expected and as a result there can be considerable tension between pup and owner. Remember that many puppies may not develop full bladder control until they are around 5 to 6 months old.

By following a few simple rules and avoiding some common mistakes, you can maximise your chances of success and make the whole house-training process far less stressful for you and your puppy.

Spot the right moment

It is important for your puppy to be in the location in which you want it to toilet when it feels the need to relieve itself. If you take your puppy outside when it is most likely to want to go to the toilet (after every meal, when it wakes up, after drinking and after play) you maximise the chances of it forming an appropriate association between being in the right spot and relieving itself. Every time your puppy makes a mistake and goes to the toilet in the house it learns an inappropriate association and the process of house-training is slowed down. Although it may sound drastic, setting an alarm for intervals of two hours during the day and night and taking your puppy outside to the same area on a regular basis can be one of the quickest and simplest ways of house training.

Reward works better than punishment!

If you are right next to your young puppy when it is outside (or the designated spot on the balcony for apartment dwellers), you can give some form of reward to coincide with the process of toileting and thereby encourage your puppy to see toileting in the appropriate place as a good thing to do! Quiet praise or food can be used but it is very important that the reward is given immediately after the puppy finishes toileting (i.e. within 1/2 second) and not once the puppy is safely back in the house. It is important not to punish the puppy if it toilets in the wrong place – just clean it up quickly with an enzymatic washing powder. Punishment may just lead to confusion and anxiety in your puppy and increase the time taken to toilet train it.

Walking on a lead

Puppies do not inherently know how to walk on a lead and it is important to introduce your new arrival to a collar and lead as soon as possible.

At first, put the collar on your puppy for a few days, and let it get used to this without you attempting to take the puppy for a walk. You may find that your puppy will scratch at the collar at first and this is just a normal part of getting used to something around its neck.

You should be able to slip at least two to three fingers comfortably between the collar and your puppy’s neck.

Then attach a very light lead to the collar for just a few minutes at a time, several times a day for a few days so that your puppy gets used to the lead before you attempt to take your pup for a walk.

Make sure the clip is not too big or heavy for a young puppy.

Do not pull on the lead to get your puppy to move – just get your pup’s attention by clicking your tongue, or talking to it. As soon as your pup follows the direction of the lead, reward it with a small food reward and verbal praise. Don’t worry if your puppy only takes a few steps on the first occasion, small steps are the best way to begin. Remember you are teaching your dog to walk nicely on a loose lead, not to heel.

Once the puppy is happy to walk with you on its lead you should encourage it to make regular eye contact with you by making interesting little noises, providing treats and praise to get its attention. In this way, the dog is encouraged to be in communication with you during walks.

The lead is a very important communication channel between the dog and owner and any tension and frustration you feel may easily be transmitted down the lead. Many problems, such as aggression towards other dogs, may be made worse by this negative communication. Try to be as calm as possible and in a positive frame of mind when communicating with your dog whilst it is on the lead.

Remember as the puppy grows you will need to buy a bigger collar so that it always fits correctly. You may need a stronger lead too.

Obedience training - training good manners

There is a lot to learn about puppy training and it is wise to seek expert advice regarding training for your new pup. There are many different puppy classes, obedience training programs and dog and kennel clubs who offer different levels of training and classes. Ask your veterinarian or Delta Society Canine Good Citizen Trainer for guidance to establish a training program suitable for you and your new puppy. The main aim is to teach your puppy good manners so that it knows how to behave with your family and in the community.

In addition to specific training, puppies also need to learn how to control their own behaviour and limit potential injury to others. Part of this process involves learning that the use of teeth and nails are not acceptable when interacting with owners and other pets, and it is therefore important not to encourage their use during play. Play should be directed to appropriate toys instead.

The most important thing to focus on is to teach your puppy to be calm and settled. This means rewarding your puppy with quiet praise whenever it is lying quietly.

Taking your dog out

Puppies need to be taken out and about in the world in which they are to live as soon as possible to maximise the processes of socialisation and habituation, and to teach them to accept diversity and challenges in their world. Whilst it is obviously important to take all the necessary precautions to reduce exposure of your puppy to risks such as infectious diseases, traffic, etc; it is sensible to take it out on trips away from home as soon as possible. Places that have been soiled by animals should be avoided, as should contact with unvaccinated animals.

The risks of isolating your puppy at a young age are just as serious as those posed by taking them on small outings. To keep risk to a minimum you can carry your puppy in your arms and only let it meet dogs that are of good health and vaccination status. If in doubt about any potential risks, discuss them with your veterinarian.

Once the vaccination process is complete there is no limit to the variety of experiences that you can offer your puppy but remember that young animals have a requirement for frequent sleep!

Failing to take your puppy out into the world will put it at risk of developing a number of behavioural problems later in life, including fear of places, people and animals. Many of these dogs may go on to develop aggressive behaviour. Aggression is often due to fear or anxiety, and dogs that have little or no experience with the outside world may see people, places and other dogs as potential threats. This means they will often react aggressively in order to protect themselves from the threats that they perceive in their environment. Trying to prevent these sorts of problems is the responsibility of new owners and early socialisation with people and other animals and habituation to noises and places is a great way to minimise potential problems from developing.

It is not uncommon for puppies to show some degree of fear or apprehension when they encounter people and places for the first time. It is very important that you react in a positive manner and you can try to use play as a form of distraction.

If the fearful behaviour continues then seek advice from your veterinary practice. Your veterinarian may refer you to a veterinary behaviourist if necessary. Treatment will be much more effective if started early. Do not think that the problem will get better with time – it may not. Puppies do not ‘grow out’ of problem behaviours without help.

Group dynamics

Dogs live in groups or ‘families’ in the wild. To help them feel secure within your family you need to give them clear and consistent rules so they understand how they fit into your group.

The most important thing to remember when interacting with your puppy is consistency. Everyone within the family needs to treat the dog in the same way and thereby reinforce the rules that you have set.

It is important to remember the significance of activities such as eating and sleeping when determining how the puppy best fits into your family. Try not to give human food from the table or from your plate as a puppy’s nutritional needs are different from our own. Train your puppy to sleep in a crate and give the pup its own bed. This allows the puppy to have a safe place of its own. Any rules you set for your puppy (for example – no tidbits from the table) should be reinforced by all family members in order to avoid any potential confusion for your puppy.

Behavioural problems are a common reason for breakdowns in the pet owner relationship and you can help to prevent these problems by remembering that your puppy is not a person! You are in the best position to prevent problem behaviours and now is the time to start.

Bringing up a puppy can be a challenge as well as an adventure; but if you respect your pup’s natural behaviour as well as its individual personality you can learn to understand the world from a canine perspective and enjoy years of rewarding companionship with your happy and faithful friend.

If you experience any problems with your pet’s behaviour or consider its reactions to be inappropriate, very annoying or even dangerous do not hesitate to seek advice from your veterinary practice.