Animatch Blog

A new puppy?

Miranda Wimbush, a former Volunteer, offers some sage advice on on raising a puppy to become a good canine citizen.  In addition to being a Mom to a toddler and three four-legged, furry kids, she is a dog trainer.  Miranda feels that getting puppy off to a good start is instrumental in bringing up a well behaved dog who will be welcome anywhere.  


Puppyhood is a joyous time, but it can be overwhelming. There are so many things to teach your new family member and it can be difficult to know where to start. What are the most important commands to teach to start your puppy off right? I get asked this question a lot and my answer often surprises people. In fact, the most important things to start with are not commands at all but crucial skills that your puppy can only learn in puppyhood. Puppies have a critical social window called the socialization period that lasts from birth to between 16-18 weeks. During this period, it's incredibly important that your puppy has positive experiences with new people, dogs, experiences and environments as this will ensure that they will grow up to be a well-adjusted family member and does not develop behaviour problems. The other thing that puppies learn in this period is how to inhibit their bite by interacting with other dogs and people, which is crucial as a dog that does not bite down hard is a much safer dog to live with. Bite inhibition and socialization are the two most important skills to teach your puppy, but what's the best way to go about it?


Your puppy needs to have positive experiences with many new people. It's imperative that your puppy meets a wide variety of people as dogs are not the best at generalizing. So, have your puppy meet women, men, babies and children of different ages as well as people of different ethnicities and mobilities. Ensure each interaction is positive by monitoring your puppy, does he seem relaxed and eager to engage with the new person or is he hanging back? When approaching a new person follow your puppies lead and don't force him to go closer than he is comfortable. Associate seeing new people with good things by giving your puppy special treats when he meets and greets. Aiming to have your puppy meet 100 new people by the age of 12 weeks with ensure that he has a good base of socialization with people. Can’t imagine how you will get to that number? Joining a puppy class is a must and also consider hosting a meet the puppy party-- what could be more fun!


Meeting and greeting other dogs is also essential for your puppy as well. You want your puppy to be exposed to gentle, friendly older dogs as well as puppies of all sizes and ages. Ideally play is off leash but I would refrain from taking your puppy to the dog park as you can not verify the other dog’s temperament, bite inhibition or health. Instead have friend’s dogs come over to your house or meet at a park for a walk together. If you would like to your dog to meet an unfamiliar dog on leash ensure that you ask that the dog is friendly with puppies, keep the leash loose and the greeting short, 3 seconds is ideal. A well-run puppy class is a best way for your puppy to be exposed to a variety of puppies and learn social skills in a safe environment.


Ensure all experiences are fun and positive for your puppy. Pair visits to the vets with lots of treats and make frequent visits even when you don't have an appointment. Bringing your puppy in just for snuggles from the staff will ensure he builds up a positive association. When taking your puppy to the groomer adopt a gradual approach. The first visit should be just to say hi, the next can be for a nail trim or ear cleaning, then a short visit just for a bath. Pairing these short positive visits with frequent handling sessions at home where you touch paws, ears and check teeth and pair with yummy goodies will go a long way in ensuring that your puppy is not fearful at the vets or groomers.


The final thing your puppy needs to be exposed to is all the different environments and objects that you would like him to be ok with as an adult. When taking your puppy to a new place make sure to gradually increase the level of busyness. Start with just slightly busier than your neighbourhood and increase the level of activity as your puppy is comfortable. Allow your puppy to safely explore new areas on a loose leash, slightly longer than normal, 10 feet is ideal. This will help keep him relaxed and feeling like he is off leash. When new things enter your puppy’s environment note them and offer your puppy a small treat so he learns to have a positive associate with the arrival of novel things. If your dog seems unsure of a new thing make sure to walk away a bit, giving him plenty of space, and allow him to watch from a distance he feels comfortable. Giving him this choice will help to ensure that he does not get overwhelmed.


Puppyhood is the time that your dog learns how to have a soft mouth. Why is this important? Dogs are animals, and so when put into situations that they feel powerless or overwhelmed they have two options, fight or flight. If they feel like that can’t move away they will choose to fight. Ensuring your puppy has good but inhibition will prevent him from doing serious damage if he ever were to get into a fight with another dog or bite for any other reason. A dog with good bite inhibition is a safe dog.


Your puppy’s mother first started to teach your puppy how to have a softer mouth by yelping or moving away if he bit hard while nursing. Then your puppy’s siblings continued this training until your puppy came home. Now that your puppy is with you it’s up to you to continue this education. You can do this by ensuring that your puppy gets plenty of off leash play with puppies and gentle dogs and by teaching your puppy to be soft with his mouth when interacting with you. When your puppy is playing with you make sure that you remove your attention initially for the harder bites and then gradually for the softer bites until your puppy is only nibbling on you. Joining a puppy class is an ideal way to get lots of fun puppy play time for your pup and to learn lots of tips and tricks to help with puppy mouthing and biting.


Socialization and bite inhibition are the two most critical skills your puppy learns when he is young. You can teach obedience at any age but you can't turn back the clock and adjust your dog’s bite inhibition and although remedial socialization is possible it is very time intensive. Now is the time to be a proactive puppy parent and ensure your puppy has excellent social experiences and opportunities to interact with you and puppies to learn to soften his bite. As soon as your puppy has had his first set of shots most veterinarians will allow you to start a puppy class. Take advantage of this critical period in your puppy’s development.


If you are looking for a class, The Mindful Canine will be hosting puppy classes starting mid-July, for more information go to https://www.mindfulcanine/puppy school

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