As veterinarians we see new puppies everyday. It is always fun and exciting to work with owners as they introduce the puppy to its new home. In addition to conversations about preventive healthcare (vaccines, nutrition, deworming schedules, heartworm and flea/tick control, spay/neuter) there are lots of questions about behavior issues and husbandry. These behavior concerns can be terrifying to the owners. There are many opinions in the world about house training, socialization, puppy mouthing etc. Many basic training methods are punishment-based and should be avoided. Studies have shown that pets with unaddressed behavior problems are the individuals that are most likely to end up in shelters. These cast-offs are often adolescent dogs who were never properly socialized.
Socialization is a period of development that spans from 3-16 weeks of age. It is critical that the new owner allow the puppy to explore the sights and sounds of the outside world and let the puppy become acquainted with other dogs, cats, and humans, etc. During this period, the puppy learns how to communicate and develops confidence. This is the important time for owners to be positive and set the puppy up for success by planning safe, relaxed, fun, experiences. Passing the puppy around and attending noisy and scary events is not a good idea. Dog parks, pet stores, doggy daycare facilities are all off limits. Remember the socialization window closes at 16 weeks so plan your puppies experiences carefully.
Keeping a positive attitude is the best approach. Moving slowly and speaking in soft, encouraging tones is recommended. Puppy classes are fine after 16 weeks and be sure to avoid “balanced” trainers who may suggest outdated practices such as choke collars, “alpha rolls,” and intimidation. The veterinary staff in many hospitals are now experienced in “fear free” techniques to ensure that the puppies are treated with kindness and compassion. These methods include high-quality treats (cheese, peanut butter, chicken) to reduce stress.
There are a multitude of books and materials available for new puppy owners. It can be quite confusing with all the differing opinions. Here are the best books written by veterinary professionals:
Perfect Puppy in Seven Days by Sophia Yin DVM;
Before and After Getting Your Puppy by Ian Dunbar DVM;
Puppy Start Right by Kenneth Martin DVM.
Clients with new puppies should rely on their veterinary caregivers to give the best behavioral advice. Please be sure to ask questions at the early puppyhood preventative appointments. Remember to stay positive.