Getting Your Puppy off to a Great Start in Life
Often pups are taken from their litters and mother at around 8 weeks of age and introduced to their new homes and their human family. This is where their lives start to change drastically. One of the things we hear from owners quite often is the urgent need for them to get their puppy socialised and in particular before they are 16 weeks old. The first 16 weeks are indeed a critical learning period for pups but each individual is different and the experiences they have in this time will help to shape their behaviour and future associations towards a wide variety of people, dogs and other things in the environment. The truth is that dogs are continually learning throughout their lives just as we do. The world can be an exciting and stimulating experience for a new pup venturing out for the first time so it is really important that they make good, enjoyable and happy associations.
Puppy’s also need lots of sleep and rest periods so it is very important that they are raised in a calm and relaxed home environment with frequent time-out periods free from distractions and intense activity. Your dog studies you every minute of the day when you are around them, even when you are not directly interacting with them. This is where they learn to make associations with family members and evaluate who they can trust and feel safe with.
Pups also naturally want to meet other dogs and when they see them they will be more than eager to make contact. How the other dog reacts and how we in turn use the leash can shape our dogs’ association of other dogs and people. Your puppy also needs to learn how to cope on its own when meeting other dogs. If we are over protective and do not allow mingling with other dogs then we can be giving the puppy the wrong messages. They should be socialised with dogs of all ages as they will learn to use their social skills to deal with a wide variety of different canine personalities and learn what is and is not acceptable behaviour to other dogs. If they are only socialised with dogs of their own age they will not benefit from changing their behaviour when in the company of older dogs who may only be able to tolerate them for so long.
Your training field is the world itself and how much you expose your dog to it will determine how well they cope in the long term. If your puppy does show a fearful reaction to something that is strange that is perfectly natural. We humans are exactly the same. Allow your dog to cope and investigate in its own time without pressure or over-protective soothing from us. All too often you will see that a dog’s behaviour is not too far off from a reflection of how we behave ourselves. If an owner has a fear of big dogs and does not want their puppy to meet bigger dogs then that puppy can easily develop a fear of bigger dogs reflecting the owner’s own feelings. We act how we feel and if we are scared we will give all the signals and panic through our own body language and facial expressions which will be picked up by the puppy causing them to feel the same way. We have to be careful of the messages we give to our dogs. Bringing a puppy up is mostly about organising and planning rather than actual training. The key to getting a strong bond with your puppy is shared activities. When it shows an interest in something you should also be interested with them. Explore together and take a delight in it and enjoy the world together.
Contribution by Maxwell-Muir, Registered Dog Trainer with the Animal Behaviour & Training Council, a Full Member of Association of Pet Dog Trainers, Full Member & Country Representative of Pet Dog Trainers of Europe and an Affiliate of International School of Canine Practitioners
To ensure we are giving your puppy the correct start, the Nursery is their environment until they are 36 weeks old and here they will be slowly introduced to older dogs as they get more confident and inquisitive as they grow.
Puppy 12 weeks to 20 weeks – Your puppy’s learning day
Puppy 20 weeks to 36 weeks – Your puppy’s learning day