By Dr. Becker
Puppies go through several development stages on their way to adulthood.
The goal of any breeder or pet owner should be to take maximum advantage of each sensitive stage by providing the puppy with age-appropriate social and learning opportunities.
- Between 4 and 8+ weeks, puppies learn best how to interact with other dogs.
- Between 5 and 10+ weeks, they grow adept at interacting with humans.
- Between 5 and 16 weeks, they are most able to investigate new environments and stimuli. And in fact, a puppy not given a full range of socialization opportunities by about 10 weeks can develop fear of the unfamiliar.
How a Puppy Learns Dog-to-Dog Skills
Prior to about 8½ weeks of age, puppies are primarily working on their dog-to-dog skills. It's beneficial and therefore preferable during this period for a puppy to remain with his parents and littermates. The better your puppy's social foundation with other dogs, the more equipped he'll be to manage a brand new world – your world.
Responsible breeders keep new litters for at least 8½ weeks and sometimes longer if they plan to begin housetraining and socialization before sending the pups to their new homes.
The biggest advantage to leaving your puppy with the breeder until she's at least 8½ weeks is to allow her to develop socially with other dogs.
Other ways to socialize young puppies (those receiving timely core vaccines and other preventive healthcare) include play dates with other puppies and puppy day care or kindergarten.
An older dog in the family can also be a great teacher for a new pup. Just make sure the current dog is well-behaved, or puppy will learn the older pet's bad habits!
It's not a foregone conclusion a puppy who doesn't receive the right experiences at the right stages of development will grow into a dog with behavior problems. But why take the risk? Why not try to do everything right, right off the bat, with your new furry bundle?
I can't guarantee you'll wind up with a perfect pet. But I can promise your efforts will accomplish two things:
- You'll reduce your dog's risk of developing behavioral problems.
- You'll dramatically increase your chances of sharing your life with a balanced, confident canine companion.
Your Job Once Puppy Comes Home: Socialization and More Socialization
In his first two months with you, your puppy should:
- Learn to accept being handled and having all his body parts touched.
- Be introduced to as many healthy and safe people, animals, places, situations, sights and sounds as possible.
- Be encouraged to explore and investigate his environment, with supervision.
- Be exposed to lots of toys, games, surfaces and other stimuli.
- Take car rides with you to new, unfamiliar environments.
One of the most important challenges in socializing your puppy is to minimize the fear he feels while you expose him to a wide range of unfamiliar stimuli he will encounter in his new life with you. This means you need to recognize and understand puppy fear.
How to Recognize Puppy Fears and What to Do About Them
Your pup may act a bit startled when she encounters someone or something new or unfamiliar. This is fine as long as she recovers quickly, remains curious, and is willing to continue on with the adventure. This indicates she's adapting normally to strange stimuli.
If, however, she doesn't recover within a few minutes, it's not okay.
And certainly if your puppy is so upset she starts crying, pees or poops out of fear, or tries to find a place to hide, it's not okay. It's also never okay to 'toughen up' a puppy by deliberately scaring her. This will only intensify the problem.
Other signs of fear in your dog can include:
- Excessive panting
- Refusal to eat
- Vomiting; diarrhea
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
Research shows puppies can inherit fearful tendencies which can be spotted as early as 5 weeks of age.
And pups who are anxious worriers at 3 months will grow into worried, anxious adults without proper intervention.
The earlier you recognize and seek help for fear-related behaviors in your puppy, the better the outcome. I recommend you talk with your holistic vet, a responsible breeder, and/or an animal behavior specialist about how to help an abnormally fearful or anxious puppy.
Please don't make the mistake of assuming if you continue to expose your dog to a fearful situation she'll overcome her fear. In fact, the opposite will happen and you and your furry companion will end up dealing with a long-term, intractable problem.
When Your Puppy is Ready for Housetraining
Among the many things your puppy needs to learn in his first months of life is that his bathroom is outdoors.
The age to begin house training your puppy is around 8½ weeks. Before 8 weeks of age, most puppies haven't yet developed the neurological control to hold back eliminating --they have no choice but to go when nature calls, wherever they happen to be at the moment.
At 8½ weeks, your pup will be at the right age to select his preferred surface (for example, grass or cement or another outdoor substrate) and take action.
A dog at 8½ weeks is able to make a mental connection between the scent and surface of his potty spot and the act of going potty. And nature has arranged it that this is also the age at which your puppy becomes aware he can control when and where he piddles and poops. It's fine to begin the process of housebreaking a puppy the minute you bring him home, but he may not begin to fully understand the process until 8½ weeks of age.
The goal of house training is actually two goals:
- Teaching puppy to go in his potty spot
- Teaching him to wait to go until he reaches that potty spot
Not every 8.5-week-old puppy is the same. Some puppies will pick up the whole outside potty thing quickly. Others will take more time, effort and patience.
You should anticipate and prepare for the occasional accident as your canine youngster learns this crucial but complex skill.
Remember -- your new puppy is much more than an adorable ball of energy. He's also a furry little sponge, ready to soak up everything you can show him about how to get along in his new life with you.
Make those precious first six months of your puppy's life really count. You'll be so glad you did!