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In Association with

Before & After Getting Your Puppy



by Dr. Ian Dunbar

Household Etiquette - From the very first day your puppy comes home

Housetraining, chewtoy-training, and teaching your dog alternatives to recreational barking are by far the most pressing items on your puppy's educational agenda. From day one, employ errorless management teaching programs, comprising confinement schedules plus the liberal use of chewtoys (Kongs, Biscuit Balls, and sterilized long bones) stuffed with kibble. Simple behavior problems are so easily preventable, yet they are the most common reasons for people's dissatisfaction with their dogs and the most common reasons for dog euthanasia. Teaching household manners should be your number one priority the first day your puppy comes home.

#1 Urgency Rating: Household etiquette is by far the most pressing item on your new puppy's educational agenda. If you want to avoid annoying behavior problems, training must begin the very first day your puppy comes home.

#3 Importance Rating: Teaching household etiquette is extremely important. Puppies quickly become unwelcome when their owners allow them to develop housesoiling, chewing, barking, digging, and escaping problems.

Home Alone - During the first few days and weeks your puppy is at home

Sadly, the maddening pace of present-day domestic dogdom necessitates teaching your puppy how to enjoy spending time at home alone - not only to ensure your pup adheres to established household etiquette when unsupervised, but more importantly to prevent your puppy from becoming anxious in your absence. Normally, these go hand in hand; for when puppies become anxious they tend to bark, chew, dig, and urinate more frequently. From the outset, and especially during its first few days and weeks in your home, your puppy needs to be taught how to entertain himself quietly, calmly, and confidently. Otherwise he most certainly will become severely stressed when left at home alone.

#2 Urgency Rating: Teaching your pup to confidently enjoy his own company is the second most urgent item on his educational agenda. It would be unfair to smother the puppy with attention and affection during his first days or weeks at home, only to subject the pup to solitary confinement when the adults go back to work and children go back to school. During the first few days and weeks when you are around to monitor your puppy's behavior, teach him to enjoy quiet moments confined to his puppy playroom or doggy den. Especially be sure to provide some form of occupational therapy (stuffed chewtoys) for your puppy to busy himself and enjoyably pass the time while you are away.

#3 Importance Rating: Preparing your puppy for time alone is extremely important both for your peace of mind - to prevent housesoiling, chewing, and barking problems - and especially for your puppy's peace of mind. It is absolutely no fun for a pup to be overdependent, stressed, and anxious.

Socialization with People - Always, but especially before twelve weeks of age

Many puppy-training techniques focus on teaching your puppy to enjoy the company and actions of people. Well-socialized dogs are confident and friendly, rather than fearful and aggressive. Show all family members, visitors, and strangers how to get your puppy to come, sit, lie down, roll over, and enjoy being handled for pieces of kibble. Living with an undersocialized dog can be frustrating, difficult, and potentially dangerous. For undersocialized dogs, life is also unbearably stressful.

#3 Urgency Rating: Many people think that puppy classes are for socializing puppies with people. This is not strictly true. Certainly puppy classes provide a convenient venue for socialized puppies to continue socializing with people. However, puppies must be well socialized toward people before they attend classes at twelve weeks of age. The time window for socialization closes at three months of age, and so there is some urgency to adequately socialize your puppy to people. During your pup's first month at home, he needs to meet and interact positively with at least one hundred different people!

#2 Importance Rating: Socializing your puppy to enjoy people is vital -second only in importance to your pup learning to inhibit the force of his bite and develop a soft mouth. Socialization must never end. Remember, your adolescent dog will begin to desocialize unless he continues to meet unfamiliar people every day. Walk your dog or expand your own social life at home.

Dog-Dog Socialization - Between three months and eighteen weeks

As soon as your puppy turns three months old, it is time to play catch-up with dog-dog socialization. It's time for puppy classes, long walks, and visits to dog parks. Well-socialized dogs would rather play than bite or fight. And well-socialized dogs usually bite more gently, if ever they should bite or fight.

#4 Urgency Rating: If you would like to have an adult dog who enjoys the company of other dogs, puppy classes and walks are essential, especially since many puppies have been sequestered indoors until they have been immunized against parvovirus and other serious doggy diseases - by the very earliest at three months of age.

#6 Importance Rating: It is hard to rate the importance of dog-dog socialization. Depending on the lifestyle of the owners, dog-friendliness may be either unnecessary or essential. If you would like to enjoy walks with your adult dog, early socialization in puppy classes and dog parks is essential. Surprisingly, though, very few people walk their dogs. Whereas large dogs and urban dogs tend to be walked quite frequently, small dogs and sub-urban dogs are seldom walked.

Regardless of the desired sociability of your adult dog, dog-dog play and especially play-fighting and play-biting during puppyhood are absolutely essential for the development of bite inhibition and a soft mouth. For this reason alone, puppy classes and trips to the dog park are the top priority at three months of age.

Sit and Settle Down Commands - Begin anytime you would like your puppy dog to listen to you

If you teach your dog just a couple of commands, they would have to be "Sit" and "Settle Down." Just think of all the mischievous things your puppy dog cannot do when she is sitting.

#5 Urgency Rating: Unlike socialization and bite inhibition, which must occur during puppyhood, you may teach your dog to sit and settle down at any age, so there is no great urgency. Because it is so easy and so much fun to teach young puppies, however, why not start teaching basic manners the very first day you bring your puppy home - or as early as four or five weeks if you are raising the litter? The only urgency to teach these simple and effective control commands would be if ever your puppy's antics or activity level begin to irritate you. Sit or Settle Down will solve most problems.

#5 Importance Rating: It is difficult to rate the importance of basic manners. Personally I like dogs who can enjoy being dogs without being a bother to other people. On the other hand, many people happily live with dogs without any formal training whatsoever. If you consider your dog to be perfect for you, make your own choice. But if you or other people find your dog's behavior to be annoying, why not teach him how to behave? Indeed, a simple sit prevents the majority of annoying behavior problems, including jumping up, dashing through doorways, running away, bothering people, chasing its tail, chasing the cat, etc. The list is long! It is so much easier to teach your dog how to act from the outset by teaching the one right way - sitting - rather than trying to correct the many things he does wrong. Regardless, it would be unfair to get on your dog's case for bad manners if he is only breaking rules he didn't know existed.

Bite Inhibition - By eighteen weeks of age

A soft mouth is the single most important quality for any dog. Hopefully, your dog will never bite or fight, but if he does, well-established bite inhibition ensures that your dog causes little if any damage. Socialization is an ongoing process of ever-widening experience and confidence building that helps your pup to comfortably handle the challenges and changes of everyday adult life. It is impossible to prepare your puppy for every possible eventuality, however, and on those rare occasions when adult dogs are badly hurt, frightened, scared, or upset, they seldom write letters of complaint. Instead, dogs customarily growl and bite, so the level of bite inhibition training from puppyhood predetermines the seriousness of the damage.

Adult dogs with poor bite inhibition rarely mouth and seldom bite, but when they do, the bites almost always break the skin. Adult dogs with well-established bite inhibition often mouth during play, and should they bite, the bites almost never break the skin because during puppyhood the dog learned how to register a complaint without inflicting any damage. Bite inhibition is one of the most misunderstood aspects of behavioral development in dogs (and other animals). Many owners make the catastrophic mistake of stopping their puppy from mouthing altogether. If a puppy is not allowed to play-bite, she cannot develop reliable bite inhibition. Pups are born virtual biting machines with needle sharp teeth so that they learn biting hurts before they develop the jaw strength to cause appreciable harm. However, they cannot learn to inhibit the force of their bites if they are never allowed to play-bite and play-fight.

Bite inhibition training comprises first teaching the puppy to progressively inhibit the force of its bites until painful puppy play-biting is toned down and transformed into gentle puppy mouthing, and then, and only then, teaching her to progressively inhibit the incidence of her mouthing. Thus the puppy learns that mouthing is by and large inappropriate and that any pressured bite is absolutely unacceptable.

#6 Urgency Rating: You have until your puppy is four and a half months old, so take your time to ensure your puppy masters this most important item in its educational curriculum. The more your puppy bites, the safer its jaws will be as an adult, since she has had more opportunities to learn that biting hurts.

If you are worried about your puppy's biting behavior, enroll in a puppy class immediately. You may seek further advice from the trainer, and your puppy may let off steam and redirect many of her bites toward other puppies during play sessions.

#1 Importance Rating: Bite inhibition is of crucial importance, by far the single most important quality of any dog, or any animal. Living with a dog who does not have reliable bite inhibition is unpleasant and dangerous. And bite inhibition must be acquired during puppyhood. You must fully understand how to teach your puppy. Attempting to teach bite inhibition to an adolescent or adult dog is often extremely difficult, dangerous, and time-consuming.

The Most Important Things to Teach Your Puppy

1. Bite Inhibition

2. Socialization with People

3. Household Etiquette

4. Home Alone

5. Sit and Settle Down Commands

6. Dog-Dog Socialization

The Most Urgent Things to Teach Your Puppy

1. Household Etiquette

2. Home Alone

3. Socialization with People

4. Dog-Dog Socialization

5. Sit and Settle Down Commands

6. Bite Inhibition

Excerpted from Before & After Getting Your Puppy by Dr. Ian Dunbar. Copyright © 2004 by Dr. Ian Dunbar. All rights reserved. Excerpted by arrangement with New World Library. $19.95. Available in local bookstores or call 800.972.6657 ext. 52 or click here.

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