What I wished you knew before you got your puppy

Written by Karen Bailey – Canine Behaviour Consultant

I have worked as a behaviour consultant for the past 18 years. Writing this article is something I should have done a long time ago. You see I meet many dogs well after they are past their critical periods of development. I meet a large number of dogs with varying levels of behavioural issues. There are many reasons for dogs to develop behavioural issues but lack of or poor socialisation is a big cause of issues in dogs.

The one reason I feel I need to highlight today is the lack of good quality socialisation a puppy receives when they are brought home. It saddens me that loving pet carers are unaware of what they needed to do when their pup came home. It saddens me to discuss early learning experiences with someone who missed the critical time frame but wanted the best for their dog.

All experiences a puppy has will play a role in where or not a pup develops into a confident and well adjusted individual. You won’t see who your dog really is until they are mature (approx 2 years of age). So many people think their undersocialised pup looks fine – even though they need more exposure to cope with future events and scenarios. A crucial part of early socialisation is to provide safe opportunities for pups to explore new places, experience new and novel things, and varied scenarios. Having scary experiences will do more harm than good so experiences must be controlled and monitored. Pups can find some very everyday things frightening on first exposure. Assume your dog may worry.

What doesn’t occur is equally as potentially damaging. Many puppies are completely isolated during the critical periods of development – this means that their ability to cope with something new and novel may be compromised. You can undersocialise your puppy or poorly socialise by not ensuring puppy feels safe or worse allowing the pup to be hurt or severely frightened.

So let me tell you my top 5 puppy pet peeves. The things that people think I use for sales when they enquire about puppy training.

1. Puppies too old to attend puppy preschool. We need your puppy between 8 and 16 weeks to start puppy preschool. It’s not made up numbers. It’s determined by critical periods of development. Missing early exposure is starting behind.

Old school vets still insist that your dog must be fully immunised to go to puppy school. My problem with that is that your puppy misses out on their “behavioural vaccination”. Do I think you should take your pup out on soil and grass in a public area without being fully immunised – No I do not.

Beyond 16 weeks your puppy missed crucial puppy training.

2. People don’t really know what socialisation is. It is not just playing with other dogs. Socialisation is experiencing lots of different things – surfaces, noises, things that move, textures, and of course other dogs – they need to learn to read dogs that didn’t learn from the same mum as them and they need to learn to read others with different physical characteristics and play styles. Puppy school should never be a free for all. That will cause bullies to become worse, and the less confident dogs to become fearful.

Having multiple dogs is not a well rounded learning experience – your pup needs to have solo learning opportunities.

3. Puppy schools that think the primary focus of lessons is to learn obedience are not ideal. Many puppy schools are operated by vets and pet store employees. If the teacher doesn’t understand that the priority is socialising the puppies and teaching owners how to recognise the difference between appropriate play and interactions and when to intervene. Good puppy schools teach you to read dogs.

4. If a puppy preschool teacher is not a trained and experienced in canine behaviour they should not be teaching puppy classes. Only the best and most experienced trainers should be working with puppies. At this time errors in judgement will play a much larger role in your dogs development.

I saw a great analogy on the internet that plumbers probably know quite a bit about cabinetry but you still get a cabinet maker to install your new cupboards.

Vets, vet nurses, and pet store employees are not trained in behaviour as a matter of course. Some of the awesome ones make it their business to study behaviour as part of their professional development, but you will need to check.

5. Choosing a puppy preschool based on proximity or price is not always the best idea. This week I spoke to someone who decided to select another school over ours to save $50. She will now be paying me $250 to do a home visit to rectify issues that all good puppy schools address.

Check the teachers credentials, check what topics will be covered. Base minimum I would expect understanding play and body language, toilet training, addressing puppy issues like nipping and jumping up.

Can you really afford to get it wrong?

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