Although adult parent dogs know how to bring up their puppies best, there is a chance that humans can still be effective “puppy parents.”
This is our goal at Mountain Hooves & Paws! We study the most recent science of canine behavior and apply these principles to our puppy training program. You’ll learn how to bring up your pup in a way that fosters confidence (to minimize any chance of separation anxiety or reactivity towards others) and also foster a bond of understanding between species.
Our Puppy Program
Our puppy program at Mountain Hooves & Paws follows a combination of socialization and training guidelines from Dr. Amber Batson’s Puppy Power program, Karen Pryor Academy’s Puppy Start Right as well as the research and guidance of renowned trainer, Turid Rugaas. One key aspect of the program is to help your puppy be exposed to a series of positive experiences between birth and 14-16 weeks old. This stage is one of three brain growth periods where we have an exceptional opportunity to influence the future of our pups (the other two are gestation – so a well cared for mom is important – and adolescence)! So, keeping your pup’s experiences all positive is the key to building confidence and calmness. Because of this, we recommend limiting the amount of time a puppy spends meeting unknown dogs and people (it’s good to be out seeing strangers from a distance but not meeting them up close at this stage). It’s much better to err on the side of predictable and positive for your pup at this stage. And, of course, it’s important to protect your puppy from energetic adult dogs or dogs who display any type of reactivity.
For socialization guidelines, we recommend reading a wonderful article by Laura VanArendonk Baugh: Don’t Socialize the Dog! (which provides guidelines for determining what your dog/pup is ready to experience). We also recommend a new book (2021), The Puppy Socialization Project. It’s a packed full book with lots of links to videos, etc. If you want to get a general feeling of what they (and we) are after, they have a good overview here: What Is Puppy Socialization?
Every Pup Is An Individual
We treat every puppy as an individual.
If a puppy had a stressful upbringing (ie: a feral pup, a shelter pup, or coming from a large breeding operation such as a puppy mill), we will place the pup on a different track than a puppy coming from a solid breeding program. This is because they brain development of the puppies are different at this point in their growth. So, for example, a pup coming from a home breeding program where the breeders take part in an approach to upbringing such as Puppy Culture will most likely be more confident and resilient than a pup coming from a stressful situation. Here is an example of a breeder who uses Puppy Culture (we aren’t promoting this breeder, they just have a good writeup for potential puppy parents to learn from!): Puppy Culture Upbringing
If a pup comes from a stressful upbringing, there is no cause for worry! As recent science is showing, we have the opportunity to change the puppy’s understanding of the world during the time up to around 14 weeks, and then during adolescence. So, it’s really important from our perspective to socialize and train a pup coming from this situation differently than how we’d treat a pup coming from Puppy Culture type (as an example) breeder.
To help understand normal development in puppies, we refer to Dr. Jen Summerfield’s blog. She’s a behaviorist and veterinarian who has studied the development of puppies – aged 16 weeks and under – and what normal behavior is to certain stimuli versus what responses are possible yellow or red flags (because they won’t go away over time). Here’s an excerpt from her article and for the full article, see: Will My Puppy Grow Out of This?
GREEN = normal behavior, no need to worry. ? May need training to work on basic manners or specific skills, but no serious concerns.
YELLOW = keep an eye on this. May be fairly easy to improve with some basic socialization and positive training. If not, ask for help!
RED = concerning! Puppy kindergarten or basic obedience training will NOT fix this. Needs referral to a professional for comprehensive treatment plan.
Trimming puppy’s nails with treats and gentle restraint
- GREEN = wiggling, curious, friendly; or standing quietly, willing to eat treats
- YELLOW = freezing, growling, or struggling to get away
- RED = biting, or serious attempt to bite (NOT puppy mouthing); yelping or screaming in fear
Walking past the food bowl while puppy is eating
- GREEN = no reaction
- YELLOW = eating faster, freezing, or hunching over bowl
- RED = snarling, lunging, attempting to bite
Greeting a friendly stranger on a walk
- GREEN = approaching eagerly with loose, wiggly body language
- YELLOW = worried at first, hanging back or hiding; but warms up quickly and is happy to greet
- RED = hiding behind owner, shaking, cowering; or barking and lunging at stranger
Playing with another puppy (assuming similar age and energy level)
- GREEN = friendly and happy to interact, matches intensity level to playmate, both pups having fun
- YELLOW = gets overly aroused and bullies playmate; or acts fearful and unsure
- RED = aggressive behavior with injuries to other pup
A caveat – these assessments aren’t set in stone! Every situation is different, so it’s hard to give black-and-white guidelines that hold true 100% of the time. You may be able to think of exceptions to these rules, which is fine. If you’re unsure, have a professional evaluate your pup and help you decide whether you have reason to be concerned.
But in general, you’ll notice a running theme – young puppies, less than 16 weeks old, should be relatively fearless about the world. They should be friendly with strangers and other dogs, and they should not show any “grown up” aggressive behavior like snarling, lunging, or serious biting.
Your pup may well become more reserved around people and less tolerant of annoyances as he reaches adolescence and adulthood, which can be perfectly normal. But right now, he’s just a baby – if he’s not acting like one, something is wrong.
As human parents, there is much proactive work you can do to help ensure the best life for you puppy. We offer private lessons for puppies and their human parents at this stage of the pandemic. We will bring a safe adult dog to the lesson for exposures and help arrange puppy play dates with other puppy parents in the area. So, private lessons can be just as effective because meeting other dogs is just a small part of the puppy’s upbringing. Here is the link to learn more about our private lesson package: Private Lessons and Day Training