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Ain't Misbehavin' - Training Your Puppy

Ron Hines DVM PhD 6/6/03

1) Starting Out Right
Things To Do and Consider Before You Buy Your Puppy

Adopting or buying a puppy is a big responsibility. You are adding another member to your family for the next 10 to 18 years. Are you ready for this commitment?

If you are reading these articles, your answer is probably yes. Although individual temperament within a breed varies remarkably, breeds of dog have distinctive personalities. These personalities relate back to why the breed was developed.

For example, terriers were bred for intelligence, and agility in catching rodents and small game. Some are still quick and snappy in family situations - especially with children.

Labrador Retrievers are big and generally gentle and good-natured. Visit kennels and breed club and get a feel for the temperament of the breeds you are interested in. Some that are often particularly good around children are Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Beagles, Basset Hounds, Collies, Boxers, Pugs, Boston Terriers, Standard Poodles, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers and Newfoundlands (see Picking the Right Dog for You and Your Family).

Mixed breed dogs can be just as affectionate and often have the temperament of the predominating breed. They often also have less health problems. If you adopt a mixed breed dog that is already an adult, you also know what you are getting. Be cautious about purebred dogs obtained from shelters. Unfortunately, they were often surrendered because of behavior or health problems. The sex of the dog you adopt or buy is also important.

As a group, male dogs are more aggressive, territorial, independent and head strong. Females are more tolerant, less likely to urinate to mark their territory and sometimes more gentle, nurturing and loving.

Where you obtain your puppy from is extremely important. It is far and away the most important decision you will face in obtaining your new family member. Rule number one is never purchase a dog or puppy from a pet store. Any breeder worth his salts would never send his pups to a pet store.

It is the unscrupulous breeder's product; the puppy that a breeder does not want to guarantee and the unfortunate output of puppy mills that find their way to pet shops.

The most reliable way to find a good puppy is through the classified ads section of your newspaper. You visit the breeder and observe both the parent dogs. Then you ask for references including their veterinarian and satisfied customers.

Take whatever conversation that passes between you with a grain of salt as you would with any salesman. Pedigree and awards (other than field trial awards) mean very little when purchasing a pet. Actually, the less awards the better. Rule number two is never rush into a purchase.

Take your time - there will be other puppies available. If this is not the case, then you have picked the wrong breed or criteria. The seller of a puppy should allow you to have it examined by your own veterinarian before purchase. When you pick out a puppy, don't choose the largest or the smallest, the bravest or the shyest. Pick one that is in between in all respects.

2) What is The Best Age to Buy My Puppy?

The best age to buy your puppy is 8-12 weeks of age. They should not be separated from their mother until they are 8 weeks of age. It is best to purchase one puppy and not obtain another for an additional six months. Two puppies together tend to have more problems. Beware of mature or half-grown puppies offered by breeders. Mature or half-grown puppies from Animal Shelters are fine.

3) What Should I Look For In Choosing a Puppy?

Please read my article, Picking the Right Dog for You and Your Family which is also on this website. Choosing the right puppy is so important - read as much as you can on the subject disregarding A.K.C. and other profit-driven advice

4) Do I Need to Puppy-Proof My House?

You most certainly do! Puppies are very destructive, fun-loving critters. Just accept that if an object is within a puppy's reach, it is going to get chewed up. Puppies have a deep-set urge to chew on any and everything.

So make the decision early on that the puppy will not have free range of your house. Plan on it living temporarily on a porch, enclosed patio or other room with a mopable floor that can be puppy-proofed. Puppies love to chew electrical wires, eat inedible foams, cardboard and plastic, leather and cloth items.

Most of these items amazingly pass through the puppy without more than some colic and diarrhea. Keep plenty of rawhide chew sticks thrown about and available for the puppy. The next best thing to a room is a puppy playpen about the size of a child's playpen.

When you catch your puppy chewing on something he shouldn't reprimand him with a sharp NO! and immediately given one of his chew toys. Then praise him effusively.

Children's toys make exceptionally poor and dangerous puppy toys. There will be a lot of backsliding because their urge to chew is so great. Don't criticize the puppy too much.

Try to clear non-chewable items from his environment instead. When items cannot be removed (such as doors, etc.) you can spray them with bitters mist available from your veterinarian or pet supply store.

It is a combination of essence of bitter apple, cayenne pepper, and a product I have never identified but which tastes like petrol. Amazingly, many puppies will chew objects drenched in this brew.

5) How Should I handle Puppies and Small Children?

My children were about 7-8 years old before they were mature enough to be with small puppies. If your children are younger, you might consider delaying purchase of a puppy for a few years.

If you do purchase a puppy while you have younger children, you will need to keep both the kids and the puppies under close supervision when they are together. Keep in mind that the intestinal parasites of puppies can pass to children causing major illness.

I suggest that children under 7-8 years old be given stuffed animals rather than live animals to play with. They are just too tough on a delicate puppy. If you must purchase a puppy when your kids are younger, stay with the larger working breeds such as Labrador or Golden Retrievers or adopt a mature dog.

Successful integration of children and puppies relies more on teaching your children than on teaching the puppy. Your kids need to be taught to cradle the pup when picking it up and holding it. They must not to drop the puppy, shout, over play or fall on it. They should never be allowed with the puppy unsupervised by a competent adult.

6) What Should I Expect on My Puppy's First Trip to the Vet?

Set an appointment with your veterinarian or one recommended by neighbors as soon as possible. Ideally, it will before you have actually purchased this puppy and can still return it to the breeder if the veterinarian detects problems.

Bring a stool specimen with you. Do not feed the puppy within four hours of the car ride (firsts rides often cause nausea). Bring all the paperwork that accompanied the pup when you purchased it. Be aware that many States have "pet lemon" laws that protect you.

Puppies should get booster vaccinations every 2-3 weeks for canine distemper, canine adenovirus, leptospirosis, parvovirus and corona virus. They should also be wormed with pyrantel pamoate every 2-3 weeks.

Most puppies come with a few roundworms and many with hookworms. This is not necessarily the breeder's fault. They should receive a subcutaneous rabies vaccination at 12-16 weeks of age and two intranasal Bordetella (kennel cough) vaccinations during this period. You may wish them to be vaccinated for Lyme disease as well.

The reason we give multiple vaccinations is that many of these vaccines consist of living, attenuated (weakened) virus. If the mother's immunity (passive immunity) is still present in the puppy, these vaccines do not work. We give multiple vaccinations because we do not know exactly when the puppy's immune system is ready to protect it.

The 8-9 week vaccinations usually do not work - they are neutralized by the mother's antibodies within the puppy. But if we waited until 16 weeks to give these shots, some puppies would have already caught the diseases.

If this is unclear to you, e-mail me at and I will try to explain it in more detail. Keep your puppy away from all other dogs until two weeks after its last vaccinations. Avoid taking the pup to commons areas like dog parks public grassy area, parking lots and pet stores as well until they are twenty weeks old and fully vaccinated.

When I examine a new puppy this is what I do: First I inquire where the puppy was obtained and how long it has been with the family. I inquire if there has been any coughing, sneezing, vomiting, diarrhoea or lameness. I size up the puppy visually and try to gain some insight into the family structure and the temperaments of both the owners and the puppy.

Then I examine the dog. I check that the belly button (umbilicus) the fontanel of the head and the cleft in the palate have closed properly. I check for fleas and ticks. I check for unstable kneecaps (patella). I check for ringworm. I clip the puppy's toenails. I check the ears for ear mites or infection. I check female puppies for vaginitis and males for sheath infections. I check for puppy dermatitis.

I listen to the heart to detect murmurs and listen for healthy lung sounds. I palpate the puppy's abdomen to judge the condition of the gastrointestinal tract. I check the eyes with an ophthalmoscope looking for defects and the ears with an otoscope. I check for laxity in the hips. I run a fecal examination for parasites. Any of these exams that are suspicious are followed up in detail. I answer any questions the owner may have.

7) How Do I Get My Puppy Used to Its New Home?

An 8-12 week-old puppy gets over the loss of its littermates and mother quite quickly. All of the family members should take turns playing with and holding the puppy. Alternate play times with quiet time in the pen or room you have prepared for it. Do not worry if the puppy seems anxious for a few days.

Observe that it is eating and drinking normally. It will probably whimper and wine the first few nights. Please try to ignore this and not take the puppy to bed with you. Keep the puppy isolated from small children or other pets in the household for the first week or two.

Be patient. Remember a puppy's attention span is quite short. Also realize that puppies do not gain control of their bowels and urination until they are 16-20 weeks of age. So don't criticize it for accidents.

I generally suggest the puppy continue on the same diet the breeder was feeding unless it was a low quality diet. Price generally determines diet quality. If I do change diets, I do so gradually. Puppies need lots of sleep.

They do well when air temperature is between 65-78 degrees F. Each puppy is an individual. If sights and sounds frighten it, modify the environment accordingly. Go by a pet supermarket and purchase a loose-fitting light-colored nylon collar.

Purchase it a few sizes too large and punch more holes with a hot nail. Use an indelible marker to write your telephone number on the collar. You can take your puppy for short car rides and let it observe the scenery. You can splurge on some puppy toys at the pet shop.

8) Are There Some Minor Problems That Are Going to Happen No Mater What?

Yes. Don't expect your puppy to come when you call its name. This may take a few months. Don't worry about its short attention span - its normal. If the puppy falls asleep in the middle of an activity that is normal also.

Don't become upset at broken heirlooms or unwanted presents on the carpet. The fault was yours in not removing breakable items or getting the pup out the door fast enough. Remember that bowel control often doesn't occur fully in young puppies.

Pet and touch your pup a lot during this period an do not scold it for errors. Instead, praise it when it does well, stroke it and give it its favorite doggy treat. Puppies tend to dream and twitch in their sleep. This is normal. They also get hiccups quite frequently.

They will also have bouts of diarrhea and gagging after eating cardboard, aluminum foil, etc. Usually no more than a little cat laxative is required. If diarrhea is bloody or accompanied by abdominal pain, fever or lethargy, take the pup to the vet's immediately.

9) Why is My Puppy Biting Me?

There are two types of biting, normal playful biting and early aggressive biting. The former is normal; the latter needs to be immediately attended to. Playful biting and nipping is one of the most common activities of a litter of puppies. It is normal behaviour.

Once you and your family substitute for their littermates, the pup naturally continues to chew on you. No mater what the activity, you eventually find your hand inside its mouth. Puppies have very sharp teeth and soon your hands and arms show it.

I have found that hugging the puppy to your chest while at the same time surrounding its mouth with your second hand and saying NO! in a stern voice eventually breaks this habit.

Be sure the puppy can breath freely when you restrain its mussel. This technique will not work if other members of your family are encouraging rough play and biting. This is often the case with children and teenagers. Providing plenty of chew toys for your puppy also helps.

Encourage your pet to play with them whenever he greets you. Praise him when he chews the right things and replace household articles in his mouth with doggie chew toys. You can also spray bitter apple on your hands to discourage mouthing. The disadvantage of this is that some of it often ends up in your mouth and eyes.

The second type of biting is much more serious. It is aggressive biting or, in some cases, fear biting. Aggressive biting is accompanied by vocalizations (growls) and an intent stare.

It is not a continuous action but a snap, release and retreat. The same restraint of the mussel will work with these animals- accompany it with a sharp, loud NO!

They also need some dominance training as soon as possible. Aggressive dogs do not like restraint - they like to be in charge. If you succeed in restraining them it often changes their entire personality for the better.

I like to roll them in a beach towel and watch television or do some other activity with them in my lap for 30 minutes to a hour until they realize that you, rather than he is the boss. Also helpful are mild mannered games such as fetch, hide-and-seek, sniff-out-the-treat, leash training and romping play.

It is very important that you cure your pet of biting aggressively before 16-20 weeks of age. The longer the pet maintains this bad behaviour, the harder it will be to break him of it. In a normal pack situation, his brothers and mother would not stand for such activity.

It's your responsibility to socialize him by teaching him how to control himself in a group setting. It is important that calm, mature children interact (socialize) with your puppy so that it does not grow up to bite children.

The two reasons mature dogs bite is because of unrestrained dominance or fear. It is terribly important that you never allow your pup to bite aggressively without reprimanding it harshly. Curing this problem the first time it occurs is much easier than waiting until it has happened three or four times.

If you are unsuccessful, consult a professional. To get your puppy to obey you on this you need his trust and respect. You win his trust and respect by teaching him general commands when he is a small puppy.

Never become angry at your puppy. He is just doing what dogs do. Reprimands should always be oral. Approval can be a stroke, a loving pat and a treat. Getting physical with your dog only encourages fear biting. The most physical I get is to keep the dog

still against its will - a sort of doggy time out.

Another common fault of owners is inconsistency. The reward or punishment for an action should always be exactly the same. Puppies and mature dogs reprimand a biting puppy by biting it back harder. This is why puppies raised in groups rarely bite their owners or guests. Cure puppies of jumping in the same manner.

l0) How Do I Encourage Good Behaviour?

Puppies are never too young to encourage good behavior. Dogs are very astute in judging their owner's moods and desires and what they can get away with. They are more intelligent in this respect than any other creature on earth.

The NO! command should not be over-used, but it should be used to discourage willful negative behavior of all kinds. Good behavior in one respect - say leash training - makes good behavior in other respects much easier.

That is, good behavior is cumulative and grows on itself. The more you teach your puppy, the easier teaching him becomes. Fetch, roll over, sit, shake hands, etc. all encourage good behavior in general.

After a while, you and the puppy will be in tune understanding each other's desires. You will be closer and better friends as well. Many kennels hold puppy obedience classes. Schedule one soon after your pet has received its last puppy shots. Follow this up with ten minute training periods at home. Remember to use praise and stroking much more frequently than NO!s.

A good rule is never to use the NO if you cannot follow it up almost immediately with praise. Leash training is very important for puppies and dogs in general. It is much more than keeping them close at hand. The mark of a well trained, happy dog is a slack leash with the puppy neither lagging behind nor forging forward. This defines the relationship between you and your pet -you in control, the pet secure in answering to your command.

11) What Can I Do About Whimpering at Night?

First, be sure the puppy is comfortable, not hungry or thirsty and doesn't have to go potty. Assuming he doesn't, the hardhearted way of dealing with this is to ignore it if you can. Eventually the puppy will stop whining and go to sleep.

A ticking alarm clock or radio may reassure him. Sometimes a soiled garment with your body scent placed in his crate will do the same. After a night or two, he will stop whimpering and go to sleep relaxed.

This approach may also lessen the likelihood of separation anxiety later in life. The reason he is crying is that he is a pack animal that beds down in groups. If you intend to make him (or her) a lap dog, you can place its crate in your bedroom when you go to sleep.

Be sure to take him outside to relieve himself before placing him in the crate. If you come to reassure him when he whines, it will reinforce his urge to whimper and make matters worse.

A consolation is that a puppy that begs for your attention by whimpering is going to be a close member of your family when he grows up. Playing with the puppy vigorously until he is sleepy just before bedtime also lessens the problem. Use the NO! command once or twice if he continues to whine.

12) What Should I Feed My Puppy?

There are so many good brands of puppy and dog food on the market today that it is difficult to recommend a specific brand. However, Purina, now owned by the Nestle' Company has always produced reliable diets.

Their premium diet is called Purina One. From studies in other animals and my observation over the years, I believe that most puppy foods are too rich. They encourage rapid growth that adds unnecessarily early weight and muscle gain.

This overtaxes the body's bones and joints and leads to degenerative changes such as hip displasia later in life. Many breeders of larger dogs no longer feed puppy chow. They place their puppies directly on adult dog chow. This is contrary to the heavy advertising and marketing campaigns for puppy foods.

I suggest that large breeds of dogs be placed on adult dog chow exclusively and that smaller breeds receive no more than half their ration in puppy chow the first few month; the rest being dog chow and dog chow exclusively thereafter.

This lengthens their growth period and period preceding sexual maturity but it does not stunt the dog. It gives bones and ligaments a chance to keep up with increasing muscle mass.

Ideally, they should gain 40 - 50% body weight per month their first two months, 15 - 20% a month the next two months and 5-10% per month thereafter until 12-14 months of age depending on breed. Large breeds reach mature body weight later than small breeds.

The puppies should always remain sleek with their ribs not showing. If they are thin increase the amount fed. Feeding the puppy set amounts of food at specific times lets you time its potty periods as well. Puppies tend to defecate shortly after eating which helps in housetraining. Do not feed generic or house brands. Do not feed brands that can only be obtained from a few outlets such as pet shops or groomers.

13) What Happens When My Puppy is Teething?

When your puppy is 4-5 months of age it will begin to get its permanent teeth. The first to fall out and be replaced are the pup's incisors or front middle teeth. This begins a painful time for the puppy.

At about five months of age his canine teeth (fangs) begin to loosen and the gums surrounding them become inflamed and may bleed. During this time its molars and premolars also loosen and are shed. The puppy will drool and its appetite may slacken off. Some even run a fever.

His urge to gnaw on things may increase. Feeding moistened food at this time greatly eases the puppy's pain. He may lap up chicken broth-moistened dog chow when he would refuse solid food. Luckily, this period is short.

On bad days, you can give the puppy 20mg/10 lbs of baby aspirin (one quarter of an 81 mg tablet per 10 lbs). Stop if it causes an upset stomach. By the time the pup's permanent canine teeth are a quarter of the way in the gum inflammation ceases.

In toy breeds, puppy canine teeth sometimes do not fall out and the permanent canine teeth sprout out just ahead of them. These retained deciduous (puppy) teeth should be removed when a female is spayed or a male neutered. If the puppy is mellow, this can also be done with only local topical anesthesia.

14) How Should I Housetrain My Puppy?

When you housetrain your pet you are taking advantage of a dog's natural tendency not to soil his den. Remember that a puppy has very little bowel control until he is 16-20 weeks of age. Never scold a puppy when he has an "accident". Just praise him when he does right.

The secret of success is to start with a "den" area much smaller than your house. A dog transport kennel (crate) works well for this. The crate should be no longer than two times the length of the dog and half as wide as it is long.

It should not be stiflingly small. All systems of housetraining are based on the fact that puppies have to relieve themselves immediately after walking up and immediately after eating. As soon as either of these events occur, carry your puppy outside of the house to a spot you have chosen to be his bathroom.

You will know he has to go when he begins sniffing an area and circling. You can seed the outside area with some of his stool accidents that occurred inside the house. When the puppy has an accident in the house, clean it up immediately with a strong-scented cleaner, take the puppy to his "bathroom" and praise him as he sniffs around.

When the puppy relieves himself at his "bathroom" shower praise on him and stroke and pet him effusively. Keep this up without deviation - the dog is always supervised and corrected when he poops indoors and praised when he poops outdoors.

You will have to get up during the night when the puppy wines and take him outside - before 5-6 months of age they will not be able to hold their bowels an entire night.

The secrets of success are patience, constant supervision and consistency. Do not deviate from your behavior and the puppy will eventually fall into line. Some common mistakes are:

A) using a crate that is too large. This allows the pup to use one corner as a bathroom.

B) Obtaining an untrained puppy at an older age - it has already lost its inhibition about soiling its "den".

C) Using doggy blankets or other porous material in the puppy's crate that holds the odor of faeces.

D) Not taking the puppy to the "bathroom" area frequently enough. Young puppies need to be given the opportunity to eliminate every hour.

E) Not feeding your puppy at fixed, regular intervals.

F) Not supervising your puppy close enough. Remember, some puppies are just harder to train than others.

15) When and How Should I Begin Basic Training With My Puppy?

All puppies need basic obedience training. It has to start at home. You may be willing to put up with a wild, rambunctious pet but your friends and neighbors wont. An untrained pet is also a threat to himself, running out into traffic, getting into dogfights, getting lost, or jumping up and injuring the elderly and the young.

If you are unsure what to do, puppy kindergarten class can be a lot of help. Pups need their basic vaccinations before attending class so, in any case, you will have to train them at home until they are 20 weeks of age.

Training sessions should be short (about 10 minutes) and frequent during the day. It can be a lot of fun. Start with the basic No's when he nips playfully and Great Dog! when he does the right things. Start by tossing a puppy-safe toy and encouraging him to bring it back to show to you.

You can smear a little gravy on the toy to get his attention. You can begin the process of "sit" and "stay" but do not expect too much at this age. If he even sits or stays for a heartbeat, praise him effusively and give him a treat (positive reinforcement).

Get him used to a leash and collar as soon as you can. Be sure to check frequently that the collar is not to tight. The "sit" exercise helps curb dominance and aggression. At the same time that you say sit; hold one hand open at the pup's neck and with the other, force his rump downwards.

A similar technique can be used to teach "down". Count to five, let him up, then praise him effusively and give him a treat. Holding a puppy in an enforced calm or in a beach towel for ten to thirty minutes also helps lessen dominance and aggression.

Begin touching and massaging every part of the pup's body including his face, mouth, ears, tail and paws. Every person in the family should do this. Teaching the puppy to roll on his back and maintain this position for a few seconds also discourages biting, dominance and aggression. It is also never too early to train a puppy to accept brushing, clipping toenails, baths, touching his paws and opening his mouth to examine it.

Puppies should never be allowed to growl at family members without a sharp admonishment from you. They should never growl when a family member approaches their food bowel. Leash Training I do not encourage body harnesses. I see too many undisciplined dogs - harnesses give them an advantage in tugging.

Purchase a woven nylon collar several sizes too large and melt additional holes through it. I also do not like long reel-type leashes. The purpose of a leash is to keep the dog next to you - not to give him latitude to wander.

He should wear the collar at all times and your phone number should be written indelibly on it. Place the leash on him and start to walk in a straight line. The puppy will leap ahead.

When he does, reverse your direction. He will soon learn that he needs to pay close attention to you so as not to be yanked frequently. Yanked does not mean jerked through the air, just jolt him enough to gain his attention. Ideally, the leash should always be slack. But do not expect miracles from puppies. Do not walk puppies under 20 weeks of age in parks where he could pick up parasites or disease.

Reward successful behaviour with caresses and treats; ignore unsuccessful behavior. The smaller a puppy is when you leash train him, the easier it will be on you. Puppies can pull very hard. Letting a puppy have his own way is not a good way to win his love. It never works and later in life you both will pay for such an attitude. Dogs give their love unconditionally to those they trust.

16) How Should I Socialize My Puppy?

A properly socialized dog is a well-adjusted dog. It is neither fearful nor aggressive when it meets new situations. It is very important that puppies be exposed to a wide variety of social situations in a non-threatening atmosphere.

This includes, taking him to the veterinarian (take him on a social visit - not for shots), going to the park, the mall, pet supermarket, children's school playgrounds, obedience class, etc. Take your puppy for rides in the car - begin on an empty stomach. Accustom your pet to loud noises.

The younger they are when they are exposed to new situations, the more confidently they will handle them later in life and trust your decisions. Begin socializing your puppy as soon as you purchase him but keep him away from areas frequented by other dogs until he is twenty weeks of age and fully vaccinated. Make your learning sessions brief. Remember puppies have a very short attention span.

17) When Should I Begin Obedience Classes?

Your puppy should receive his last set of vaccinations between 16 and 18 weeks of age. Allow these shots two additional weeks to fully protect the puppy; then enroll him in obedience classes. Ask your local veterinarian which instructors he or she recommends. The best obedience schools are held by kennels, dog breed societies and your local SPCA/RSPCA.