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7th December 2017

Help For New Puppy Owners

Welcoming a new puppy into the family is an exciting time for everyone. There are many things to think about, such as feeding, vaccinations and training. This article is designed to offer some advice on the more tricky parts of taking on a puppy. Please do not hesitate to contact the surgery if you have any questions.

PLAY BY THE RULES: Behaviour and Training


Even though 15,000 years of domestication have passed the dog still shows many behavioural patterns seen in the wolf. The wolf is used to living in a pack, each pack has a leader that all the other members follow and responds to. The leader of the pack is known as the dominant member and all the other lower ranking members are the subordinates. When the puppy enters our family homes, it is the members of the family that become the puppy’s new pack. Puppies respond well to this artificial pack as long as members of the family take on the role of leader of the pack. If there are no guidelines or rules set for the puppy then there is a high chance that the puppy will become leader of the pack.

The role of you being the dominant member, and the puppy being the subordinate, must never be reversed. If reversal is allowed then you run the risk of serious dominance, or status related behaviour problems developing.

Taking on the role of leader of the pack means you as his owner has total responsibility for his welfare. This means you have a duty to understand the puppy to find out what makes him happy and to learn how he thinks in his canine world. We must remember that dogs are a different species; they are not mini humans in furry coats. Therefore, when teaching the puppy, it is important to remember that he does not think in the same way humans do. We have to think ’dog’, as however irrational or naughty his behaviour is there is always a good reason for him doing it. The relationship between puppy and owner should be an enjoyable one and not an ongoing battle. To achieve an enjoyable partnership we need to teach the puppy to be obedient and responsive.

Once he understands who is in charge, he will be more than happy to accept his position in life and will be easier to control.

How can your position as leader of the pack be achieved.

Your role as leader of the pack needs to be established from the start, so rules need to be set from day one of ownership. For these rules to work we need to address the areas of the dogs life that are important to them relating to hierarchy.

These areas of significance are:

  • Sleeping
  • Eating
  • Playing games
  • Attention seeking


The dominant wolf in its pack will have the right to choose the best place to sleep and rest. Therefore it is important to ensure that this is not the case in the domestic dog. You must allocate a suitable sleeping area for the puppy. Teach him from the start that this is where he sleeps and that you also have every right to stand or sit down in his bed. By doing this you are teaching him that you, as his parent, have the right to go anywhere or sit anywhere you want. This does not include family member’s beds or furniture. If he is allowed access to such luxuries then he will consider you to be a weaker animal than himself. If you do ever allow him onto the furniture then ensure that it is on your terms.


In the wild it is the dominant wolf that will feed first. Therefore in order for the family members to be leader of the pack the following feeding rule should always be followed: The dog is offered his food when everyone in the family has finished their own meal and cleared away. We must also never share our food with him, if you want to give him something from your meal, then save it till you have finished and put it in his own dish for his next meal. When feeding your dog place his food bowl down for him to eat. Twenty minutes later, regardless of whether he has finished eating, remove it completely. Do not give him any more food until the next scheduled meal time, then repeat the process. It is advisable, however, that you do not take his food dish away whilst he is actually eating as this may encourage aggression. Handle him occasionally whilst he is eating. When he is happy for you to do this add food into his dish whilst he is eating to help prevent food aggression.

Playing Games

In order to be leader of the pack we have to control the games. The best way to gain this control is to have a few toys that belong to you. These toys can only be played with when you allocate play sessions with the puppy. Playtime should occur a couple of times a day, when you decide to play, rather than the puppy deciding to play. Another important rule to remember is always to stop the game before the puppy gets tired or bored, by doing this you are in control of when the game ends. Once you have taken the toy away from him a reward should be given. If you are going to play power games such as tug of war, then it is important for you to win more games than the puppy does. Do remember it is important for the puppy to win the game sometimes, as if he can never win he will give up playing.

Attention Seeking

In the wild there is no way the lower ranking wolves in the pack would inflict attention on the dominant member without getting their permission first. Your puppy needs to learn that being quiet brings him the rewards. It is important as an owner to understand what he considers as a reward (this includes eye contact, body language, your voice, physical contact). Therefore to ignore the puppy simply means you have to pretend he is not there. We must ensure that it is the human members of the pack who initiate interactions and not the other way around. A way in which this can be achieved is, when the puppy is resting we should call him to us and make a fuss of him. This makes you in control of when he gets the attention, instead of just giving him the attention when he demands it from you. When people enter your house ask them to ignore the dog. Puppies should approach people – not people to puppy. When your dog does approach the visitor get them to command your dog to sit for a food reward. To help prevent separation anxiety get your dog used to being alone for short periods throughout the day even if you are still in the house. When leaving your dog at home do not fuss him prior to leaving, leave quietly. Upon returning, do not rush to the dog immediately.

Handling of the Puppy

You will do yourself and your new pet a favour by teaching him to allow you to handle his body. Throughout your dog’s life there will be times when you need to handle various parts of the dog’s body. You may need to wipe his feet, clean his eyes, give medications or bandage a paw. Yet if you have never handled your dog these simple tasks could become impossible. Handling also serves to reinforce the control you are able to exert over your puppy. You should gently handle your puppy on a daily basis; pick a time when the puppy is calm, after a sleep is usually a good time. It is important that you do not start a body handling session when the puppy is excited, or in the moos for play. Place the puppy in your lap and touch his feet, open his mouth, look in his ears and under his tail. Included is a sheet on how to introduce tooth-brushing as the earlier this is introduced the easier the puppy will accept it. As you are carrying out these exercises praise him for being good, food treats are a good form of reward. The initial handling sessions need to be kept short, as it is important to remember that you want the puppy to succeed and not struggle. Once he starts to struggle there is a chance he will get free. Remember you are the leader and the session finishes on your terms – not his. As he gets more confident the length of the sessions can be gradually increased. Eventually the puppy will start to anticipate these sessions and handling can be performed without difficulty.

We do not want to encourage fear so it is important that we never force the puppy to the point that he exhibits fear.

If he does seem fearful then this should be overcome by quiet persistence. It is also important that all members of the family take part in the handling exercises, even children with the supervision of an adult.  Puppy needs to learn that it is acceptable for various people to handle him and not just one person.


When the puppy is with his littermates it is normal behaviour for the litter to play bite with each other. When the puppy bites another puppy a little bit too hard the puppy’s response will be to yelp out, and the game will stop. Once the puppy has left his littermates there is a high chance that he will play bite with members of the family. He needs to start to learn immediately that humans are very delicate, and that his teeth should never come into contact with our skin. When his teeth do come into contact with our skin, out immediate response must be to yell out. A simple word such as “ow” will do. When he stops he can be praised. If the mouthing still persists, put him in another room until he calms down. However, to prevent separation anxiety, ignore him for a few minutes when you have allowed him back into the family room. Never leave dogs and small children alone together as the children may reward inappropriate behaviour.

Basic Training

Your attitudes, actions, and responses to the new puppy will determine what the puppy will turn out like when he is older. Either a well mannered responsive individual or a stubborn individual. It is easier to teach what you want from the puppy, rather than discipline what you do not want. This makes a positive learning environment for the puppy to grow up in. Show the puppy that each family member is in control and teach him that each reward must be earned (nothing in life is free).

Basic Obedience Training

Start by teaching your puppy to sit, stand, and lie down for a reward. Please refer to the ‘Basic Commands’ sheet. Remember, a reward is any form of attention given to the puppy. Your puppy must be taught that vocalisation, nipping, mouthing and demanding behaviour of any sort will never earn reward. If the puppy does misbehave you must never punish him with harsh physical reprimands, as this will only frighten the puppy. We want the puppy to relate the human hand to something pleasant that brings comfort, food and affection and not something to be scared of. If you catch the puppy misbehaving, a loud noise i.e. a clap, is often enough to stop him. It is important to remember that the puppy must be redirected to the correct behaviour once the naughty behaviour has been interrupted. Remember, only reprimand when you see the naughty behaviour taking place. If the puppy does something wrong when you are not present, then we must just clean up the mess remembering not to yell or use physical discipline, as he will not know why you are punishing him. All this will do is cause fear, anxiety, possibly leading to aggression.

Behavioural Needs

We must give the domesticated dog the chance to behave as it would in its natural environment. Therefore it is important for a pet owner to understand an animal’s natural pattern of behaviour. The fact that the dog does not have to hunt for its own food, as he would have to in his natural environment, can trigger boredom related behavioural problems. As the wolf would spend a lot of his time hunting for food, we must ensure the domestic dog is provided with alternative stimuli that will fit this free time.


For puppies to live confidently in a human environment they have to learn to accept other animals, both of their own species and different species. This process is known as socialisation.

Puppies need to become accustomed to environmental stimuli (sounds, smells, sight and events) which they will encounter in later life. This is known as habituation.

When to approach socialisation and habituation.

The puppy’s most sensitive period to learn social skills is between four and fourteen weeks. Peak sensitivity is said to be around 6-8 weeks. Puppies at this stage are like living sponges – they learn from everything going on around them, developing good and bad habits, which will last a lifetime. However, these are not rigid time limits and puppy owners need to continually reinforce these social skills for at least the first year of the puppy’s life.

For example, if the puppy only receives social interactions up until it is three months old, then it is highly likely that the puppy will regress and become fearful of social and environmental encounters, as the puppy’s social skills have not been allowed to develop to the full potential. This also explains why once the puppy has left its litter-mates, if not allowed interactions with other puppies and dogs all social skills will have been forgotten. If you continue to make an effort until the puppy is at least one year old, you will end up with a friendly adult dog that can be taken anywhere.

You may ask how can I introduce my puppy to other dogs and new places when the vaccination course is not complete? You are correct in recognising that this is a serious consideration, but there is a way around it – as long as you remember the basic rule that “The unvaccinated puppy should not be taken to places where unvaccinated dogs may have been or will come into contact with.” Therefore we need to socialise the puppy with minimal risk to his health, carrying the puppy around rather than placing him onto pavements and fields can achieve this. A solution around socialising with other dogs is to invite vaccinated dogs to your house to visit.

How to approach socialisation and habituation.

Exposing your puppy to a wide range of people, animals and experiences will increase the likelihood of having a confident, well-adjusted, sociable family pet. If we fail to put the puppy through adequate training for life, then we run the risk of the puppy developing fear related behavioural problems that can have dramatic effects later in life i.e. aggression and timid ness. The puppy is most likely to become fearful of stimuli that are not found in its day-to-day routine. For example if the puppy has spent its first six months living in the country, then there is a high chance that in adulthood when walked down a busy street, the puppy will show fearful behaviour. If the puppy has been introduced to bust city streets during the age of four to fourteen weeks then the puppy will not show fearful behaviour when such a situation is encountered. A way of ensuring that all areas of the puppy’s socialisation and habituation needs have been covered is to work alongside a checklist similar to the one below.

Remember this list is generalised and it may be necessary and more beneficial for you to devise your own list, as everybody’s environment and social encounters are different. Encounters should be enjoyable. Keep your puppy happy by giving strangers small tasty titbits to feed, or by passing them a favourite toy so that they can play together. Watch your puppy constantly for signs that he is becoming anxious or overwhelmed and, if so, remove him from the situation or give him more space and freedom to approach in his own time.

Places to Go

Veterinary surgery

Grooming parlour

Boarding kennels

Friend’s houses



Parks (recreation areas)

Busy roadsides

Towns and cities

Lifts and escalators

Public transport – trains/buses etc


(Basically anywhere you think the puppy may visit in later life)

People and Animals to Meet





Elderly people with walking sticks

Disabled people in wheelchairs

Confident loud people

Shy people

Delivery people (postman/milkman)

People wearing glasses

People wearing headgear

People with beards

People in motion (joggers/prams/cyclists)

People who differ in appearance to the family members

Veterinary staff (people in white coats)

Other dogs

Other cats

Other domestic pets


(Any person or animal that the puppy may meet in adult life)

Objects to Encounter


Washing machine

Tumble dryer

Hair dryer



Children’s toys

Lawn mowers

Being alone (this will help prevent separation anxiety)

(Any object the puppy may encounter in adult life

Activities to Accept

Walking on a lead



Health examinations (carried out by people in the medical profession)

(Any activity the puppy will encounter)

A successful way of introducing a puppy to new situations and people is to provide a reward, such as a favourite toy or biscuit, each time it is exposed to a new stimulus. Offering rewards will also discourage hand-shyness, as the puppy will learn to associate new friends and an outstretched hand with something positive. Once the puppy has learned to sit on command each new friend should ask the puppy to sit before giving the treat, this will teach the puppy to greet properly discouraging bad behaviour such as jumping up at people. On occasions when you do not have access to such rewards it is important to reward by using a happy tone of voice and encourage the puppy to feel relaxed.

If the puppy panics when introduced to a new situation then it is important for you to back off, and try again later, as you do not want to encourage the fear.

Never reassure the fearful dog as this may serve to reward the fearful behaviour.


House training is a stage that must be worked through with every new puppy. Some pick the idea up very quickly; others seem to take a while to catch on. If your pup is one of the slow ones, take heart – they all get there in the end!

Understanding how your pup’s mind works can help to take some of the hassle out of house training for both of you. Remember, what being clean means to you and what it means to your pup is not necessarily the same thing! To you, it is important that the puppy will go to a chosen spot in the garden to do his business. To the pup, it is important to relieve himself where and when the notion takes him! The puppy’s only criteria are that he would prefer to perform in a quit place away from his food and his bed.

From the puppy’s point of view, this makes behind the sofa and on your bedroom floor perfectly acceptable places. We have to show him that this isn’t on and show him where we want him to perform his toilet.

Right from the start, choose a spot in the garden that you would like him to use as his toilet area.

Take your puppy out into the garden to the same spot at the following times:

  • After being fed
  • After playing
  • After exercise
  • After excitement (visitors)
  • Immediately after waking up
  • First thing in a morning
  • Last thing at night
  • Many times in between – at least every waking hour

Allow your puppy to wander around, sniffing at the ground helps to speed up the process. It is important to stay outside with your puppy no matter what the weather so you can enthusiastically praise/reward him as soon as he is done. This must be done within a second because if you are inside and you praise him when he comes in, he will not associate the two.

Choose a word to say when he does perform his toilet, for example “busy”, then eventually he will associate the chosen word with the action.

Although you have to stay outside with him, there is no need to stay out there for hours. If after a few minutes nothing has happened, take him back in and try again a little later. If at any time of the day you notice your puppy:

  • Sniffing at the door
  • Circling
  • Getting ready to squat

Immediately interrupt him and take him outside. Let him walk, do not pick him up or he will not learn the vital link of the process, ie.

“When I need to go, I need to get to the back door and into the garden”.

Remember that a puppy’s early warning system is not very good in the early weeks, so choose a spot that you are able to take your puppy to quickly.

If you catch him mid-flow, SHOUT! It doesn’t matter what you shout but it does need to be loud enough to stop him. Run away to the back door calling him happily and enthusiastically encouraging him to follow. Go outside to your spot and wait until he has relaxed and finished what he started. Then PRAISE.

ACCIDENTS will happen. If your puppy wets or messes in the house and you do not notice, it’s your mistake, not his. You must never punish your puppy if you find any accidents, he will not learn from this as he cannot remember what he has done. Not only is punishment after the event ineffective but it can also be counter productive.

If you punish or get angry, this can distress your puppy and may cause him to avoid going to the toilet in front of you as it makes you angry. He will sneak away to do it, making it harder for you to teach him the correct behaviour.

If he has an accident, ignore the fact that it has happened and clean it up. Use hot biological washing powder solution and odour eliminator, you can get this from your Vet. Ordinary household disinfectants mask the smell from us, but not your puppy. The chemicals they contain are thought to attract the puppy back to the same place. At night, like children, puppies have limited control of their bodies; if they need to go they will, straight away. Expecting them to go 6-8 hours is a bit much. Your puppy may by 7-8 months before they are completely clean overnight.

Occasional lapses are common when puppies are under stress of any kind. This includes being punished unfairly, if they are unwell, or if there is a sudden change in family stability such as a quarrel, bereavement, or even Christmas. Body changes as your puppy reaches maturity may cause a short lapse to occur. If a lapse does occur then go back to the original house training program. As your puppy matures, lapses will become less and less.