Five big fat lies about puppy behavior
Over my career, I have learned much about normal and abnormal behavior. My focus is the cat and dog, blending the knowledge of health, and behavior over all life stages helps me understand animals better. Veterinary education often lacks integration of normal young animal behavior development. Often veterinary staff use what they have learned or heard from others if they have not taken it upon themselves to self-educate. In short, much of what most staff know is general advice heard from a co-worker, groomer, or trainer. Clients then get this advice which may be dated or incorrect. I must admit, most veterinary seminars and articles are focused on adult dog behavior problems, behavior drugs, or low-stress veterinary care – not puppy behavior. As a result, old thoughts and lies abound.
Here are the five big lies that create puppy problems, and the truths we know now.
“Puppies will grow out of nipping, barking, rude and stubborn behaviors.
Nope – puppies grow into these problems. These impulsive behaviors often start at twelve weeks of age as the puppy explores with confidence. If the puppy is not taught to quiet before twelve weeks of age, these impulsive behaviors become more intense.
A perfect example of this was my New Year’s Eve chat with a friend. She was telling me about her son’s ten-month-old Golden Retriever who was jumping on her, scratching and grabbing at her arms when she stopped by his home. She told her son he had to get training for the dog, but he insisted the dog would grow out of it. When she told others, they said the same thing. She clearly saw that the dog was more intense than at six months of age. He was growing into it not out of it. She was very frustrated with others misinforming her son and as a result, he had a dog that was now impossible to be around, injuring her and limiting her ability to visit her son.
The truth – Puppies increase impulsive, rude behaviors if they do not learn to self-calm. . Start positive puppy classes with proper play manners, leash walking, and socialization skills before twelve weeks of age. Use pheromones, and calming supplements. Use the Puppy Impulsive behavior guide Click here to download to help you and your puppy. .
"A growling puppy is cute – he thinks he is the boss."
Growling is not cute – the puppy is saying he feels threatened and needs to fight off the threat. When a puppy is growling, he is saying “stay back.” He is not being bossy or dominant – he feels he must fight off the threat because he is scared, or not able to assess the situation normally.
Here is an example of this lie – An eight-week-old puppy is picked up when sleeping, eating, or grabbed as he runs around. The puppy is startled, whining, and struggles to get away. People keep picking him up and petting him despite his cries. Within a few weeks, this puppy growls as he is reached for or picked up. Within another week he is biting as people pick him up or try to pet him.
The truth – your puppy’s growl is telling the world to stop. Ignoring the growl will increase your puppy’s aggression. Genetics and development can cause early aggression. Tell your veterinarian immediately to get appropriate help. Do not wait!!! Growling puppies often become aggressive dogs.
- Do not give into a puppy whining or escaping the crate. They are stubborn and they have to get used to the crate.
This is one of the worst lies. When your puppy is whining, pawing, and trying to escape out of the crate they are not stubborn. They are stressed and in a panic. They are willing to take the pain of broken nails, or teeth trying to escape. No crate is going to stop this no matter how strong it is.
The truth – whining puppies are stressed about confinement. They need to have calming supplements, pheromones, and positive training every day to learn to like the crate.
- "Fear of people, the vet, or grooming is not a big deal. They will get over it."
This lie results in dogs who shake and panic at the veterinary clinic, fight over nail trims and bark at strangers. Pushing a puppy who is scared through a bath, nail trim or vet exam embeds the memory of fear. This will escalate and often leads to aggression.
The truth – Puppies need to have their feet, ears, and mouth handled in a low-stress way. Using treats is not bribing them – it is the reward that tells them the bathtub with the noisy spray of water, or the pinch of a needle from a vaccine is ok. Use rewards, take the process in gradually, and learn about low-stress care.
- "Puppies need to stay at home until all the vaccines are finished."
This is old advice, from the days of uncontrollable parvo infections. We now have excellent vaccination programs for mother dogs and puppies to prevent disease. Puppies are safe to get the socialization they need. Up to half of the dogs in shelters are under three years of age with preventable behavior problems. In short, a dog is going to have a higher risk of death due to behavior problems than infection from lack of complete vaccination.
The truth – Puppies who started classes at eight weeks of age had no greater incidence of puppy illness than keeping puppies at home until full vaccination. These puppies had fewer behavior problems than those kept at home, and a lower risk for surrender. Please read the white paper from the AVSAB here to learn the truth about early socialization needs Click here
My thoughts ...
I do not think anyone means harm by repeating puppy lies. Like most information, they are repeated without question. You trust those from whom you heard it. In my experience, access to the current articles, handouts, and other resources is not consistent. Let us share the handouts, videos, and webinars from certified veterinary and animal behavior professionals, and associations, for consistent up-to-date information.
Thanks for reading and helping puppy owners know what is best for shaping good puppy behavior.
Sally J Foote DVM, CABC-IAABC, LSHC-S,FFE
Here is a list of resources to use and raise pleasant puppies that become great dogs.
AVSAB position statement page – puppy socialization, and more https://avsab.org/resources/position-statements/
Blog by Ian Dunbar, DVM, ACVB https://www.siriuspup.com/blog
Puppy socialization list Puppy Resources in the shop https://cattledogpublishing.com/product-category/posters/
Five steps to puppy potty training https://www.drsallyjfoote.com/pet-owner/publications-free-resourses/
Puppy impulsivity progression Handout https://www.drsallyjfoote.com/veterinary-professional/publications-free-resources/
Positive crate training https://youtu.be/ZMP5H6LXi88
Independence training to prevent separation anxiety https://youtu.be/qT38xNubMz8
Say please by sitting Sophia Yin DVM https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZ-xxsIaKHM
Loose leash walking puppy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C43h_1cT4EE
Reward right https://youtu.be/_tWRdLDQVD4