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San Diego Humane Society

Adopting a Puppy

Congratulations! You have a new puppy — now what? The early months of your puppy's development will set the stage for their behavior later in life. Many common behavior problems that cause dog owners to seek help or to give up their dogs can be traced back to things the owners did or didn't do in the early stages of their relationships with their dogs.

All of these problems can be prevented or addressed successfully while your puppy is still young. However, don't expect it to be effortless or easy.

9 Things You Can Do NOW to Have a Well-Mannered Dog for Life

Be a Good Manager

Understand that your puppy is a dog and will do "dog things" — no matter how many times you tell them not to! Scolding is a natural human approach, but it is much more effective to manage your puppy's activities. If your puppy chews on your favorite shoe or has an accident on your carpet, it is because you were not watching them. Puppy-proof your home by removing low objects, closing bedroom doors and watching your puppy. You can bet that if your puppy is not in sight or in their crate, they are getting into trouble and a bad habit is developing!

Get Your Puppy Used to Human Handling

Early puppy handling helps puppies bond with you, gentles them to human touch, calms excitable puppies and helps them grow out of the biting stage more quickly. Kneel on the ground with your puppy sitting between your legs facing away from you. Put your hands against your puppy's chest to steady them against you. Your puppy should not be able to reach your hands or arms to bite. When they are calm, start petting them all over very slowly with one hand, leaving your other hand in place. Speak slowly and calmly. Work up to being able to easily cup your puppy's chin in your hand so that you can massage their muzzle with your fingers. Done correctly, most puppies will soon be feeling very, very sleepy!

Respond Positively to Behaviors You DO Want to Encourage

In order to recognize these "good" behaviors, you have to know what to look for. Calm behaviors like sitting or lying down are almost always appropriate choices for your puppy to make. If you were to praise your puppy and give them a treat whenever they happened to sit instead of jump, you will soon have a puppy who sits more and more often and jumps less and less. They have learned that, in the human world, sitting "works." Think ahead about various situations your puppy is likely to be in and decide on the behavior you WANT from them rather than waiting for bad habits to develop on their own. Teach the desired behavior in a rewarding way and your puppy may never even try the unwanted behaviors!

Refuse to Respond to Behaviors You Don't Want to Encourage

This can be challenging because these are usually the behaviors that are most annoying! If you don't want your dog to bark for attention, don't acknowledge them or go to them when they are barking. If you don't want your dog to jump on people, don't pay any attention to them until all four feet are on the floor. Keep in mind that you are giving your dog the gift of your attention even when you are reprimanding them. To many puppies, this is better than no attention at all and will actually encourage behaviors you don't want.

Arrange for Positive Socialization Experiences

Up until between 4 and 5 months of age, your puppy is still very impressionable. This is your window of opportunity to give your puppy positive experiences with different types of people and the sights and sounds of everyday life. Don't let your puppy form their own opinions by chance — SHOW them that new people and things are fun. Praise and give your puppy treats when they meet children or when strangers pet them. Take them places with you.

Certainly follow your veterinarian's advice about avoiding exposure to diseases, but do not neglect your puppy's socialization needs!

Resolve Not to Walk When the Leash Is Tight

Leash pulling is the number one problem in obedience classes. By the time the owners seek help, the dog has spent their entire life pulling on the leash. If you allow your puppy to pull against the leash when they are small, they will continue to pull as hard as they can when they are bigger and stronger. Prevent this problem by resolving to stop right in your tracks whenever your puppy makes the leash tight. Just stop and wait for your puppy to try a different behavior like looking at you, sitting, taking a step back, etc. When they do (and they will — be patient!), praise them and give them a treat as you encourage them to walk with you in the opposite direction. Show your puppy that people don't walk with tight leashes. Let them think this is just another funny thing about the human world.

Get Chew Toys and Bones Your Puppy REALLY Likes

The goal is to give your puppy chew toys that they will prefer over your furniture, shoes, carpeting, etc. Some long-lasting options are the Kong toy, bully sticks and knotted rope "bones." It's a good idea to make the toys appealing right from the start by putting some treats inside the Kong. When your puppy is teething, you can plug the small hole in the Kong and fill it with broth and freeze it. Similarly, moistened rope bones can be frozen to soothe and numb tender gums. Rotate your puppy's toys to keep them new and exciting.

Actively Work to Prevent Unwanted Behavior From Developing

To help prevent protectiveness of food and toys, approach your puppy when they are eating and put a special treat in their bowl. You can do something similar when your puppy is chewing one of their toys. Walk by as your puppy is chewing on a toy and drop a special treat. Your puppy should begin to welcome your approach by wagging their tail and expecting something good to happen. This will make it easier to retrieve stolen articles from your dog without confrontations.

Go to Puppy Training!

A positive reinforcement based puppy class will save you a lot of effort by teaching you exactly how to teach your puppy basic cues while providing your pup with essential dog-to-dog socialization in a safe, controlled environment. Preventing problems is always easier than fixing them later! San Diego Humane Society offers a wide variety of training classes for all ages.

Behavior Helpline: Contact our Behavior Team

For behavior questions, please contact our Behavior Helpline either by calling 619-299-7012, ext. 2244, emailing or filling out our Ask a Trainer form. San Diego Humane Society Adopters can fill out the Post Adoption Consultation form to schedule their troubleshooting session. We aim to respond within 7 days, but responses may take up to 2 weeks. Thank you for your patience!

Note: Due to the potential for serious injury, canine and feline aggression are best handled by a professional who specializes in aggressive behaviors. Because phone or email counseling is inadequate for addressing serious behavior concerns, we ask that you contact a qualified professional for help. Please refer to the list of behavior resources here.

Questions About Public Classes

San Diego Humane Society offers training classes and resources to address a variety of needs for companion animals.

Our training philosophy is based on the behavioral science concepts of positive reinforcement. Training your pet using these concepts will not only help them learn new behaviors more quickly, it will also strengthen the bond you share.

Our website includes a current schedule of training classes or call 619-279-5961. 

View Training Classes   Gift a Training Class


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