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Pet Behaviour

Below are 2 article by Colette Kase covering: Socialization (Having a sociable dog) and Mouthing (Teeth). These articles have been written for clients of Colette Kase, this should be bourne in mind when reading them.

Colette Kase is a pet behaviour counselor working by veterinary referral with both pet dogs and cats. She has been working with dogs professionally since 1990 when she became a dog trainer and behaviour counselor for McBride Associates Animal Behavior Services. More about Colette Kase can be found at www.petsense.net

Having a sociable dog

Socialisation is one of the most important parts of raising a well behaved and happy dog. Socialisation means providing your dog with positive experiences in situations where he might meet people or other animals. He must also learn how to behave acceptably in these situations. The best and most effective time to socialise a dog is when he is a puppy between the ages of 3 and 14 weeks. Lack of socialisation is one of the biggest causes of fear and aggression in adult dogs.

Many people are worried about socialising their puppy before he has completed his full course of vaccinations. Unfortunately, in many cases, that may be too late. There are many good puppy classes which only allow healthy puppies who have received their first vaccination. In some instances vaccination can start as early as 6 weeks of age, although more commonly it is given at 8 or 9 weeks. In addition to this, you can carry your puppy around with you in the day. You can use a baby sling or satchel to make this easier with larger puppies. As long as you are careful to avoid any areas which may be visited by unhealthy dogs, your puppy should not be at risk.

Older puppies and adult dogs need socialisation too. It is important never to stop socialising your dog so that he will always be happy to meet new people. If you have taken on an older, unsocialised dog or puppy, do not despair. It is possible to socialise some older dogs, it just takes much more time and patience.

This fact sheet will give you guidance on the best way to socialise your puppy or dog and help you to ensure that you have done everything possible to have a happy and safe dog who will be a pleasure to take with you wherever you go.

When should socialisation begin?

Socialisation should begin while your puppy is with the breeder or rescue centre. Make sure to ask what sort of socialisation your puppy has received. Kennelled puppies require a great deal more effort than puppies reared in a busy household as they have not had the chance to learn about normal human activities. If you do take on a puppy over 12 weeks who has not been socialised, you will need to work very hard on making up for this to ensure the dog does not develop behaviour problems later in life. It would be useful for owners to get professional advice from a trainer or behaviourist when taking on an unsocialised older puppy or adult dog.

What should I do to socialise my puppy?

From the day you get your puppy, you should expose him to as many different situations as possible. This can be as simple as carrying him with you to the local pub to meet a variety of adults to sitting outside the local primary school to get him used to the sound of playing children. There is more advice in the socialisation checklist at the end of this fact sheet.

Puppies also need the guidance of sensible older dogs to help them learn doggy manners. This is very important if they are going to be able to get along with dogs when they get older. If you allow your dog to have free, rough play with other dogs, he could soon learn to be a fighter.

Dogs can be very specific about what they find frightening. For example, many dogs are fearful of people who wear a hat. This is because they probably had no positive experiences with hat-wearing people when they were young or they had a bad experience. One bad experience can stay with a dog for life.

How should I teach my puppy to behave when meeting new people and dogs?

Although it is delightful to see puppies playing with children or other dogs, you need to carefully consider what will be safe and acceptable when the puppy has become an adult dog. Puppies should learn manners and control when in new situations. You will never be welcome anywhere with an over excitable, boisterous adult dog.

Teach your puppy to be gentle, calm and obedient even in the most exciting of circumstances. Be very aware that you can be prosecuted if your puppy or dog injures someone. This can be just by knocking them over or scratching them in play.

Try to avoid situations in which your puppy could be frightened. If he does become frightened, protect him so that he sees you as a source of safety but do not pet him, reassure him or pick him up. The last thing you want is a puppy who thinks that he can get attention by acting fearfully.

Where can I safely socialise my puppy?

During the early days, before your puppy is fully vaccinated, you should avoid allowing your puppy to have access to unvaccinated dogs or areas in which they may be exercised. You can still take your puppy to the park, but carry him.

Socialisation checklist

The following checklist is designed to give you some idea of the sort of things your puppy needs to experience safely. You will want to add things which are specific to your own lifestyle. You may feel that certain things are not relevant, but if you ever move or take your dog on holiday, or if you ever need to leave him with someone else, you must be prepared for all eventualities. Interestingly, dogs from the city often get into trouble for chasing sheep in the country when their owners go on holiday. This can be avoided if they are properly socialised with livestock.

PEOPLE

Your puppy should meet as wide a variety of people as possible. Never allow your puppy to jump up or nip at their hands and always ask people to behave in a non-threatening way.

  • People of all ages from infants to elderly people.
  • People of all races.
  • People of all physical abilities. (wheelchairs and walking sticks)
  • People with beards/glasses/hats.
  • People running/jogging/skateboarding/cycling/etc.
  • People of different sizes.
  • People wearing different styles of clothing.
  • People with umbrellas.
  • People in uniform.

OTHER ANIMALS

It is important that your dog does not become a threat to other people’s pets or livestock. Dogs can learn to live happily with other animals but only if they have been taught how to behave.

  • Dogs of all sizes.
  • Dogs of all ages.
  • Dogs of all appearances from Bulldogs to Great Danes.
  • Cats and rabbits.
  • Sheep, horses (with riders and without) and cattle.

YOUR ENVIRONMENT There are many things in your day to day environment which could surprise, frighten or over-excite your puppy. For example, many adult dogs attack the hoover and hate the postman. By teaching your puppy that these things are safe and positive, you will have fewer problems.

  • Normal household appliances.
  • Traffic.
  • The postman/paperboy/dustbin men/etc.
  • Travelling in cars, on buses and on trains.
  • The veterinary surgery.
  • Loud noises.

Teeth

Why does my puppy keep biting me?

Many puppies nip and bite their owners when they are very young. This is normal, natural and an essential part of their development. They must learn what teeth do or they may not learn how to inhibit their bite when they are older. Depending on your breed or type of dog along with your dog’s individual personality type, the intensity of biting may vary.

How should I deal with the biting?

First look at the environment. Is the puppy getting appropriate and constructive mental stimulation? Is the puppy getting plenty of attention for biting the correct things (toys and chews)? Is the puppy getting enough physical exercise? Is the puppy getting enough sleep?

There are some factors that can increase the biting problem in the household and these are:

  • Rough games with members of the household.
  • Rough games with other dogs.
  • Too much excitement and over stimulation.
  • Lack of sleep and suitable confinement.
  • People squealing and pulling their hands back.
  • Any attention (positive or negative) for biting.
  • Lack of exercise.
  • Unsupervised access to children.
  • Physical punishment. (or threats such as pointing)

Punishment usually does not work and can make the biting worse. Bright and reactive puppies may respond with increased levels of aggression; sensitive puppies may become fearful; stoic puppies may become withdrawn; insecure puppies may become bullies; demanding puppies will bite more to attention seek.

If your puppy bites, we recommend that you have a command that means ‘enough’. Whatever that command is, it is imperative that it is not used to nag the puppy. The simple rule is that the puppy is given the ‘enough’ command once, calmly but firmly. If biting doesn't’t stop then the puppy must learn a consequence. The consequence must be applied consistently and immediately and must be the same every time. Some consequences we suggest are:

  • Time out in an indoor kennel, another room or outside for no more than 2 minutes.
  • Everyone walks out and leaves the puppy in the room for 1 – 2 minutes.
  • Do something dramatic like shouting really loudly and slamming a door.
  • Tethering to an object in the room (while supervised) for no more than two minutes.

These are just a few suggestions. The important thing is that your puppy learns what happens every time he bites. Do not allow yourself to become emotional or angry when doing this as the puppy may become anxious and anticipate something dreadful. Just be calm and collected. Be aware that this is an uphill struggle. It may take hundreds of repetitions in all sorts of situations to resolve the problem. Just make sure that you do not allow visitors, relatives and friends to undermine your hard work by encouraging the puppy to play biting games.

There are a number of taste deterrents on the market. Some are much better than others. Your vet will probably be able to provide you with a good one. These can be sprayed regularly on shoes, clothing and even hands to deter biting.

What about chewing in the house?

Again, chewing is a normal and necessary puppy behaviour and again, breed/type and personality are related to problems associated with chewing. Simple rules to avoid chewing are:

  • Always make sure that your puppy is confined to a safe area that he cannot chew when unsupervised.
  • Always give your puppy tons of attention whenever he is chewing something appropriate.
  • Never give your puppy attention or offer him an alternative chew item if he is chewing something inappropriate.
  • Make sure that there are one or two good chew articles available to your puppy at all time. Change them regularly to maintain your puppy’s interest.

Interrupt any inappropriate chewing surreptitiously. When the puppy is distracted, get his attention and ask him to do something for you so that he is getting attention for appropriate behaviour. Then get him focused on something appropriate.

Some dogs do inherit or learn inappropriate aggressive behaviour. This can manifest at an early age. If your puppy does any of the following, please let us know so that you can get assistance at home:

  • Snapping aggressively.
  • Guarding food, chews or toys.
  • Guarding areas of the house.
  • Growling at family members or strangers.
  • Showing any sort of behaviour that you would consider aggressive.

We do stress though that you need to know the genetic heritage of your breed or type of dog. This will have a great deal to do with the behaviour of your puppy. You should have seen and have been able to handle the mother of your puppy and you should have some idea of the way in which the puppy was kept by the breeder.

The best way to have a dog that is not aggressive is to make sure that he is well socialised. A socialisation fact sheet is attached to this. Your homework is to expose your puppy to as many of these situations as possible.

Colette Kase www.petsense.net