During the holidays, many families decide to adopt a new puppy into their hearts and home. While having a puppy is a lot of fun, it also comes with great responsibility to help him become a well-adjusted, confident dog.

A dog’s temperament and behavior habits are shaped during early puppyhood. While genetic influence plays its role, a puppy’s experiences (both good and bad) have a huge impact on his or her future well-being. The greatest gifts you can give your puppy are proper socialization and training.

Your puppy should encounter many different people, dogs and situations. Include kids of various ages, different-looking and different-sized people; the more variety the better. New places, new noises and new smells are also important. Use lots of positive reinforcement (treats or praise) to show that these experiences are fun and good, not bad and scary. Building positive associations helps puppies become confident dogs better able to adapt to new situations. They also have quicker “bounce back” when they do encounter strange, new things. Understand that socialization never ends. To keep your dog social and confident, he should experience new people, dogs and things every day.

Puppies must also acquire bite inhibition so they learn not to hurt anyone with their mouth. Pups raised with their mother and littermates learn this naturally; others often need help. Play dates with other puppies and appropriate adult dogs can teach this very important skill. Any dog can get upset, but a dog that has good bite inhibition is far less likely to ever hurt anyone.

Puppyhood is the perfect time to learn house rules. Don’t allow your puppy to do things you will not allow him to do as an adult (chewing on rugs, jumping, etc.). Positive methods used with patience and consistency are the key to success. Praise a puppy wildly for eliminating outside instead of punishing him for going inside. Always remember it is much easier for a puppy to learn what to do instead of learning what not to do.

Look into attending puppy classes, which can help your pup acquire these important skills. They offer opportunities for puppies to socialize, practice manners and become comfortable with handling.

Appropriate socialization and training is the single biggest factor in determining how close your puppy will come to being the dog of your dreams. After all, it is much easier to prevent behavior problems from the beginning, than to try to rehabilitate later. Dogs that are well-mannered and friendly stay in their homes, while dogs that are poorly socialized or lack manners often end up in shelters where their chances of finding a new home are slim.


Ahwatukee Foothills resident Stefanie Strackbein is a canine behaviorist and owner of The Canine Connection. She holds “Puppy Wellness” classes at Gilbert Dogs 24/7. For more information, e-mail stefanie@gilbertdogs.com.

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