The most formative months in a dog’s psychological development occur early in puppyhood. A puppy needs many positive experiences before 5 months of age to promote the development of a confident, friendly adult personality. An important goal in puppy training is for your puppy to show no fear or hesitation around new situations.
If introduced repeatedly to a situation before 3 months of age, most puppies will show no fear by age 5 months. If a puppy does show fear, do not try to comfort him or her, as this soothing talk and stroking is perceived by the puppy as praise and may reinforce and increase the fearful behavior that is being rewarded. The correct response is to ignore the fear, and then act relaxed as you approach the situation or object yourself. Move slowly closer and praise in a happy tone in response to any movement by the puppy towards the object or situation.
The following checklist is a brief but important set of situations and routines that a puppy should be exposed to starting as young as possible. Once your puppy shows no fear in these situations, you can check it off the list. Try for multiple successes for each category.
- Examine your puppy’s teeth (touch each tooth), paws, ears (e.g., wipe a facial tissue inside each ear).
- Place your puppy up on a table (saying “Up!”) until relaxed, then put down. Repeat several times.
- Expose your puppy to baby strollers, wheel chairs, a vacuum cleaner, sidewalk mailboxes.
- Groom your puppy with a soft brush.
- Expose your puppy to touches by a cat (requires a willing or at least apathetic feline accomplice).
- Give your puppy a firm hug for a slow count of 10 (start counting only up to 2 then work up from there).
- Expose your puppy to a fire in the fireplace or campfire.
- Walk your puppy on a leash in a crowded area (e.g., theater exit area).
- Take your puppy to puppy training classes (ask our staff for recommendations).
- Expose your puppy to 10 new people who ask him or her to sit. It is helpful to provide these volunteers with a treat to give your puppy as a reward. Examples: postal carrier, delivery person, person wearing a hat, person holding an umbrella, person in a costume (unusual clothes), small person, tall person, etc.
In all cases it is recommended that commands be taught in a variety of situations. This will teach your puppy Generalization, which means that his or her commands apply regardless of whether you are at home, at the park, by a busy street, in a pet store, in the rain, etc.
Most important: Have fun! Your puppy will respond more willingly to your requests if you show that you are enjoying the interaction also!