Puppy development & behaviour

The first months of a puppy’s life are an incredible time for learning about new things. Like human babies, puppies are born immature – this means that the nerves in their brain, and the connections between nerve cells, are still developing rapidly in the first months of life. What's more, nerve pathways that develop during this period are only retained if they are actively used. Amazing though it may seem, this means that the range of different situations that your puppy comes across actually influences the nerve pathways in his brain! So making sure he has lots to see and do gives him the best chance of being a well-adjusted adult dog.

At Dogs Trust Dog School, we teach owners to make sure that their puppy has a range of experiences to encourage behavioural flexibility later in life. We also ensure that puppies have a positive early experience of some of the specific situations or events that commonly cause problems for dogs such as handling, grooming, hearing loud noises and being left alone.

Chew-barker? Understanding your puppy's desire to chew

Many pups explore their environment using their mouth and teeth, just as we would our eyes and hands. Chewing is a natural way for dogs to experience the world around them. In your puppy’s eyes, the world is their chew toy! Unfortunately, this includes electrical cables and your favourite furniture. But don’t punish your pup, this desire to chew is an instinct that’s built into dogs. The urge is particularly strong between the ages of 3-7 months, when your puppy will be teething. As much as you want your puppy to enjoy themselves, it’s important to keep them safe from potential choking hazards, toxic chemicals and electricals. And by intervening early, you can help your puppy build better life-long chewing habits.

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Jumping up: encouraging your puppy to keep four paws on the floor!

Puppies jump up because they are so excited to see you, they can hardly contain themselves! They are trying to get closer to your face to get your attention – and very often it works! This behaviour may be sweet when your dog is just a puppy, but as they get bigger it can become more alarming than adorable. So if you’d like to manage your dog’s jumping habit, it’s best to react consistently from day one.

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Ouch! Helping your puppy play nicely

Just as we use our hands to explore and interact, puppies use their mouths. This can feel a lot like biting because it hurts, but it is not intended to be an aggressive act, so ‘mouthing’ is a more accurate description. When puppies play with one another, they often use their teeth. But it’s important to teach your pup that the rules are different when interacting with their human friends. This is particularly important if you have babies or small children in your home. Its really important to not shout at or punish your puppy, as they may either get scared or associate mouthing you with getting your attention. Read further to pick up some tips for remaining calm, and teaching your puppy that there are better ways of playing with you!

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Grrrr….uarding! Making sure your puppy isn’t worried around food or toys

Does your puppy growl at you while they’re eating their dinner? Or maybe get tense and stiff if you approach when they have a favourite chew toy? It is important to realise that these responses occur because he or she is worried about losing something they really value. Try not to take it personally, it is a behaviour that usually starts when puppies are with their litter mates and there is some competition for food and toys in the past. It is essential that you don’t react to this type of behaviour by getting angry or telling your puppy off – this will only make the situation worse, as they will worry about you approaching even more! Read more to find out more about how to deal with this situation.

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When puppy first comes home, one of the first things that he or she will need to learn is where to toilet. Learning where to pee and poop is fairly easy - a puppy will learn very quickly to associate going to the loo with where they are at the time and form a 'preference' for that type of surface. So, if we want puppies to toilet outside, we need to make sure that we take them outside often enough for them to learn this association. Read more for further tips and advice on helping your new pup learn where to go!

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Preventing separation anxiety

Dogs are naturally sociable animals, so a puppy’s first weeks away from their litter can be a distressing time for them. Research shows that puppies as young as 3 weeks old can show signs of separation distress, so it’s important to start their training early. Ideally, dog breeders should separate each puppy from the litter by gently picking them up and then quickly returning them. The time each puppy is kept away from their litter can then be gradually increased – making separation less daunting for them. When your puppy first comes home with you, it is important to start their separation training as soon as possible. This needs to be done gradually to make sure they are comfortable with being left. Read more to find out the stages of teaching puppy that being left home alone is OK.

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