Mastering Puppy Behavior and Stages
by Jessica Jones
Few things bring more joy and love into our lives than puppies. With every wag and wiggle, they steal our hearts a little more. But inevitably, your new playmate's behavior may baffle you. If you're picking out a new pup or it's been a while since you've raised one, here are some insights into understanding your new arrival.
First and foremost, puppies seek instant gratification. They have no inherent sense of right and wrong—if it looks like fun, they'll try it. Teaching your puppy at a young age is a good way to help him separate good and bad behaviors.
Puppies also have very short attention spans. They are constantly exploring and learning, and while a stick in the yard might be the most interesting thing to them for a few seconds, a passing butterfly can quickly divert their attention. “This is the blessing of puppies,” Texas-based trainer Mary Swindell says. With this in mind, you can easily substitute a positive distraction—say, a toy—for a negative one. It also explains why it's crucial to immediately praise your pup for good behavior. If you wait even a few minutes, he will have already moved on to the next new and exciting adventure and will have long forgotten what you're praising him for.
Remember, too, that all your puppy wants is your attention. As your best friend, he wants to be near you 24 hours a day. And while that's not always possible, you do need to be aware of when and why you give your four-legged friend attention. “If a puppy is lying quietly while you're on the computer, you might not give them attention, and that's exactly when you should,” Swindell explains. Acknowledge this good behavior in a way that doesn't generate excitement so it doesn't bring your puppy out of the behavior you want to reward. Speaking calmly in a soft voice or gently stroking the puppy are acceptable rewards.
Around eight weeks of age, your puppy may go through what veterinarians call a “fear period.” At this stage, your puppy is hyper-sensitive to loud noises and unfamiliar experiences, so it's best to avoid these potentially frightening stimuli during this time. If your puppy gets scared, it's best not to indulge him, since that is the same attention you give him when he behaves well. These mixed messages can confuse your puppy. Instead, remain calm, as your puppy will look to you for guidance, and remove him from the scary situation. Once your puppy sees that you are not afraid, he'll learn he has nothing to fear, either.
Soon, your puppy will outgrow his fear and grow more confident. So confident, in fact, that at around eight or nine months' of age, he will begin to explore his boundaries. “Before puppies are four months old, you are their whole world,” Swindell explains. But by the time he gets a little older, he realizes that he can have fun on his own. It's healthy for him to gain independence, but if he begins to disobey, Swindell suggests making sure that obeying you always leads to the best outcome for your puppy; for instance, always have a cool toy or a yummy treat and affection waiting for him. Additionally, obedience classes are helpful at this stage.
The amount of sleep your puppy requires will vary greatly throughout his young life. At first, puppies sleep almost constantly. “They will play really hard,” Swindell explains. “But by the time they're nine months old, they're hitting an inexhaustible stage.” During this phase, your puppy has endless energy and playing with him isn't just fun, it's vital in helping him to release that energy. The more you play with your pup, the stronger the bond.
Learning about your puppy is a truly rewarding experience. Take the time to get to know your four-legged friend and his unique personality. The bond you develop during these early months will last a lifetime.