Two behavioral issues dog owners have difficulty telling apart are reactivity and aggression. On the surface, the symptoms of both may look similar, but when you begin to understand the root cause of your pet's behavior, it is easier to tell the difference.
We’ll walk you through each behavior, what causes it, and how you can get your dog’s behavior on the right track.
The main difference between reactivity and aggression is that reactivity stems from a heightened state of emotion due to an environmental trigger or specific situation. Aggression is spawned from fear or the desire to seek out conflict to cause harm.
Both reactivity and aggression can present similarly in dogs, so you must look closely to get to the root of your pet’s behavioral issues.
When dogs exhibit reactive behavior, they are in a state of overstimulation and unable to respond to a situation or trigger appropriately. This overwhelming emotion can stem from anxiety, fear, frustration, or a lack of/over-socialization with people, places, animals, or unfamiliar objects. Genetics can also factor in whether or not a specific breed of dog is prone to reactivity.
Reactive dogs will pull on their leashes, jump up on people, or bark excessively during walks. They may be excited to meet a new person or dog, but they haven’t learned the proper way to interact with strangers aside from explosive behavior. They could also fear other dogs and have become reactive as a defensive mechanism to scare them away.
Many dogs during the pandemic were unable to get any form of socialization or exposure to things we see daily. They are prone to higher levels of anxiety & fear and, by proxy, reactivity because of it.
Mouthing/nipping: Puppies engage with the world with their mouths. When puppies play with other dogs or when people encourage rough play, they can get “mouthy.” When they become overstimulated, they tend to nip harder than they should, and it can disrupt their play session. These nips are not coming from your dog being aggressive but rather from having too good a time, being overly tired (Hint: Puppies need to sleep 16-18 hours a day, depending on the breed!), and settling down in a crate.
Leash Reactivity: Leash reactive dogs will growl, bark, or lunge toward things that trigger excitement, fear, or nervousness. These triggers can be anyone or anything they consider of high value in giving them attention, things that are unfamiliar or they were underexposed to, or even cause a feeling of fear & anxiety–rational or not. While this may seem like your dog is acting aggressively towards these triggers by lunging at them, they are trying to create some space to feel safer or reduce space to get to a perceived reward faster. As a rule of thumb, give them space if you encounter a strange dog on a leash. Don’t go over to greet them, regardless of how friendly your dog may be. Everyone is working on something, and reactive dogs deserve to be in public with their owners like anyone else.
While not every reactive dog has aggressive tendencies, reactivity can become aggression if warning signs are ignored. What separates aggression from reactivity is that when a dog acts aggressively, it will continue to go on the offensive even after the trigger is outside range.
Aggression in dogs can have many causes, such as genetics. But a common one is fear and discomfort in a situation they feel out of control. When dogs are afraid, it triggers their flight or fight response. If they don’t feel they can flee the situation that's causing them to be afraid, they will fight. Once put in a compromised position, they may not give appropriate warnings that they’re ready to bite to defend themselves.
Bites from a fear-aggressive dog typically will be quick snaps when a person or animal has let its guard down.
Aggressive behaviors can be caused by genetics, territorial behavior, possessive behavior, lack of socialization, fear, resource-based aggression, frustration-related aggression, and aggression caused by stress or pain.
You need to try to identify the trigger to your dog’s aggression if you want to change the behavioral pattern.
If your dog is displaying aggressive behaviors when they previously did not, you should take them to your veterinarian immediately as sudden onset aggression can be tied to serious medical issues.
Dogs express aggression by showing the whites of their eyes, baring their teeth, growling, staring directly at you while maintaining a stiff posture. An experienced dog caretaker can sense the tension in a dog who might be preparing to bite, but an inexperienced person may not realize the signs and put themselves at risk. While some of these behaviors are similar to those you’ll see in reactive dogs, aggression requires intent to harm, while reactivity is a heightened state of emotion based on a trigger.
It’s a good rule of thumb to always ask before petting someone else’s dog, and you should instruct others to do the same before touching your pet.
Don’t let anyone greet your dog uninvited. Both friends and strangers should wait until permitted to interact with your dog. This is especially crucial when you’re outside of the home on a walk. Don’t be afraid to tell strangers not to approach you or tell them, “My dog is in training, and we need to keep them focused today.” You can also employ this practice with other dog owners. It doesn’t matter how friendly their dog may seem, you must look out for your pet and their emotional wellbeing.
Use a muzzle for safety when walking your dog outside the home. A trainer can help you determine what type of muzzle will be most comfortable for your dog and how to properly muzzle train them, so it doesn’t add to the stress.
For reactive and especially aggressive dogs, keep your dog on a leash whenever you’re out of the house with them and potentially even while in the home alongside you. Reactive & aggressive dogs require management to prevent them from rehearsing poor behaviors. Whatever you allow in the home will translate to what is allowed outside of the home, so don’t leave them in your yard unattended.
Finding your dog’s threshold distance with a particular trigger will allow you to judge their degree of sensitivity to it and thus level of reactivity. Depending on their sensitivity, you may only be able to expose them to the sounds of dogs barking at first! But if they only react to seeing dogs, when they see them allow them to notice them for a moment but then be able to quickly get their attention back on to you with a charged marker, like a clicker.
With this exercise, you are interrupting the trigger response and allowing them to associate the trigger with a positive experience that you can control. Don’t wait for them to react! As you find success in redirecting your dog’s attention, you can practice moving a little closer to the trigger. If your dog begins to react and isn’t responding to the marker, you’re too close. Increase your distance and try again! With guidance, reactive dogs can assess & process triggers at a comfortable distance without direct interaction so that you can change the root emotion over time!
The ultimate goal in avoiding all of the above behaviors is to teach your dog how to be 'neutral' around everything. Being proactive in training can help create preventative measures or even assist in establishing a game plan for making progress if issues have already set in. With guidance, reactive dogs can assess & process triggers at a comfortable distance without direct interaction so that you can change the root emotion over time!
Both of these issues should be taken seriously, so reach out to a professional to learn how to advocate for your dog & work on bettering their situation. It'll improve your dog's quality of life alongside you, and you'll be able to enjoy more out of life with them!
How motivated are you by food? Consider what you'd do to receive a favorite meal prepared for you? Maybe it doesn't even have to be your favorite meal, and you'd gladly accept any amount of snacks.
To a degree, we're all motivated by food on some level because we need it to survive. When we talk about building a food drive in puppies regarding training, we're not typically talking about the food they need to survive. To be clear, starving your dog to train them can be abusive, and that's not at all what we're referring to here. Using starvation as a training tool is also counterproductive to building food drive because it teaches the dog to be comfortable being hungry rather than to work for their food.
We're talking about using food as a tool and a motivator in training exercises.
You should always make sure your dog receives a healthy diet and enough food to be healthy, but it does make sense to use a meal as a training motivator. You can train a dog who hasn't eaten since breakfast (basically an empty stomach) and use that meal as a reward. You can take the meal and break it up into smaller amounts to feed them throughout the training.
Most dogs have some food drive when it comes to training treats, but some have higher food drives than others.
You can test out your dog's food drive by offering them a tasty snack, like cooked meat, steak, or chicken are always popular, but offer it to them after they've already eaten a full meal.
The odds are they'll still eat the snack even though they couldn't possibly be hungry.
If they eat, it reveals they have an ample food drive. If your dog ignores the food, you can assume that food is less of a motivator. It helps you answer the age-old question, to do you live to eat or eat to live.
Some dogs have an adequate food drive but become less motivated by food when they are excited. They see the food and would eat it, but they've become too focused on whatever's riling them up. They're distracted. For example, you are training in your local park, and they see a squirrel on a nearby tree. Suddenly, you and your treats have taken a backseat to the chasing down of Mr. Squirrel.
Some dogs just aren't motivated by food at all. It can become frustrating for owners during training sessions. These dogs may not follow your commands whatsoever and show little to no interest in the food you're offering.
If this describes your puppy, don't give up on them!
They require your patience and some extra care, but a low food drive is not a sign of low intelligence. You may find another motivator that you can use to replace food in training or work to build their food drive over time.
Some dogs are more motivated by toys and balls. Retrievers with low food drives can fall into this category. Herding dogs also can be less motivated by food and are more interested in doing a "job" than earning snacks.
You can try to appeal to their sense of curiosity and make it more challenging to earn the treat. Place a treat inside a container so your dog can hear it knocking around inside.
Give them time to examine this container and hopefully try to get inside it! Let them have a moment to attempt this, and then give them your training command. If they obey, open the container and reward them with the treat. They may be more motivated by it after engaging with the container and "working" to get it open.
Different breeds have different average food drives. Any individual dog's food drive may be higher or lower than what's typical for their breed.
High food drive dogs tend to eat all the food provided during meal times. If you own more than one dog and feed them together, your high food drive dog may scarf down their meal and then attempt to take food from your other pet's bowls.
Keep an eye on high food drive dogs during meals as they are more likely to overeat, which may lead to vomiting or weight gain. Be sure to secure any unauthorized food sources like the kitchen pantry from high food drive dogs. If they have an opportunity to eat something forbidden, they probably will!
High food drive dogs are usually easier to train because they are willing to do almost anything to earn a treat. Just be careful not to overfeed them while training. If your dog is highly food motivated, then you shouldn't feel the need to reward them with a treat for each successful action. You can use treat rewards more sparingly and reward after multiple successive completions.
Low food drive dogs are much pickier with their meals. They may not finish the food you provide and may not always accept a treat. When training lower food drive dogs, treats alone may not be enough to earn their obedience. Remember, these dogs are not unintelligent by any means, but they do require a bit of extra patience.
When you are working to build your dog's food drive, you want to stop free-feeding them. That means leaving food out for them to nibble on at any point in the day. You want to have dedicated mealtimes for your dog, and if they do not finish the entire meal, you should take the food away after they've finished.
Don't worry; you will feed them again later!
You will also be feeding them treats during training sessions. It's not a practice to starve our dogs, but rather to shift them away from the free feeding style that doesn't build food drive for training.
In many ways, we are training our dogs all the time. Dog's don't really understand when they are "in a training session" versus every other part of life. All interactions with them are training them on how to behave, your routines, and what's required of them. In general, dogs want to have more pleasant experiences and will try to avoid unpleasant ones.
When we spend time "training" our dogs, we see it as a separate activity where we're judging their responses to us differently than we do in the rest of life. When owners say their dog isn't food motivated in training sessions but will accept food throughout the day, there is a bit of an inconsistency in that statement.
There may be something else occurring in the way the owner is training that's creating the appearance of a low food drive.
They may be anxious, nervous, excited, or distracted by your training environment. There may be something about the way you are training them that is causing this response.
The point is that it's difficult to pinpoint what may be causing the perceived low food drive in your pet.
If you are struggling to build a food drive in your dog, it may be time to bring in a professional trainer to help you. It's best practice to always interview trainers about their methods and training philosophy before putting down a deposit. Ask how they would go about working with a dog with a low food drive.
Some trainers don't believe you need to rely on food at all, but food will usually play some role in dog training. Be wary of trainers who say the food is entirely unnecessary. All dogs are different and respond to different training approaches accordingly. Training methods that don't rely on food can be effective, but they require a shift in mindset from food-based positive reinforcement training, which has become popular and widespread.
With this frame in mind, food starts to look more like a bribe you offer your dog to solicit their good behavior. Your dog is not learning obedience or specific commands but rather how to get a snack out of you. It can make your dog too dependent on treats. What if you suddenly need your dog to be obedient to you, and you find yourself without any treats available? What if because you don't have a treat, they don't want to obey?
It could become a major issue. What if your dog slips their collar while outdoors and there's busy traffic nearby? This is a serious situation, and you need them to follow your commands even without the promise of a snack.
It's worth considering how treat-reliant training can affect the emotional connection you want to have with your dog. They should see you as more than a treat dispensary, right?
Finding ways to connect other than through food can lead to a more meaningful relationship.
By shifting from only rewarding with treats to using verbal praise, affection, and other non-food rewards, you can develop a deeper bond with your dog.
By pairing leash tugs and a training collar along with voice commands and hand gestures, you can effectively transition your dog to receiving rewards and validation from you directly.
At the beginning of this process, you will have to keep your dog on their leash at all times throughout the day, but as your training progresses, you can allow them off-leash.
It establishes you as the alpha figure in your dog's life and is the key to this training style working correctly. Some owners are uncomfortable with this process because it feels like they are purposely being less affectionate with their dogs and restricting their freedom.
Understanding the entire process should ease any trepidation you're feeling. You will have a loving relationship with your dog, but you have to be firm for now.
This process can take up to two weeks, and you need to maintain consistency. Any sliding back to your old way of doing things can derail the progress you've made.
By keeping your dog on-leash at all times, they learn to see you as the only way to get their needs met. They need to get your permission to eat, go potty, and everything else. When you are busy, your dog may get impatient or whine. You might get tempted to let them off-leash so they can entertain themselves, instead give them a job to do. It can be as simple as telling them to stay. If they struggle and stand back up, tell them to sit again. This process will require your patience and theirs too.
Keeping your dog on a leash helps them to understand boundaries and how to exist within them. In time they will look to you for guidance before taking action.
This is just one method you can experiment with if your dog has a low food drive and you're having a difficult time in your training. Don't give up on your dog no matter what, and if you need additional support, look to work with a professional trainer.
We'd be happy to play that role in you and your dog's life. If you're interested in booking a training evaluation or have any other concerns about your dog or puppy, please contact us by writing a message in the bubble below. We'll get back to you shortly.
As part of your puppy's socialization process, you want to get them comfortable with being touched and having their body handled by yourself and other people. This includes not just social petting and touches but also during grooming, veterinary examinations, as well as care routines you can perform yourself like brushing their teeth, clipping nails, cleaning their ears, and even taking a scrub in the tub.
Some dogs become desensitized to human touches quickly, but others become uncomfortable and even aggressive when touched in sensitive areas. It's not much different than in humans, so hopefully, you can relate.
Of course, dogs can't communicate as we can, so while a person could just tell you about what's happening to their body, dogs are a bit more limited to barks, growls, and facial expressions. They also don't necessarily know what their needs are in every respect. We haven't heard of any dogs requesting manicures for their nails yet, but you never know.
When you are socializing your puppy, you want to get them comfortable with the entire range of touches and handling they can expect from humans. Depending on your dog's personality and past experiences, some touches will be met with more resistance than others. It's not uncommon for your dog to be hard-to-handle. Many rescues have experienced past traumas and have to work to overcome that with their new owners.
Vets recommend that you condition your dog to receive positive human touches as much as possible while they are still puppies as it sets them up for lower stress vet and grooming visits later in life. They may always experience some discomfort with touches in certain parts of their body, but you can lower their stress threshold and help them cope with the experience. For some examinations, dogs are restrained and even anesthetized; this adds another level to the stress and discomfort.
If your dog requires these additional precautions to ensure everyone's safety during a routine appointment, it will cost your vet and groomer extra time and cost you money.
Dogs will handle these stressors in different ways. Some may get aggressive or fearful, and others may shut down from the situation. Knowing how your dog generally reacts can help assist you in your training.
We'll give you some techniques you can use when working with your dog on the different parts of their body.
Desensitizing Your Pet
Get every member of your family involved with caring for your dog in on your desensitization training. It's for everyone's benefit ultimately, as your pup will get used to the touch of multiple people. If you have younger children, you may want to wait until your dog shows some positive progress before adding them into the mix.
You can turn into a fun game for both you and the dog, but it's best to start when they are still puppies. This process can be a lot harder when working with older dogs since they've already formed their associations about people and the world.
What's great about desensitization training is that you and your family all get to hug your puppy! Relaxing and cuddling with a puppy is one of the best things on planet earth, and it teaches your dog to be a good receiver of human touch and affection. If your puppy gets anxious with any of the cuddling or touching, be sure to be extra gentle and go slowly. Your dog should be relaxed and feel like puppy jello in your arms. If your dog did not receive enough handling and touch from their mother before their weaning, you need to be extra on top of your handling regimen before growing into an adolescent dog.
This doesn’t mean you should always hold your puppy though! It’s best to have a healthy medium between alone time in the crate, play time outside, and some cuddle time in-between.
Face and Muzzle
The face and muzzle are sensitive, as are the eyes and ears. Go slow when addressing these areas. Never touch your dog in a way that would make you uncomfortable if you were to be touched that way. If you act gently towards your dog, they are likely to respond in kind.
Being rough with your dog around the collar and neck will cause them to act protectively and defend themselves. They may mouth at your hands and nip at you. Never strike your pet as a punishment or force them into a submissive position. It will only work to worsen the relationship.
Cutting Nails Safely
It may be a little while until your puppy's nails are long enough to cut, but it's not a bad idea to "practice" the clipping procedure by handling their paws and using the clippers to "mock" cut them.
Praise your dog and give them a few treats for remaining calm during the experience. It conditions them for when it's time to do it for real. Puppy's paws can be extra sensitive, so go slowly and pay attention to how they're feeling.
Ears And Mouth
You will need to examine and clean your dog's ears and mouth from time to time. Your vet will also have to touch these areas during visits, and those may already be high-anxiety events. If you're proactive with your desensitization work, your dog will be a superstar with the doggie doctor.
Here's what to do. When you handle these areas, give your dog extra praise and comfort them with loving touches between more probing touches. Be careful not to over-handle them and raise their stress levels back up. If there are other people involved in your dog's training, also bring them into the process. Your dog should become equally comfortable when multiple people handle them in these areas.
Picking Up Your Puppy
Some puppies don't like getting picked up. Especially without warning! How would you like some giant coming out of nowhere and scooping you up? Not a very nice thing to do. So with that in mind, please understand why not all dogs are thrilled when you decide to pick them up from behind. It's best to teach your dog a cue that will let them know they're about to get picked up and to start so they can see you coming. While you're picking up your puppy, give them lots of praise and let them know they're ok. Make sure they feel secure in your arms.
Sit down while holding your dog on your lap. You can hook one finger around the collar so your dog doesn't jump off. Start gently stroking them on the head and allow them to settle in a comfortable position. If they are getting squirmy, massage your pup behind the ears or on the chest. You can set your puppy on their back and give them a nice belly rub. Use the palm of your hand in a circular motion. While your dog is relaxed, you can pick them back up for a hug or kiss on the nose. These hugs are a form of gentle restraint that you are acclimating your dog to receiving touch without a fuss.
If your puppy is resisting and trying to get away from you, don't let go. It teaches them that acting out will get them what they want after a little struggle. Secure your dog's back against your chest and hold them so all their legs point away from you. Hold them low enough on your body that they can't turn their head to nip your face. Hold them like this until they calm down.
Once they're calm, praise them and release them after a few more seconds of holding still. Then repeat the process. Remember, we are doing this with young puppies, not adolescent or adult dogs!
If you attempt the above restraint exercises and find your dog is still hard to handle and resistant to you, this can be a serious issue. You should call a professional trainer immediately. You cannot safely care for a dog that you cannot hold or handle.
You may decide to groom your dog at home by giving them a bath, brush, and a trim. You may not want to do the full job of a professional groomer, but in-between visits, it's a great way to keep their coats clean and looking neat. It may also end up saving you a few dollars. Like with nail clipping, you can familiarize your puppy with the tools you're going to use before you actually need to use them. It will help them recognize that what you're doing is normal and just something that happens to them from time to time. When you are brushing them, be gentle and don't pull their skin or fur. Please pay attention to how they're receiving your touch and offer them plenty of praise throughout.
Desensitizing The Automatic Defense Reflex
Puppies are incredibly sensitive to hands coming toward them from above their heads. They have a defense reflex that kicks to protect them from potential danger. Teaching your dog to see your hand and not feel fear is an essential step in touch desensitization training. You want them to begin to pair your hand approaching with positive events like affectionate pets or receiving treats.
Passing The Puppy
Some areas of our dogs often go overlooked in desensitization, such as the rear ends, ears, paws, teeth, and holding direct eye contact with them. Some areas increase in sensitivity over time because they simply don't get touched, then when they need an examination, your dog acts defensively! These "hot spots" shouldn't be ignored while in the puppy stage. You can turn this desensitization routine into a game by offering praise and treats for each area they allow you to handle gently without resisting.
After you've completed the routine, you can pick up your dog and pass them over to the next family member to do the same. Each person can try to handle each area for a little bit longer and more thoroughly. Increase the number of treats you offer for the extra sensitive areas like the rear end and privates.
Accepting Collar Grabs
A large percentage of dog bites occur when someone attempts to grab a dog by the collar or scruff of the neck. It's a highly sensitive area, especially when the dog is not familiar with the human in question. Many dogs have had negative experiences with humans that began in this way. However, taking our dogs gently by the collar is important for handling them and can be necessary to keep them safe. This practice builds on top of the positive association your dog is forming with human hands and touch in general.
You can train a positive association with collar grabs while your dog is enjoying a fun play session. Periodically interrupt their play by taking them by the collar and making them sit for you. Then offer them a treat and allow them to return to their play. Don't drag them or confine them in any way while working with technique. You don't want them to associate a collar grab with any other potentially negative events.
When puppies have negative experiences with collar touches, they can become hand-shy. If your dog is already exhibiting any signs of hand-shyness, don't continue to attempt collar grabs.
Take a step back in your desensitization training and only touch them where they allow you to. Then slowly work back up to collar grabs. Start at the tip of the tail, and with each progressive touch, reward them with a bit of kibble.
The key is always to work slowly and focus on how your dog is feeling. Do not force any touches that aren't comfortable. It will come back to "bite" you later in your dog's life.
Desensitization training is critical to being able to care for your dog. If you have any questions about the process and are wondering if your dog is on track, feel free to ask us your questions. Just write your message in the bubble below, and we'll respond back. You can also schedule a trainer evaluation with us at any time.
You may be unfamiliar with the term “socialization” when used in this context.
Socialization is the period early on in a puppy’s life where they learn how to behave in the different relationships and contexts of their life and how to, handle new experiences.
Socialization is a process that continues through the first year of a dog’s life, but the first 3 months are a critical time where a lot of information is processed and mental linkages made. This when they first begin developing relationships with other dogs and people too.
First impressions are important between humans, right? Well, they may be even more important for our canine companions. When dogs aren’t properly socialized, they will have to overcome those behavior problems later in life and may always struggle in certain areas.
Providing our dogs with a healthy environment to learn and grow early on goes a long way to giving them a happy life.
It’s not recommended dogs get adopted sooner than eight weeks after birth because it would interrupt the learning process of how to interact between pups and their mothers and with their littermates. Ideally, there are also human caretakers involved, so they are beginning to get used to people early in life. This will ultimately allow for a smoother transition when it’s time to get adopted into a new family.
Once your dog gets adopted into your household, they will need to continue the socialization process with your help.
There are several aspects to socialization, including habituation and localization, which we will discuss further.
Habituation is the process where dogs get used to the repeated stimuli in their environments and don’t stress or feel fear around them over time. In other words, getting accustomed to their surroundings and becoming comfortable. An example would be the whistle a teakettle makes when the water begins to boil. The first time a dog hears this high-pitched whistle, they may get scared and even begin to bark. However, a tea kettle is not a threat to the dog in any way. Over time, they should learn that it’s actually no big deal and even ignore it completely. As an owner, you want to deemphasize your dog’s fear responses to non-threatening stimuli and allow them to be brave. Providing affection during fear responses or saying “it’s okay” will only reaffirm to your dog that they should be concerned about the stimuli.
Localization is the process of a puppy developing attachments to different places like your house, yard, and the areas you frequent with them like your neighborhood and dog park.
In the early months of life, your dog should get indirectly exposed to a wide variety of stimuli, situations, people, and animals. We say ‘indirect’ exposure because your dog is experiencing a lot of things for the first time. Any direct interaction from strange people or dogs, without being comfortable in their environment first, can cause them to become overwhelmed or reinforce fearful behaviors. Their comfort levels later in life are highly dependent on their experiences during this time. Dogs that don’t get exposed to different people, places, or other stimuli until later on are much more likely to develop fears and potentially fear aggression towards the unfamiliar.
In most species, there is a period early in their development where the key aspects of their socialization take place. This time is when they form attachments to members of their species, their family, and process both positive and negative events that will help them survive throughout their lives. For dogs, this period begins at three weeks of age and will continue until about the 12th week of life.
Peak sensitivity occurs around week 6 to week 8, which is part of why experts recommended that puppies don’t get adopted before they reach this milestone.
The 8-week mark is significant because it’s when they start registering fear responses to stimuli, which is crucial to avoiding various dangers. Before this time, a puppy wouldn’t recognize a threatening situation, which is a good reason why they should stick close to mom before this time.
After peak sensitivity, it’s ok if dogs get adopted from their litters, but owners should be conscious of their developmental age and needs. It’s crucial to expose puppies to as many people, animals, situations, and places as possible. Having positive experiences during peak sensitivity leads to calmer, less fearful dogs later in life. Dogs who have matured and begun to show classic signs of fear aggression are the ones who were not properly exposed to stimulus while they were young puppies.
The first 6 - 8 month period is another critical time where socialization must get reinforced to continue to build a dog’s social skills. Dogs can regress and grow to be more fearful if they aren’t socialized thoroughly.
There’s a lot you can do to assist your dog’s socialization process. While they’re living with you at home, they’ll become used to you, your family, or roommates. They’ll become habituated to your routines and lifestyle, but there’s a whole world outside of what happens in your home. This is where the potential for fears to take root lies.
We recommend that you take your dog to new environments during this time so they can become exposed to more of the world. Take them to busier places like city streets where there are people and other dogs to interact with as well as new sights and sounds to take in. It’s a good idea to expose them to the sounds made by passing cars and trucks and for them to learn the appropriate degree of caution to take around them.
You’ll also want to pay attention to the many different types of people that exist in the world. Humanity is vast; part of proper socialization is introducing your dog to people of different ages, races, genders, physical abilities, and people in uniforms - especially delivery people like mail carriers and everyone in between.
It’s a good practice to come prepared with treats. When your dog interacts with a new person, you can invite them to share the treat with your dog. It reinforces the idea that most people aren’t threats and are no different from you and your family. Give it a try!
Some owners do get concerned about taking their puppy out into the world while they are still very young and don’t have all their immunizations yet. One workaround here is to arrange for healthy people and vaccinated animals to come to visit you and your pup at home before you take on too many adventures out into the world.
Please consult your veterinarian for advice, and follow their guidelines above all, but lower-risk environments like quiet neighborhood streets are a good compromise. Since we’re in an age of social distancing, most people will gladly give you your space.
You don’t want your puppy to miss out on the benefits of socializing during their period of peak sensitivity. Consult your trusted network for friends who have pets for lowkey visits, where everyone feels safe. Taking your dog for walks in a puppy sling or stroller is another good compromise. It gets your dog out into the world but keeps them off the ground where they can be exposed to diseases through infected urine or fecal matter.
Another idea is to take your dog to the park with a large blanket. This way you can spend some nice time outdoors, but you don’t let them get too far from you.
Once your dog gets vaccinated, you can enroll them in socialization classes. Typically all the puppies are checked for their shots and parasites before each class. These classes allow your dog to be exposed to other breeds and owners all at the same time and can speed up their overall socialization process.
Socialization classes aren’t paid playdates, but rather a time where they can have numerous interactions with other dogs and people in a controlled environment with professional dog trainers around to supervise. Before you sign up for a class, ask if you can observe a session by yourself before bringing your dog. The trainers should be guiding the dog’s interactions, so they go well. Breeds have different play styles, and this is where conflict can occur. There should also be parts of the class where the dogs can simply be with each other while in a relaxed state. They should learn that it’s also ok to be calm around other dogs.
Pay Attention To Your Dog’s Body Language
If your puppy starts acting nervous or scared during the socialization process, take a step back and prevent any further direct interactions. The goal is for your puppy to get comfortable with the surrounding world on their terms. You don’t want to be forcing experiences onto them but rather introduce them to new things in a measured way. Never drag them to approach something they are resisting. That is how fears can form. These will return later in your dog’s life and can become the source of behavioral problems.
Help them form positive associations by feeding them treats while encountering new people, places, and situations. Rewarding them every time they handle themselves well with something new forms a linkage that new stimuli are positive and lead to good things.
Don’t Overwhelm Your Dog.
There is no such thing as too much socialization. However, a dog can experience over-stimulation, which can happen due to an active period of socialization. When you take your dog to busy areas like cities, dog parks, or large events, they are experiencing so many sights, smells, and sounds at once, and it can trigger fear, exhaustion, or stress, similar to how people can have the same response too. You want to be careful about not introducing these more chaotic environments to your dog until they are ready. If you overwhelm them, they may form fears tied to one or more of the stimuli in the environment.
For example, if you take your dog to an outdoor concert, they can become frightened of a car horn. It may lead to them becoming fearful around cars in general and concert music or groups of people dancing.
Practice Good Localization -- Start At Home
By starting your socialization process at home, you can better control the environment. You can allow them to explore different objects, people, and human activities. You can also allow them to safely meet other dogs, including adult-dogs who have already gone through their socialization and vaccinations. Remember to reward them with treats when they encounter something new and respond positively.
Be Aware Of The Fearful Period
Some puppies will go through a fearful period at about nine weeks of age. It’s when their fear responses first begin kicking in. If your dog is at this age, be extra careful. Don’t push their socialization too hard at this time, but don’t coddle these behaviors either. If you’re struggling with a fear period, reach out to a professional trainer who is well vetted to help you out!
Car Rides & The Vet’s Office
Taking your puppy for rides in your car is a great way to not only socialize them to the car and how to be a good passenger, but it also allows you to take them to new places. Be sure you have the proper safety gear like a doggie car seat or harness, so your dog isn’t loose in your vehicle. That can be very dangerous!
It’s a great idea to get them used to the motions cars typically make. Starting, stopping, sometimes moving fast, other times not, etc. You also want them to experience getting in and out of the car and being in a new place when they get out. Familiarity with car rides is necessary for trips to the vet and other appointments.
It’s not a bad idea to take your dog with you on errands if they are near your vets and just pop in for a hello and a treat before leaving. This helps to break the association they have with the vet’s office as a place where they get poked and prodded.
Socialization is a process; you can actively work on, but you don’t need to overwhelm yourself to check off a specific set of experiences for your dog to have. Please stick to the guidelines we’ve outlined here, consider where you live and all the people, places, and environments your dog is likely to encounter throughout your life together.
If you need any additional support, reach out to our team by sending a message in the bubble below. You can also contact us to schedule a training evaluation, and we’ll get back to you!
Puppies are amazing. That's it. That's the whole blog.
Just kidding, of course, puppies are amazing and so cute, but their behaviors can be a mystery to new dog owners.
What's normal behavior, and what is a sign of something that needs professional attention?
We'll walk you through the meanings behind some of our puppy's more head-scratching behaviors and give you the warning signs to look for any problem behaviors that will require your attention.
Don't worry; most behaviors fall into the "normal" range even if it looks a bit odd on the surface.
Sometimes our dogs are just weirdos, and that's why we love them. They're full of silly personality quirks and surprises, just like us!.
Even many "bad behaviors" can be considered normal, but you will need to address them in training and help your pup mature into a well-behaved adult dog.
Things like nipping, barking, whining, accidents, and chewing on furniture are all very common puppy behaviors that can be improved in time and with training.
If you recently brought your dog home from a rescue organization or a breeder, please realize that they are going through a huge life change, and it's going to take them some time to adjust to living in your home.
With the right love and care, your puppy will get used to their new life and will likely act less erratic over time and begin to show their true personality.
Mouthing/Nipping is a super widespread puppy behavior. All puppies do it, but some breeds and personality types do it more than others. It can be challenging to break the habit, but you must do it to avoid deeper behavioral problems later in your dog's life. Think of puppy mouthing and nipping as the equivalent of teething behavior in babies.
Some owners wonder, "Is my dog trying to bite me?" Not at all! Young puppies will rarely actively attempt to bite anyone. Nipping or mouthing is a much more accurate term for this behavior, and it's the main way puppies in a litter communicate with each other. When your puppy is nipping at you, it's them doing their best to communicate!
They are not aware of the fact that nipping can be quite painful to our skin. You want to discourage this behavior before your tiny pup becomes a full-sized dog, and it can become more aggressive.
One way to discourage your puppy from nipping is to hold a chew toy in one hand and pet them with the other. Offer them the toy, and if they still go to nip your hand, instead say "Ouch" and stop petting them immediately. Ignore them and leave the room if necessary. By leaving, you teach them that mouthing is a poor behavior and will not be rewarded with more attention. Once your dog has calmed down, you can try the exercise again.
Never hit or slap your dog for engaging in this type of behavior. Even if you feel that you're not actually hurting them, it's an ineffective training method and teaches all the wrong messages.
Be aware that hitting, slapping, or tapping on your dog may result in them becoming fearful of you and begin avoiding you. Dogs can become "hand-shy" and start avoiding hands in general. This will make the rest of your life together much more difficult.
They may see it as an invitation to roughhouse with you more, which can increase the nipping behavior. Please, please don't do this. It's harmful to your dog both physically and mentally and can trigger future aggressive traits.
Chewing, The Good and Bad
Related to nipping/mouthing, all puppies have a propensity to chew. Some breeds will engage in the behavior more than others, especially those who come from herding or hunting breeds like terriers, heelers, and retrievers.
Chewing is an instinctual behavior in puppies; this is especially true when they are teething. We don't want to stop them from doing it entirely; we just want them to chew on the appropriate items (chew toys) while leaving alone the off-limits stuff (our homes, furniture, clothes, etc.)
Giving your dog chew toys is a great way to relieve their stress during this stage of life. Chew toys also work to improve your dog's dental health by keeping tartar and plaque off their teeth and by strengthening their jaws.
Do everything possible to keep items you don't want chewed upon out of reach of your dog. This means not leaving vulnerable objects out in the open like shoes or children's toys and by crating them when you are unable to give them your undivided attention or if you have to leave the house, and they'll be unsupervised for a few hours.
Make sure you're able to give your dog plenty of exercise so they don't try to take out their pent up energy on anything they can get their mouth on.
Jumping On You
Dogs jumping on people is another normal but less desirable puppy behavior. Dogs, and puppies especially, want our attention. Puppies are tiny, and their mothers are big in comparison. Jumping up to greet them and get attention comes naturally. Since we're replacing Mom as their caregivers, they want to be close to us as well. They love us, and they'll jump up on their hind legs to show it. However, it can be somewhat annoying, unwanted, and inappropriate. It can even become dangerous as they get older, and it's not something you want them doing to any unfamiliar house guests.
Teaching your dog the "off" and "sit" commands will come in handy here. Ideally, you want them to remove themselves from your body on their own. Ignore your puppy if they try to jump on you, as any form of engagement will increase the behavior. For dogs, even if you’ve moved them off of you, and they sit calmly after jumping up on you, it is best to not provide a treat or praise beyond saying the word “good”. The reason for this is dog’s view things as a pattern, if they jump up on you in the beginning and the pattern ends in treats & praise, they will likely continue the behavior. Only reward your puppy when they approach calmly and consistently keep all paws on the ground or sit. This is a process, so don't expect your puppy to get this one down in a single training session.
There are many wrong ways to discourage this behavior. Pushing your dog away with your hands, grabbing their paws, or blocking them with your legs do work to get them off you, but they don't teach them proper manners. Remember, this is an attention-seeking behavior so acknowledging them in any way reinforces it -- this even includes when guests come over!
For some dogs, us not giving them any attention is enough for them to give up their pawing behavior. Other dogs, gently using your knee to pump them off of your leg does the trick. If you need some extra help with this, reach out to us for more one on one help!
Accidents And Housebreaking Issues
All puppies will need to be housebroken, no way around it. But how easy and efficient the process is depends on you! Crate training is beneficial because dogs instinctively don't like to relieve themselves where they eat and sleep. Getting your dog comfortable in the crate environment teaches them where they cannot eliminate and makes it that much easier to reinforce where they should eliminate when you start house training.
It can take several weeks or months to reinforce this behavior fully, but your carpets and floors will thank you! It's unfortunate, but too many dogs are given back to shelters because of bathroom-related issues. In almost all of these cases, they could have been avoided by the owner training properly and seeking professional guidance when needed.
Be patient with your pup; they don't intentionally misbehave and want to keep you happy. Just be sure to do your part in the process and guide them to the proper rest stop.
Some dogs will urinate not because they have to eliminate but due to what's known as submissive, or even excitable, urination. This can happen when a dog is nervous, stressed, or even just over stimulated with excitement.
This behavior is best addressed by not over-stimulating or over-stressing your dog. They will grow out of this behavior soon enough.
Too Much Barking!
Most dogs will bark from time to time, and it's their preferred mode of communicating over long distances. At least until doggie cell phones hit the market, that is… haha, just joking. But Verizon, if you’re reading this, give us a shout. We have a couple ideas for you.
Dogs will sometimes bark at their humans to get their attention, but since we're not native speakers, we sometimes have to consult our translation guides.
Like whining, dogs will bark to communicate that they need a potty break or would like some attention in another way. They may be trying to express their boredom or that they are tired of being in their crate.
These kinds of barks, and excessive whining, are something you want to ignore because you don't want to reinforce the behavior as an effective means to get what they want. But if your dog is excessively fussing, it may be a sign of a deeper issue such as separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety can become a more serious issue, but it's not necessarily abnormal if your dog experiences some mild separation anxiety as a puppy. If your dog gets visibly nervous or stressed when you leave them alone for even brief periods, it may be separation anxiety. This issue can be prevented through a regular crating routine to give them some decompression or alone time, even when you’re home, and not letting your puppy sleep in the bed with you (we know this can be difficult!). It is unrealistic for us to be home 24/7, so creating the expectation that you will be away from them sometimes, or cannot consistently watch them, will set them up for success! It's harder to diagnose puppies with separation anxiety because there are many reasons why they may be acting out, but as a dog gets older and they're still showing signs of anxiety, it's much more likely to be the case. Look to work with a professional trainer to develop a plan of action to lower your dog's anxieties and address these behaviors at the source, early on.
A lot of people are curious about a behavior known as the "zoomies." The zoomies are when a puppy will spontaneously get hyper-active, usually later in the day, and run into circles around a room or even the whole house. It will seem like your dog is training for a marathon all of a sudden and didn't tell you they were now a track star.
Some dogs will also bark and jump onto furniture while experiencing zoomies, and you may have to correct them before they knock anything over.
If your dog cannot calm down, you may have to move them into a separate room or invite them into their crate until they relax. There are special relaxation tapes for dogs you can try with your dog if they seem anxious.
It's all part of growing up. Puppies' nervous systems are still growing, and they can get over-taxed during the day. The zoomies are a response to feeling overtired and overstimulated and acts as a release valve for their excess energy.
You can't necessarily prevent the zoomies from occurring, it's part of everyday puppy life, but by making sure your dog gets frequent walks, playtime, naps, and exercise, they won't feel so pent up or taxed later in the day.
Our best advice is to let them get the zoomies outside during playtime. It’s never wrong for the dog to get the zoomies; all you need to do is teach them that there is a better place to have them.
What is resource guarding? Resource guarding describes behavior where a dog is acting territorial over something they perceive to be "theirs." Resources could be food, toys, even a person.
Resource guarding can become a serious problem, but it's not considered abnormal. In a litter, puppies do squabble over resources, mainly access to mom, and that behavior can then translate to being possessive of other things later on in life.
When a puppy is young and most moldable, it's the best time to deal with resource guarding. You can do this by training a "leave it" command that instructs your puppy to drop anything they may be holding on to as soon as you order it.
Once your dog readily complies with a "leave it," it's relatively easy to get a handle on resource guarding before it becomes a larger issue.
With food guarding, you can train it away by making your dog wait before chowing down. Place their food in front of them but instruct them to stay until they are calm and giving you eye contact. Only then allow them to eat freely. You can even completely remove this issue from happening by hand-feeding your dog’s meals to them while practicing obedience routines. Having your dog earn their meals through training can increase their attentiveness and creates a unique bonding experience.
If you have children in your home, it's vital to include them in the training process. Dogs are pack animals, and they always need to know who's in charge and who's not.
They should understand that every member of your household "outranks" them, including children. This will prevent your pup from getting possessive over you when your kids are around and allows your kids to take an active role in caring for the family pet.
How Do I Know If My Dog Is Sick?
All the above behaviors are considered normal for young puppies, but you may be wondering what behavior is actually a cause for concern? How do I know if there's something really wrong with my dog?
If your dog is experiencing an illness or another medical condition, they will probably seem "off" to you somehow. You're around them day after day, so if you notice a change in energy level, appetite, or stress levels, those are warning signs.
Your dog may be acting irritable and engaging in anxious behaviors like panting, pacing, and barking. You can try examining them to see if there's a physical issue going on and check if they are nipping at an area on their own body. When in doubt, a trip to the vet could provide a lot more information, so make sure you have one you trust in your address book.
Most puppies don't become aggressive, but you have to be dedicated and attentive as an owner and deal with any behavior issues that do crop up. If you feel like you are dealing with any aggression in your young puppy, you need to contact a vetted, balanced trainer as soon as possible.
If you have any questions about your puppy's behavior that we didn't cover here, please send us a message in the bubble below. You can also reach out to schedule a training evaluation with our team.
When housetraining a puppy, many owners begin using pee pads for bathroom business but eventually hope that their pooch can transition to taking it outside the house. If you’ve been having difficulty making the switch, then this blog’s for you. We’ll go over some tips to wean your pup off the pad and over to the great outdoors.
Not sure why you should ditch the pee pads? After all, they’re convenient, you don’t need to monitor your dog’s bathroom needs continually, and you can just throw them away after they’ve been soiled. Sure, the pads do provide a few benefits, but we believe they cause more harm than good in the long run of your dog’s life.
Many owners never get started with pee pads. They’re confusing to dogs. Dogs are incredibly intelligent, sure, but don’t mistake them for smaller, furry humans who talk to us through barks.
Dogs don’t understand why one area of your home is ok to use as a restroom, and another is not. Sure they can learn to use the pad but take that pad away, and they’ll go in the same spot without considering the effects on your floor or carpeting.
It’s just easier to train them to never use pads in the first place.
That said, many owners use them when their dogs are puppies or during colder months of the year. Also, if your dogs are elderly, disabled, or live in a tiny city apartment, using pads does have its advantages.
In any case, if you plan for your dog to eventually make the shift to going potty outside, then you’ll need to retrain them from their current habit to a new one.
This also means that your pup will need to up their “internal control” game and learn to hold it until someone’s around to take them on a walk.
When there’s a convenient pee pad available in the home, dogs can go at their leisure, and you take care of the mess later. Unless your home has an enclosed backyard and a doggie door, they need to wait until you’re able to give them the go-ahead.
That said, it’s possible to transition your dog off pads and to the outside world but be prepared to be patient and endure some accidents along the way.
You need to go slow and make it a step by step process. If you simply take away the pee pads, they’re likely to go in the same spot in your house the pee pad used to be. Yuck. Here’s a training process you can adapt for your dog that will slowly change their bathroom patterns and get them ready to relieve themselves outside reliably.
Step 1 - Moving The Pee Pad (Slowly)
We recommend that you slowly move your pee pad closer and closer to whatever door to the outside you plan on using for their walks.
This process could take several weeks, depending on how far away you’ve been keeping your pads.
Some of you may be face-palming right now because your pads are so far away. Please remember what we said about being patient!
Slow and steady wins this race and decreases the chances of accidents along the way.
When you move the pee pad, don’t be mean and do it in secret.
Let your dog know what’s going on. Let them see you pick it up and take it to the new spot. This will cut down on instances of accidents but by no means a guarantee. Dog’s are creatures of habit, and they will revert to their pattern without your guidance.
After each relocation is complete, pay attention to your dog’s behavior. If your puppy successfully uses the pad in the new location, offer them ample praise and treats to reinforce that behavior.
Step 2 - Taking It Outside
Ok, by now, your pad should be just outside your outside door, and you have no problems from ol’ doggo. The next move is the big one. It will take some finesse on your part. When you see your pup making their way over to the pee pad, quickly grab the leash and take them outside with you.
Once you’re outside, encourage them to take care of business. Your dog may be confused at first, but assuming they really did have to go, they’ll likely leave an “offering” or two. If your pup is successful, praise them again and let them know what a good boy or girl they are.
Continue this process as much as possible for several weeks before you finally remove the now obsolete pee pad. If you want to keep a few in the closet in case of guests, bad weather, or any other reason that prevents you from being able to walk your dog, go for it.
Try to get your dog into a potty break routine as quickly as possible and teach them to come to you when you approach with a leash in hand.
A Few Points To Keep In Mind
When you move the pee pad, be sure to disinfect the floor underneath it. Dogs have much more developed senses of smell than we do, and they’ll be able to pick up on the scent of urine long after the pad is gone.
They use urine to mark their territories and to remember a location for later usage. Using a bio-enzymatic formula will permanently remove urine and fecal odors and work to break your dog’s patterns.
Likewise, remove any floor mats or small rugs in the area while you are retraining your pup to potty outside. Rugs and floor mats are just too similar to pee pads, and they are at risk if there are any “bad days” in your training. Once your dog has the new system down, you can lay them back down.
You may want to block off their old pee pad spot completely. You can move some furniture on top or place a box or other item over the space as a deterrent.
If you do happen to catch an accident-in-progress, let your dog know they’ve done something wrong with a hand clap and a distinct “No” in a stern voice and take them outside to finish the job if possible.
There is no need to punish your dog harshly or overreact. Puppies will make mistakes, and you don’t want them to fear relieving themselves in front of you. It will just lead to them hiding their next accident. If your adult dog has had an accident, more than likely this is because they thought they were doing the right thing by looking for the peepad that we taught them was acceptable, or we just hadn’t taken them out soon enough.
If you’re late to the crime scene, then just clean it up and try to stop it from happening again. Again, don’t yell or seek to punish your dog. They won’t be able to tie your current anger with their past actions; that’s not how dog’s brains work.
What will happen is that it will teach them that whatever behavior they’re currently engaging in when you confront them can get them in trouble. It can seriously damage your relationship with your dog and cause them to become fearful or anxious around you.
It would be a colossal overreaction to what’s actually a small problem. Maybe all that was needed was a slight adjustment in your walk schedule to accommodate an additional bathroom break.
Please don’t get angry at your dog, don’t try to rub their nose in the mess. Remember, your dog won’t be able to connect your punishment with their earlier behavior.
Please do your best to supervise your dog and pick up on signs that they need to go out. Remember to praise them with affection and treats when they are successful.
If you and your pooch are struggling with too many accidents, then it’s not a bad idea to begin a close tracking of their bathroom habits.
There’s always a rhythm to what’s going on inside them. Write down your dog’s food and water intake and walk times, whether or not they have a bowel movement, and any accidents if they happen. Hopefully, after a week or two of data, you will be able to spot the trouble areas and make some adjustments in your walk schedule or dog’s diet.
In general, for every month of age, you can add an hour allowed between bathroom breaks up to twelve months. So a six-month-old puppy should be able to hold their bladder for six hours, all the way up to a year old puppy being able to wait a maximum of eight to ten hours, at the most. But these numbers are just guidelines, so please keep a close idea of your dog and learn what their limits are.
Consistency goes a long way when training puppies. Don’t underestimate it as a factor in preventing accidents. Keep your dog on a feeding schedule, don’t free feed and leave food out all day. Free feeding can lead to overeating and an increased need to use the potty, not to mention the behavior consequences this can add due to free feeding too
Your walks should be scheduled at times when your puppy has to go, right? Usually in the morning when you wake up, after mealtimes, and in the evening before bed.
Even if you don’t think they have to go to the bathroom, still take them through the walk routine at every scheduled interval. They may surprise you and save you from an accident later.
Remember to utilize your crate when you can’t actively supervise your dog. If you are actively working to form a positive relationship between your dog and their crate, this will cut down on accidents.
Dog’s genetically don’t like to do their business where they eat and sleep, so the crate will be your best friend during this period.
However, if the crate you’ve purchased is too big, your dog may turn a corner into a bathroom spot and then sleep on the other side. Crates should be large enough that they can turn around and comfortably lay down and stand up, but not large enough to romp around.
Please read our blog on the benefits of crate training and learn to choose the right crate for your puppy.
When you’re out on your potty walk, teach your dog a cue to help them get things moving. Repeat this phrase while you’re out and reward them after they finish. You can really choose anything you want for your potty cue, but “ go potty” or “do your business” are popular ones.
Stay outside with them until they go both number 1 and 2. While in the transitional process, some dogs will see the walk as exercise time and then go back to the pad when back inside due to old habits. Also, many pee pads contain products such as pheromones that encourage dogs to mark their territory on them.
Some owners threw dirt and grass on top of their pee pads when they first move them outside. It works to acclimate your dog to the smells commonly found outside and allows them to get used to it while still having the pee pad as a visual cue.
Stick to this process and take one step at a time. Have patience with your puppy, and don’t allow yourself to get frustrated. It’s normal for puppies to have accidents, and how you handle them can affect your relationship if not properly put into perspective. Your dog never acts to upset you purposely. They love and respect you and want to earn your praise and affection. Remember, 90% of potty training issues are due to our poor communication and training.
If you have any snags in your potty training process, please message us via the bubble below. You can also get in touch to schedule a training evaluation with our team.
Many first-time pet owners have misconceptions about why professional dog trainers recommend crate training for puppies and new dogs. Crates may look like scary cages to humans, but to dogs, they look like safe and snuggly places to retreat to when the rest of the world has you worn out.
Crates are a place a dog can go to get some alone time. Crates are also a tool to use when training your dog, and they’re a way to give your dog a place to call their own within your home.
There are also functional applications like using a crate for transportation and locking the dog in at night, so they stay out of trouble (and allow you some sleep). Not to mention, this also portrays that you can give your dog definitive structure and boundaries to follow.
Some people will misuse the crate, and in turn, the dog may view the crate as a confining place that is not comfortable for them to stay in. We’re not recommending anything like that here, and our goal is to show you how to use the crate the right way and use it to improve your relationship and ability to train your new puppy.
The benefits of crate training your dog are numerous. They seriously make life so much easier! Especially if you are house training a puppy.
Puppies are similar to babies, and they are just learning everything for the first time. Crates help young dogs establish boundaries around where it’s ok to do their business and where they need to hold it in. Dogs, as a rule, do not like to go in the same area that they sleep.
The crate is meant to be a safe environment for your dog. If your home isn’t effectively puppy-proof, your dog can get into all sorts of trouble. If you have food or some not-so-dog-friendly items out around your home, the crate is where you can ensure your dog is safe and out of harm’s way, particularly if they are not being monitored closely. Your crate is where you want your dog to be when you have lots of guests coming in and out of the house, and the doors are left open, workers working in and around your home, or you just need them out of the way so you can do some much-needed vacuuming.
Crate training helps establish good discipline in your dog, translating into the rest of their training routines like potty training and general obedience. Crates help demarcate what’s uniquely your dog’s domain as opposed to the rest of the house. This territorial separation can prevent them from engaging in destructive habits like chewing on furniture or other areas of your home like doors or baseboards.
A cozy crate helps your dog relax and let go of pent up stress and anxiety. Never use them as a form of punishment because we want our pets to have positive associations with time spent in their crates. Dog’s who learn to be comfortable alone in their crates are much less likely to experience separation anxiety when you need to leave them alone for a time.
If a dog and their crate are friends, it will be that much easier to get them to hop into it when you’re taking them to the vet or on a trip outside the home. If your dog’s not familiar with staying inside their crate already, they’ll be more likely to resist staying confined when you’re taking them on a long road trip or an airplane.
Crates come in a few different styles; each has pros and cons.
There are collapsible crates that are great for transporting and fit easily into the car. They’re great for when you take trips to see family and friends and want to bring your doggo along.
There are also plastic airline crates, which, as the name suggests, are allowed on planes. These are necessary if you are flying-with-fido. They can also work for non-aerial usages, but then it becomes more a matter of personal preference.
Yes, some people do have multiple crates, even though they only have one dog. Larger breeds may outgrow their puppy crate and need a larger one as an adult, so unless owners give them away to others in need, they may have a stockpile going. Some crates do come with a divider panel that can be adjusted as a dog grows.
A good rule of thumb is that a crate should only be larger enough that a dog can comfortably turn around inside of it, stand up, and lie down.
There are a few conflicting opinions on the “right” place to keep your dog’s crate. The crate is meant to be a quiet retreat for your dog and used for sleeping; some believe it should be out of the way of the household activity, which means not in a social room like a kitchen or living room, but rather in a bedroom or unused space.
The other school of thought is to keep the crate closer to the “hub” of the house and allow your dogs to have some social interaction even while they are in their own space.
You can’t please everyone here, except those who recommend you have two crates for your dog! In this scenario, you’d own one crate that’s used strictly for sleeping and another for during the day. Not everyone has the budget to buy a second crate or the space to have another one out, so you’re going to have to feel out what might be the best solution for your pup.
Not all dogs form an immediate bond with their crates. Sometimes it takes several weeks to get used to it. Remember, your dog is going through a big adjustment period during the first days and weeks they’re in your home.
It’s ok to take this process slowly and take a step back if your dog becomes anxious or afraid. In general, from a dog’s first introduction to a crate to feeling complete comfort and familiarity, the process can take up to a month. Some dogs will immediately form an attachment to their crates, and others will be more hesitant at first.
When you feel your dog is ready, introduce them to the crate in an environment, they spend the bulk of their time. If you’re planning for them to sleep in a separate area, it’s ok to move the crate later. You don’t want your dog to associate the crate with isolation or being a punishment.
Make sure you have their daily rations available to you because you’ll need them as an incentive to explore inside the crate. Begin interacting with your dog in a gentle and friendly manner, don’t get them over-excited. You want your pup to remain calm during this process. Throw a few pieces of food near the crate, but not inside. Observe their reaction; if they go for the food, that’s great!
Praise them with a few pets. Next, toss some of their food into the crate, but not too deep inside. Just inside the crate door is fine. Make sure the door won’t accidentally bang closed if bumped. You want your dog to feel comfortable stepping in and out of the crate before we acclimate them to being in a closed crate.
If your dog shows signs of stress or apprehension at any point, stop progressing the training and wait until they become calm again. Then you can resume where you left off. Don’t force them to become comfortable all in one go. Be ok with stopping the session for the day.
As your dog shows positive signs stepping inside the crate, take the process a step further by closing the door for short periods.
This can be as short as 1-2 seconds. You also don’t need to lock the crate to do this. Just press it shut. Gradually increase the amount of time you keep the door closed while your dog is inside.
If your dog begins to whine or paw at the door, perhaps you need to decrease the time on the next go. But don’t open the door until they’ve stopped whining and pawing. You don’t want to reinforce those behaviors as effective for getting their crate back open. Wait until they stop, relax, and praise them as you open the door.
The next step in the process is to acclimate your dog to spending long periods in the crate without you in their presence. Follow the same process and close the door, but this time you can start locking it. Gradually increase your distance from the crate within the same room and maintain that distance for more extended amounts of time.
If your dog is responding positively, you can experiment with briefly leaving the room while they remain in the crate.
Be sure to follow the same guidelines as to when you started, be ready to reward your dog with their favorite treats or toys, and to put a pause on the process if they show signs of distress.
In time your dog should be comfortable in their crate for extended periods without you in the room. This is when you can begin crating them overnight and when you’re gone during the day.
A common pitfall here is falling into a routine before leaving for the day that your dog “figures out” and preemptively reacts to.
An example would be if you always grab your keys and put on your jacket before crating them and heading out the door. Your dog may realize that these are warning signs that you’re leaving for a while, and they’ll be stuck in the crate without you. We recommend that you vary the steps in your morning route to counteract a noticeable pattern forming. Crate them early in your routine, in the end, and the middle on different days, so they don’t hone in on any one cue.
Another good training technique is to get your dog’s mind onto something else as you’re leaving, so they don’t even realize you’re gone. Toys that you can conceal treats in, like Kong toys, are great for this as your dog has to work hard to get a nibble. This keeps them busy so you can slip out the door without a fuss.
By not making a big deal on your departures or returns, your dog doesn’t associate you leaving as a reason to get upset or anxious.
Too Much Time In The Crate
Make sure you’re not leaving your dog in their crate for too long! Puppies should only spend a maximum of 4 hours at a time in a crate during the day. Overnight is ok assuming they are sleeping soundly. Dog’s need exercise and freedom to live healthy lives. If a dog is spending too much time in their crate, they can develop anxiety and other behavior problems like aggression.
If you find yourself needing to be away for long periods, hire a neighbor, professional dog walker, or enroll your dog in doggie daycare.
It’s common for dogs to whine a little bit while in their crates. Sometimes it’s a sign that they need a potty break, but if you’re walking them regularly and “know their rhythm” they may just be whining for attention. In the case of puppies, try to walk them before bed and let them relieve themselves. They may still wake you up in the middle of the night, and it’s a good practice to pre-emptively walk them until they grow older and can control their bladders more.
If you’ve eliminated bathroom-related reasons for their vocalizing, ignoring them is usually the best answer. You don’t want to give in to their behavior here because it lets them know that they will eventually get their way if they whine enough. This is also why we believe it’s important for your crate to be in a good and quiet space away from the activity in the house. When you do let your pup out, wait until they’re calm and making eye contact with you.
How’s crate training going for you and your puppy? Please contact us by writing a message into the bubble, and we’ll get back to you. If you want to schedule a training evaluation for your dog, drop us a line.
After a long search, interviews, tons of internet research, and asking friends and dog professionals for advice, you’ve finally found the rescue dog of your dreams! All you have left to do is sign the adoption papers and bring them home.
But you may be wondering, now what? What happens now that you’re a proud adoptive dog parent?
When shelter dogs are adjusting to life in a new home, we like to observe what’s known as the Rule of 3’s to track how they’re doing with the transition.
The 3’s are the first 3 days, the first 3 weeks, and the first 3 months.
The first 3 days are considered the “detox period.” This is a major transition for your rescue. The home environment is entirely different than their life in the shelter. It’s going to be much more welcoming, warm, and exciting for them.
At 3 weeks, your dog’s true personality starts to emerge. This may be when you first begin to notice behavioral issues. Many of these can be resolved with regular dog training, but if there are signs of deeper issues, it’s best to begin working with a professional trainer around this time to address them.
After 3 months, you and your dog are on the path to being lifelong besties. They should be fully comfortable in your home, their new routines, and leaving shelter life behind as a distant memory.
We’ll breakdown what to expect at each stage and make sure your dog’s adjustment period goes as smoothly as possible.
But before you welcome your new friend into your life, there are a few things you need to make sure you’ve taken care of, like dog/-puppy proofing, buying supplies, and planning out your dog’s daily routines.
We’ll walk you through all of that too, so you can ensure your dog has a great experience coming into your life and home.
Before you bring your new dog home, make sure you’ve done a thorough job dog/puppy-proofing your space.
If you have young children and have already baby-proofed your space, you’re ahead of the game. You might find it’s a very similar process for our favorite companions. Even for older dogs who’ve lived in homes before, it isn’t easy to know how they will adapt to a new environment or if they have had adequate training beforehand.
Overall it’s best to be 100% sure you’re ready for business, so go through each room in your home and run through this checklist:
Pick up any small objects that could become the targets of opportunity for a dog to chew on or swallow. This means shoes, children’s toys, books, etc. Veterinarians report that their most frequent surgery is removing objects from a dog’s insides, so if you have things small enough to swallow on the ground or low standing tables, it’s best to tidy them up.
Hide any electrical wires hanging out in the open that a dog might get tangled in or be enticed to nibble.
Some houseplants are poisonous to dogs, so it’s a good idea to keep any hanging stems out of harm’s way.
If you have any outside space you’re planning to let your dog exercise in, then make sure it’s fully enclosed, there are no holes in your fencing, no areas they can easily dig under and that all gates are sturdy and secure.
Set up your dog’s crate in a quiet space like a spare room or your bedroom. Some new owners don't like the idea of keeping their dog in a kennel, but a modern crate helps to create an environment that provides your dog with a safe place to retreat when necessary. Locking the crate at night works to give your dog structure and discipline, which they need to balance out their new freedom.
There is a right way and wrong way to use the crate, and we get into more in-depth detail in the next blog in this series. To get started, look into the recommendations for your specific breed and determine what size crate would be appropriate. Many models can be adjusted in size as your dog grows too.
Remember, a crate is a positive place for your dog and you never want for your dog to view the crate as anything but their own little safe space.
Be ready with other necessary pet supplies like food and water bowls, leashes, poop bags, and of course, plenty of toys to play with and chew on.
Ok, so now you’re all set up, and it’s finally time to bring your dog home!
As mentioned above, these initial days are a “detox period.” Shelter life is tough for dogs. They don’t get the level of care and attention they do when placed with a family. It’s a big transition for them, and they’re going to need your support.
They’ll have tons more freedom to explore and new people to form relationships with. Compared to shelter life, they’ll be able to play and romp around as much as they want!
It’s an incredible time of joy for you and your first real chance to bond with your dog as a member of your family.
However, this time can also be overwhelming for your dog. The introduction of new people, stimuli, and routines can be too much for them, especially if your dog had an extended stay at the shelter and became used to that way of living.
It’s not uncommon for a dog to have irregular sleep habits during the first few days in your home. Some dogs may take frequent naps, and others might be balls of energy and unable to settle down. Others might have issues with their appetite and will be hesitant to eat or drink at mealtimes. They may get skittish and hide in their crate or under furniture. Some will have anxiety-related diarrhea or vomiting.
These behaviors are all completely normal and not necessarily a sign of deeper behavioral problems. For digestion-related issues, a probiotic may be helpful but consult your veterinarian for recommendations. We also recommend feeding pureed pumpkin or slippery elm as these can help soothe the majority of digestive related issues.
This is a time to be patient and understanding with your dog. There’s so much for them to learn and adapt to as they become comfortable in their new home. Each new sight and smell will be unfamiliar and can cause them to feel overwhelmed. It takes a long time for your dog to decompress from their shelter experience and come to feel safe with you.
Having a crate set up in a quiet area can give them that safe space to retreat to if needed. Some owners like to place a blanket on top of the crate to block some light and make it feel more like a den. Cozy blankets inside a crate also provide additional comfort, as do chew toys and stuffed friends. Allow your dog to access this area during the day by leaving the crate door open for them to come and go as they please.
Don’t worry if your dog is spending a lot of time alone during these first few days, don’t push them to socialize with you if they’re not ready. If your dog is hesitant, take a slower approach to introducing more elements of your home and family. Keep them from entering certain rooms and introduce them to new locations one at a time. You can also do the same with family members, so they have time to get to know each person individually.
Being prepared with a daily routine for your dog will go a long way to establishing a structure for them to adapt to.
Have a daily plan for you and your dog covering wake-up times, meals, and scheduled walks. Of course, additional potty breaks may be required, but as you learn each other’s internal clocks creating some scheduled times to relieve themselves begins to set a rhythm for your dog’s life.
You don’t want to fall into the habit of them being able to interrupt your schedule for theirs.
Create a daily time that you’ll set out meals for your dog. In the first few days and even weeks, they may not eat as soon as the food is offered, but given time to adjust, many dogs will become less food-shy. However, if your dog is disinterested in their food, that is okay! Dogs will never actively try to starve themselves and will choose to eat when they are hungry. If your dog chooses not to eat within the first ten minutes or so, pick the food bowl up and try again at another meal time. They will come around soon enough! Free-feeding or letting a dog graze takes a lot of our ability to engage and connect with them, not to mention; it is the leading cause of resource guarding issues & canine obesity.
Also, set aside some time for training on basic commands with their meals, as opposed to treats. This only needs to be 5 minutes or so to work on “sit” or “come” commands.
Additionally, be sure to give yourself and others in your family some time off from doggie care. This is for your benefit as well as your dog’s. Dogs need time to learn how to be alone in your space and to entertain themselves as well. It’s good for your dog’s sense of independence and is an integral part of their transition.
If you have to leave for work, do not make a big deal of saying goodbye or hello when you return. You want your dog to experience your comings and goings as no big deal and just a fact of life. Dogs prone to separation anxiety get nervous when their owners leave their presence, and we want to avoid triggering any in your pet.
If your dog gets hyper-excited when you return home, you don’t want to return their energy at that moment! It can be hard when they’re extra adorable, but you don’t want to reinforce this behavior as it can lead to issues down the line with separation anxiety.
Be ready to reward them frequently for properly following any aspect of your home routine. After training sessions and walks are great times to reward your dog with affections and some play time.
The first 3 days are a critical time for you and your pet, but follow this advice, and you should be off to a smooth start.
If you have children, they’re going to be over the moon with excitement about the new family pet. If you grew up with a dog of your own, you could probably relate. Kids and dogs can form some of the closest bonds as they get to grow up together and explore the world.
However, children need to understand boundaries for their new friends and how to be safe when interacting with them. Most dogs won’t bite without giving several warnings, so be sure your children know what to do if they encounter a situation where your dog gets too aggressive for them.
Make sure they understand that a dog is a living being and not a toy. They should never hit, pinch, or try to ride your dog, no matter the size difference between dogs and children.
Always supervise your children when they’re playing with your dog until they’re mature enough to be responsible. Dog’s are an excellent way to teach kids how to be responsible for themselves and others, but you should take care of your dog’s needs and make sure you advocate for them in the beginning.
It’s a good practice to introduce your children to the dog before you bring them home, so they’ve already made a first impression. When you bring the dog into the house, they’ll be seeing a familiar face again.
A few other pointers for child-dog harmony:
When introducing an additional pet into your home, it is a bit of a different process than when you had an emptier nest.
It’s a good practice to introduce your dogs to one another outside of your home first, preferably while walking together. When dogs can meet and interact side-by-side, it’s less likely to trigger anxiety or territorial behavior. Walking together also emphasizes their relationship as members of the same pack.
Allow them time to get to know each other and perform the ceremonial sniffing of the rear ends. This will go a long way to them acclimating to one another as housemates.
A slower introduction is best, and it’s ok to crate your new pup while your long-time dog is allowed to roam free like they usually do. Don’t change your older pet’s routine because of your new one. You may just have to pull double duty for a while until both pet’s schedules have synced up.
They may not necessarily become best friends, but you want them to at least get along without any issues.
If your other pet isn’t a dog, a lot of these same rules will still apply. If it’s an animal that remains in a cage or enclosed space, make sure your dog cannot harm them or interfere with their business.
At the 3- week mark, your dog is hopefully getting used to the routines you’ve set up for them for eating, sleeping, training, and potty time.
Now is when more of their real personality should start emerging.
This is also the time when behavioral problems will start making themselves known. Many minor behavior problems can be sorted out with some basic balanced obedience training. Still, if they’re showing signs of deeper issues, it’s best to consult with a professional for some more one on one assistance.
You should begin a more formal training process here and be clear on what boundaries you’ve set out for them. Do you want to allow them on the furniture? Will they keep sleeping in their crate or a doggie bed? Will you allow them unsupervised outdoors time? These are a few suggestions of home rules for you to think about.
After 3 months, this is when dogs have a real sense that they’re at “home” and not just on a fun adventure with a cool and caring human. You may still be dealing with some behavior issues, but you should have a training plan and support from a professional at this point. If not, be sure to correct that immediately.
Keep getting to know your dog and share your life with them. Make sure you take the time to make special memories and take pictures too.
If you have any questions or concerns about how your dog is doing during any part of this transition period, feel free to send us a message using the bubble below. You can also reach out and schedule a training evaluation with our team.
Adopting from shelters and rescue agencies has become increasingly popular in recent years but, working with a reputable breeder is still the choice of many first-time and veteran pet owners.
Everyone has their reasons and factors to weigh when selecting the who, how, and where of bringing a new companion into their life, and it’s not fair to say one route is better than another.
Responsible dog breeders are not contributing to the population of dogs in shelters. The large pet population in shelters is mostly due to irresponsible and unchecked breeding from pet owners who either don’t spay and neuter or allow their pets to get pregnant and then don’t properly care for the pups.
Breeders are essential members of the canine world. Usually, people become breeders because they love dogs so much, and they want to take an active role in bettering the breed and creating solid, stable-minded dogs. Without breeders, we wouldn’t have a class of canine professionals who are experts on particular breeds and can provide records to attest to a dog’s genetic heritage.
Simply put, breeders can provide you with a purebred dog that’s healthy and ready to be trained and socialized. Of course, there are purebred dogs in shelters, but you can’t necessarily guarantee they will have any particular breed you are searching for. Not to mention, just because a dog is ‘purebred’ does not mean that a dog is well- bred, and may have underlying health issues..
If you are looking for a dog to fulfill a specific role other than just a beloved family pet, working with a breeder is absolutely the way to go. This goes for all manner of working and service dogs, including police dogs and performance dogs too.
It’s much harder to socialize a dog once they reach maturity, and even if you adopt a puppy from a shelter, they may have some genetic difficulties you won’t become aware of until later on.
A breeder can give you confidence in who your dog will likely grow up to resemble behavior-wise based on knowledge of their parents, grandparents, and older siblings. On the whole, dogs from a breeder are more even-tempered, stable- minded, and patient because they are raised consistently by a professional.
If you are interested in an uncommon breed or one that’s known as difficult to train, such as Shiba Inu’s, then a good breeder is going to be your best bet.
Not all breeders are equal, and some unscrupulous people try to game the system by posing as trusted breeders, but in reality, they are raising dogs in unhealthy ways.
Many of these predatory breeders are breeding their dogs at home and selling the litters off quickly to make some money.
If you do a google search for “puppies for sale” plus your city, you’ll probably find some questionable operations. Other sites that allow for classified postings like Craigslist of or Backpages are definite red flags and should be avoided.
Anyone who is advertising that they can deliver you puppies via the mail is also probably up to no good.
Top breeders have waiting lists of a year or more, so anyone who promises to put a dog in your hands within a couple of hours is almost 100% up to something shady.
One good rule of thumb to separate a lousy breeder from a good one is the ease at which you can gain information. Reputable breeders are honest, transparent, and responsive. They’ll answer your questions and ask plenty of their own. They care more about their dog’s health and safety than they do about making a profit from a sale.
Other red flags are breeders who give guarantees regarding a dog’s future behavior.
Guaranteeing a pedigree is one thing, but there’s no way for a breeder to reliably tell you how a dog will act later in life. This has more to do with how you train and socialize your dog, which’s on you as the owner. Be sure to question any unrealistic promises around a dog’s ability to become a service dog, show dog, or the like.
Be doubtful on offers to double up with a second pup.
It may sound counter-intuitive; two dogs are better than one, especially if they’re litter-siblings, right? Nope, it’s not true. Puppies who are adopted as siblings can develop co-dependent relationships and never gain independence from one another. Whenever they’re separated, they become fearful and unsure of themselves. Unless you are a highly experienced dog owner, most breeders will caution you against adopting two pups from the same litter.
Now that we’ve given the appropriate warnings about unsavory breeders, let’s discuss what separates a decent breeder from a genuinely great one.
A great breeder does more than just sell you a loveable puppy. They’re also your dog fairy-godparents, so to speak. They’ll be there for you in the beginning in case you have any questions about your puppy’s care and condition.
They should be able to provide you their recommendations on food choices, training regimens, and grooming care too.
Sure, you don’t have to take their advice, but you can let them be your starting point if you are just starting with a new breed.
Here’s a rundown of some traits you will find in exemplary breeders. Not every great breeder will meet all these criteria, but if you find a breeder that meets most of these and has no red flags, then you’re probably in good hands.
They Raise One Litter At A Time
Each litter a breeder raises takes an incredible amount of work. Raising one litter at a time is considered ideal, and raising more than two litters at once is a definite red flag. It’s unlikely this breeder can give each pup the attention and care they deserve. This could lead to dogs who are less than healthy and poorly socialized.
You Can Meet The Parents
Being able to meet a puppy’s parents gives you a look into who they might be as an adult. Often the male parent isn’t around, but you should still ask about them and see what information is available. If the parents are not available to meet, ask about other older siblings still in the breeder’s care.
The Dogs Are In A Comfortable Environment
This is a crucial one, puppies raised indoors are most likely to be exposed to normal home life versus those raised in outdoor kennels. Unless you plan for your dog to live outside, as many working dogs do, you’ll want your breeder to keep their puppies indoors. When dogs are indoors, it leads to more social interactions with each other and with humans too. The indoor environment matters as well; a cold cement floor isn’t as welcoming as an indoor space integrated into the household.
They Do Two-Way Interviews
As stated above, great breeders want all their dogs to end up in good homes. As you interview them, they’ll also be interviewing you to make sure you’ll be a good fit. They’ll take the time to get to know you and what you’re looking for in a puppy.
If possible, they’ll want to interview each member of your household and then select which specific pup from their litter will be the best match for everyone.
The Parents Are Over Two
It’s not recommended to breed dogs who are under the age of two years old. These dogs are still technically puppies themselves, even if they have reached sexual maturity. It’s not easy to get a proper temperament assessment on dogs that are still growing themselves.
Some breeds can be successfully bred younger than 24 months, so inquire for more information when discussing with a potential breeder.
They Won’t Sell A Puppy Before 8 Weeks
The eight-week rule is a guideline followed by all responsible breeders. Before eight weeks, puppies are too young to leave their mothers and litter-mates. When dogs are taken from their birth family early, studies have shown they are more likely to exhibit problem behaviors later in life, including fear and aggression.
If a breeder is serious about their business, there is no reason why they should ever be in a rush to sell a newly-born pup.
They Always Health Test
One of the reasons people are attracted to breeders is because of their confidence that a dog purchased from them will be healthy until they reach an advanced age. Please do your research on the breeds you’re interested in and ask your breeder about what health testing they perform on their dogs. The American Kennel Club is a great resource to get started here. Also, ask breeders for vaccination records to know what’s been done and what’s left on the list. A reputable breeder will be transparent about a dog’s health records.
Breeding dogs is a business, and supply and demand play a role in determining purchase prices. If a breeder has been successful over many years, they’ll have built a strong reputation for their litters and will have a waiting list that might be full for 2 or 3 litters. This also allows them to command higher prices since their dogs are in demand. Expect to pay a deposit to get your name on their list; this is also a good practice for them to weed out people who aren’t serious about becoming pet owners.
They’re Transparent And Knowledgeable
A breeder spends the bulk of their time dealing with their dogs, raising their litters, and making sure each dog is well cared for. If you have questions about any aspect of their breed or how to care for them, your breeder should know the answer.
If you’re concerned about what health issues the breed is prone to experience later in life, they should be able to provide you with advice and resources.
They should be open and upfront about their business, practices and willingness to provide you with references of customers to talk to if you want an unbiased opinion.
A breeder should specialize in at most two breeds. If they claim to be a serious breeder but have more than two breeds they deal in, this is a major red flag.
They Will Take A Puppy Back
When you purchase from a breeder, you hope it’s going to be a perfect fit, and you’ll be with your puppy for years to come, but there’s always a possibility that life can change rapidly. Your health might change, you might fall upon unexpected hardships, etc., and the best option might be to return your dog to the breeder. A genuinely great breeder will be willing to do this; it’s the last resort measure, of course, but taking a dog back is preferable to seeing them go to a shelter or into another tough situation.
They Can Prove A Dog’s Lineage
This is a crucial aspect, after all, you’re working with a breeder to purchase a dog of a specific breed. But even within a breed, there are variations of traits that can be more prominent. The prominence of particular characteristics is a factor when looking at dogs that serve as family pets but also as working dogs. German Shepherds are a great example. The progeny of a working Shepard versus a family pet Shepard would show higher energy levels, focus, and drive. They might be more than your family is prepared to handle unless you have experience with dogs from working lineages.
Ok, we’ve gone over the red flags to avoid, as well as what to look for in a rockstar breeder, now how do you actually find them?
One way to go about it would be to ask for referrals among owners of the breed you’ve shown interest in. You may not know any of these folks personally, or perhaps their breeder was less than trust-worthy, but they still love their dog. These are the things you have to consider when asking around. Hopefully, you’re part of a trusted community of dog owners, and you receive some promising leads. Dog owners are generally very helpful and friendly, so it can’t hurt to go over to your local dog park and meet some people.
Asking dog professionals may prove to be a better starting point. You can ask local veterinarian offices, trainers, and groomers. Well-known breeders are likely to have relationships with these other professionals, and word gets around about who’s excellent and who to avoid.
That said, there isn’t anything wrong with doing your research online and getting in touch via email or a contact form. You will have to do your due diligence and test them against the criteria we’ve listed here, but that’s part of the process, no matter what route you take.
If they’re legitimate, they’ll hold up to your scrutiny, and you can take the process further from there.
When searching for a breeder, there is no need to rush. Take the time to educate yourself on the breeds you are interested in and which breeders will make the most sense for your budget, timeline, and location.
If you’re having any challenges in making your selection feel free to contact us in the bubble below, we’d be happy to chat and give you some advice. Also, you can sign up for a training evaluation with our team.
A temperament test is a series of assessments that evaluate a dog’s behavior in different situations and their reactions to various stimuli. They then are assigned a temperament profile. Most tests take their scores and turn them into profiles like easy-going, independent, fearful, or aggressive. Other tests like the Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test rank dogs with a numerical value 1-6.
This temperament testing process helps dog care professionals understand the animals in their care and works to ensure they’re adopted by an owner that’s well suited to their behavioral type.
As a new-adopter, you should know any potential adoptee’s temperament before you finalize your paperwork.
A dog’s health and personality are much more important than their sex, breed, or size when determining if you can provide them with the right home.
Most shelters will perform temperament tests on their dogs shortly after arrival. This is to keep all their files on dogs organized and identify which dogs pose the highest bite risk.
Another purpose of temperament testing is to reveal the true personality of dogs who are currently experiencing stress or depression due to the recent changes they’ve experienced as they came into the shelter environment. Moving and being separated from former owners is hard on dogs as it is on humans.
Keep reading to learn more about the four main temperaments found in dogs and what they mean for you as a potential pet owner.
Most dogs, fortunately, fall into this personality type, and easy-going dogs are considered the lowest bite risk and the safest to adopt. They are easy to get along with and generally friendly. They are more social with the family than dogs with independent temperaments and are more likely to be comfortable in new environments and around new stimuli and stressors. A dog with this temperament will not be expected to have many issues that an introductory balanced training class could not resolve.
This profile corresponds to “3’s” and “4’s” on the Volhard test. Dogs with more “3” scores than “4” score are usually higher-energy dogs that will need ample exercise.
Independent dogs are typically quieter than their easy-going counterparts. They are content with being on their own for large portions of the day. Dogs with this personality are typically disinterested in directly interacting with humans or other dogs. If your dog will be around the house most of the day and not expected to be cuddled by anyone, then an independent dog may be right for you. Many senior dogs in shelters can fall into this category.
Independent dogs typically earn 6’s on the Volhard test.
A dog with a fearful temperament may not exhibit anxiety all the time. But these dogs do show some fearful or nervous behavior under certain circumstances or when they become triggered. They may even show fear-based aggression. Shelter staff know to be on the lookout for these types of dogs, but there’s still a large chance that fear aggression can get overlooked or misdiagnosed. If a dog is more withdrawn, skittish, guarding resources by snapping or growling, or presents tense body language when approached, these are likely signs of fear-aggression. This dog has a higher potential for biting and may be taken off the adoption list in some shelters. If you find a fearful dog, be prepared to invest in additional behavioral training, have patience, and be in for a long haul approach to caring for this dog. Don’t adopt a fearful dog if you are not truly ready to handle the commitment.
Many balanced trainers enjoy working with fear-aggressive dogs because they can have some of the most remarkable transformations. A fear-aggressive dog isn’t necessarily a dog you want to overlook, but preferably one that you must accept that you will need to invest time and money looking for a professional balanced trainer. Some of our favorite dogs that have been through our Board & Train program originally struggled with fear-aggression.
This puppy likely would score several 2’s and 3’s on the Volhard test and may prove too challenging to work with for newbie dog owners.
Some temperament tests label this behavior type as dominant or over-confident, but it’s the same overall profile. Aggressive dogs feel the need to defend their territory and attack other humans and animals. They may also resist being touched or refuse to follow basic commands. Shelters usually ID these dogs quickly, so if you’re working with a responsible shelter, it’s unlikely you will find them in the general adoption population. For the average family, aggressive dogs are not going to make good pets. They require a knowledgeable and dedicated owner that is willing to seek out training and to give them a chance at having a quality life outside of a shelter facility.
Aggressive dogs score 1’s on the Volhard exam and show a strong desire to act dominantly. They are best left to highly experienced trainers to adopt.
These are the basics of the four major temperaments that are tested for. Every dog is unique, and any particular dog may not fall neatly into one of these categories.
A good temperament test should be able to measure a dog’s reaction to situations they’re likely to encounter while in a typical home environment.
It should test things like:
It’s certainly possible that even a good temperament test can get it wrong on a particular dog or that a well-adjusted dog might rate poorly on aspects of a test on a given day. What happens in these cases depends on that specific shelter or rescue organization’s policies and the testing criteria they use.
One key area that shelters don’t test for is a dog’s reaction to children. A dog with a negative reaction would pose a risk to any child involved, so the other aspects of a temperament test will have to suffice as an indicator.
Other Issues With Temperament Tests To Be Aware Of
One of the issues shelters run into with temperament tests is that they’re not using the same criteria across the board. Each shelter uses the criteria they think works best. If tests are not administered consistently within a shelter, then it’s hard to trust their assessments.
Another problem is the challenge presented by the shelter environment. Most dogs are dealing with some degree of stress while in a shelter, and they might react to testing entirely differently than they would then in a home.
Despite these issues, the wide use of temperament tests is a positive thing. They work to find aggression and other behavioral issues that a dog may have and prepare their next family to anticipate and address those behaviors. This reduces the potential for a bad homing experience for both dog and owner.
Not all shelters know how to provide temperament testing forto all of their dogs, and if you’re interested in volunteering with your local shelter, this might be an area that you can help out.
The more information you can gather about a dog you’re interested in, the better an adoption decision you can make. Even if your shelter or breeder has conducted temperament testing, you should ask if you can spend time with the dog in different environments to judge how they react.
Ask if you can take the dog home for an evaluation. Some shelters will ask you to sign some paperwork and put down a deposit before they allow you to take a dog home.
Not every shelter will agree to this, but if your home is already prepared with doggie-basics for a short-term stay, this can be a massive benefit to you. It will give you the chance to see how a dog’s personality changes in this new environment and allows you to present them with different stimuli.
Ask if you can spend time together in a meet and greet room at the shelter or on a walk. Observe the dog throughout the process. If they become nervous or resistant when you come close, that’s a warning sign of a fearful temperament.
Ask the shelter what information they have about the dog’s past home environment for any clues to how they might behave down the line.
If you are going to conduct your temperament test, formally or informally, here’s what to look for with each personality type. Compare your findings with what the shelter is telling you, and if anything feels off, ask questions until you are satisfied with the answers.
Quick note, for most of the criteria on any temperament test, an aggressive dog will respond poorly and dangerously. It’s unlikely you’ll find yourself in a situation with an aggressive dog due to the screening shelters do upon intake, but just in case a dog you’re interested in has some aggressive tendencies we’ve included their responses. They’re also a useful comparison to draw to the other major profiles.
If you are allowed to have some alone time with the dog (still supervised, of course), you will observe how they react when given a chance to focus on you.
Allow them time to get comfortable in the room before trying to engage them.
A happy or easy-going dog will come right over to sniff you and or act excitedly in your presence, wagging their tail and looking to be pet.
Independent dogs will maintain a distance and may not appear too interested in you at all. They may decide to come to say hello, but they will act aloof to your presence.
Fearful dogs will be hesitant to greet you and may actively avoid you. They may cower in a corner and hold their tail down between their legs.
This dog would enter the room barking and lunging forward, possibly barring their teeth. It’s unlikely this will be the case since aggressive dogs typically are removed from general shelter populations. However, in this scenario, you will want to stop the visit immediately and speak to the shelter staff about the dog’s behavior.
Test the dog’s response to noises, including your voice. Speak to them in different tones from high-pitched baby talk to normal speaking to a louder than normal voice. Drop your keys on the floor to test their response to a sudden loud sound.
These dogs will not be startled by your voice, and they enjoy being spoken to. They will likely draw closer to see what you are trying to communicate. They may be surprised by you dropping your keys, but they will quickly realize there’s no danger and go to sniff them.
Independent dogs will listen to you when you speak but may then choose to go back to what they’re doing. They won’t be bothered by loud noises.
Fearful or nervous dogs will be most interested in your high-pitched voice but won’t approach you. They will likely be afraid of your loud voice and will back away when you drop your keys.
An aggressive dog will attempt to lunge toward you or bark at you. Aggressive dogs will likely get upset when you drop your keys and may bark at them.
If you believe it safe to do so, cautiously touch the dog in an area, they’re most receptive. Make sure to move slowly and not to startle them. Begin by turning to your side and not addressing the dog directly, allow them to sniff you, and offer them a treat. Slowly begin to pet behind their ears or on their back.
Be sure to respect the dog's boundaries if they show any form of fear, nervousness, or aggression. If you are looking at getting a dog from a shelter, it is unlikely that the rescue will allow these kinds of dogs to interact with anybody until they have a bit more control over their behavior.
A happy or easy-going dog will enjoy the attention and physical touch! They will wag their tail excitedly and be eager for more.
An independent dog might engage with you and allow themselves to be pet, but probably not for too long. It might feel like you’re getting more out of the situation than they are! They might decide that petting time is over and go back to their own business.
Fearful dogs may be resistant to being touched and will avoid eye contact with you. Their tails will remain down and between their legs.
If a dog you’re interacting with has shown any signs of aggression, it’s not a good idea to attempt to touch them. You shouldn’t continue the test with this dog as they will not be a good fit for adopting.
The next test is to attempt to play with the dog by throwing a toy.
Don’t be surprised that a happy/easy-going dog will be delighted to play with you.
Independent dogs often enjoy playing on their own, and if you throw a toy, they might not bring it back to you. It’s possible they won’t show much interest in the toy at all.
Some fearful dogs won’t be interested in playing with you. Others will show interest after spending enough time with them. This depends on the degree of their fears and what triggers them.
Don’t attempt to play with an aggressive dog.
If your shelter allows, take the dog for a short walk. Observe them as you move to put on the leash. While walking together, try to pass by other people, cars, bicyclists, and other animals to imitate the typical walk you would go on around your home.
If your dog is pulling on the leash, this isn’t necessarily an indicator of temperament but could be overall inadequate leash training, so don’t worry about it too much.
Keep in mind, many of these behaviors can be easily and quickly addressed within a training program. It’s not that these dogs are “bad”; they do not understand what they are doing or what we want them to be doing. That is why training is all about communication; developing an understanding of expectations - and leash training is no different.
Easy-going dogs are excited by walks and exploring new environments. They may pull on the leash when they see a person, pet, or other things that excite them. They will happily greet others and remain enthusiastic.
Independent dogs will typically not cause a fuss when you’re putting on a leash, but they won’t be overly excited for a walk. They will most likely not be too interested in other people, pets, or cars in the environment. They may not enjoy being petted by strangers either.
Fearful dogs will avoid the leash, and they may move away from you and cower in fear. Be careful when attaching the leash, as this could trigger an aggressive response, including a snap or bite. Move slowly, and if they show signs of anxiety, don’t proceed further without talking to a shelter staff member. While walking with a fearful dog, they may become easily triggered by stimuli in the outside world. Use caution and consider bringing a shelter staff member with you.
Don’t attempt to take an aggressive dog for a walk.
If it’s possible, ask if you may observe the dog you’re interested in with a second dog to see how they get along with others. This is important if you already have pets at home or have friends or family who bring pets over occasionally. If you have a cat, ask if it would be possible to observe the dog with one as well.
Happy/easy-going dogs will try to play with other animals in most cases.
Independent dogs will sometimes play with others, but they mostly prefer to be on their own.
Fearful dogs may actively hide when around other animals. They may also become self-protective and bark as a warning.
Aggressive dogs will likely bark excessively and perhaps even charge at other dogs. A responsible shelter would not allow an aggressive dog to play with others.
Use this guide as a jumping-off point when speaking with the staff at a shelter or rescue organization. Ask them about what temperament testing they conduct and what documentation they have available. See if you can run your own informal evaluation on any dogs you’re interested in.
If you have any additional questions about temperament tests, please message us in the bubble below or sign up for a training evaluation.