Your puppy will start to learn from the moment it’s born. The window of opportunity for you to instil the calm confidence and positive behaviour you want from your pup is not vast so, Roger Wilsher writes, it’s important to start from the moment you enter the puppy’s life.
If you are clear, consistent and fair from the start, you will teach your pup the boundaries to which it needs to adhere. The skills, rules and boundaries your pup adopts in its early weeks will be with it for the rest of the dog’s life.
First three weeks
You don’t need to worry yourself about the first three weeks when the pup will be more or less under the complete care of its mum, and how she behaves will affect the pup’s behaviour later in life.
Puppies have sponge-like brains so even though their senses are by no means fully developed they will be picking up influences and conditioning as the mother is licking, grooming and feeding her litter.
A puppy’s sense of touch is its main form of communication at this stage. Its sense of smell is already starting to develop.
Three to 14 weeks
By the end of the third week, most of the senses will have begun to develop. Eyes and ears are open, and the teeth are appearing.
Expect your pup to start walking and don’t be surprised if you hear the odd bark and growl. Your puppy is becoming aware of the existence of the humans around it as well as its litter mates and the wider world.
Mum’s influence is still enormous and although she will still be stimulating her offspring to go to the toilet, your puppy will be starting to learn how to go by itself. Mum will start to create more of a distance between her and her family as the pups move around.
This is when the puppy will experience conflict for the first time. It will be learning through consequences, like when it wants to feed and mum says no or when it plays with the other puppies and finds there are limits to how hard littermates will let it bite.
At this time your puppy will be learning about pleasure, pain and consequences, so if it was removed at this stage it would most likely miss out on this valuable learning experience. It’s acquiring knowledge from everything it comes across including other animals, humans and other pups.
What it is picking up is how to communicate, ways of receiving information and how to develop its own way of getting a message across. Your pup will be building an understanding of what is rewarding and what others will and will not tolerate.
It is important that at this crucial stage your pup does not learn fear, but instead acquires an understanding of compromise and what constitutes good manners.
Excessive punishment for anti-social behaviour, whether administered by its mother, its littermates or the humans around it, can have a detrimental effect on your puppy and may even lead to it becoming fearful and timid.
However, interaction is very important for your pup to learn what is known as ‘bite inhibition’. Your pup needs to find out what is an acceptable level of play mouthing, both when it is being invited to interact with and when it’s being told to back off from its peers.