Building a Better-Behaved Dog: 5 Key Areas to Address in Puppyhood

Handle Your Puppy

Build a puppy's confidence with touch and restraint to prevent fear-based reactions that may otherwise occur. Pair the handling with rewards the dog enjoys, like licks of peanut butter from a spoon or treats delivered in fast succession. Accustom puppies to having more sensitive areas touched, such as paws, ears, muzzle, tail and legs. Also practice various types of petting and handling, including patting, massaging, poking, gentle restraint and lifting.

Nail trims are one procedure that can trigger panic in many dogs. Prevent nail trims from becoming an issue for your dog by doing lower-stress trims yourself or finding a professional who clips nails using gentle handling paired with rewards.

Head off Resource Guarding

Many dogs innately guard treasured items from animals and sometimes even people who they perceive may take away their valuables. Items that dogs guard include food,treats, chews, toys, resting places or even seemingly unimportant items like empty wrappers and tissues. Teach your puppy early to willingly give up items when asked by training the "drop it" behavior.Start with low-value items and move up in value as the dog stays relaxed and reliably drops the item when asked. Also train your dog to associate the presence of people passing or approaching when he has a possession with something desirable happening, such as treats being tossed by his food bowl or resting place. If a puppy or dog shows aggression around prized items, seek immediate professional help, such as a veterinarian working with a positive-reinforcement trainer.

Set Boundaries

Whatever you allow a puppy to do, he's likely to do as an adult. For that reason, all behaviors your puppy does with you and others should be permissible when he's fully grown. If behaviors like jumping up, pulling on the leash, barking for attention and jumping on furniture are allowed during puppyhood, they are likely to remain and be habits when the dog is an adult. Though accepted in a 10-pound puppy, those behaviors may not be as well-tolerated from an 80-pound adult. Place boundaries on your puppy that will be in place when he is fully grown, such as having four paws on the floor when greeting, to prevent problem behaviors from being rewarded and rehearsed into habit.

Get Your Puppy Used to Separation

Train your puppy early to be OK when separated and alone. Canines can develop an over-reliance on people, especially when first brought home and smothered with constant attention. It's a rude awakening for a puppy when his family's schedule changes or attention gravitates elsewhere and he has never been taught to be OK by himself. One safeguard against dogs becoming stressed during separation is to teach puppies from an early age to relax when left alone and even associate alone time with good things happening.

By paying attention to these behaviors and principles when your dog is a puppy, you'll give yourself the best chance of minimizing problems — and maximizing enjoyment — when he is an adult.

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