Puppy Training: Does Your Vet Know This Key Point?

Puppy Training: Does Your Vet Know This Key Point?

Originally posted on VitalAnimal.com

“Hello. We need some puppy training. He is 14 weeks old and almost ready to start – we have just been waiting to take him out until it’s safe after his final vaccination”

My heart sinks. 

This is a call I receive all the time and every time, I feel a combination of sadness and frustration at hearing it. I could have helped that puppy so much more had the owners called me earlier. But they have been given misleading information that could affect their dog’s entire life. In fact this scenario is not the minority, but the majority, and it’s one of the main causes for behavioural problems.

When you first get a puppy, you want to make sure you do everything you can to set them up to be a healthy, well mannered and vital dog when they grow up. So of course you listen to the first professionals you have contact with – most often the breeder, the pet stores and the veterinarian.

But worryingly, many breeders, pet professionals and vets aren’t telling you what you really need to know about your pup’s development, or they’re giving you the wrong information, and some are even giving advice that could cause harm to your dog and their future behaviour. Because, wrapped in “puppy training” is something perhaps even more critical: puppy development.

The first thing your vet will recommend is puppy vaccinations but a concerning fact is that many vets are still giving the advice to keep your puppy at home until two weeks after the final puppy vaccination to protect them from disease while the vaccines take effect. Puppy training must wait.

It’s been known for many years that this advice is detrimental to your puppy’s development and while a change IS slowly coming about, the misinformation is still very widespread in the pet industry.

While this advice continues to be spread, puppies are growing into adult dogs with big problems because of a key factor that many vets gloss over or ignore completely.

A Critical Time

All puppies have a limited window of time while they’re young and during this time, learning is permanent. Puppies are soaking up information all around them like a sponge and deciding what’s good and fun in the world, and what is scary and to be avoided. This is a built in survival trait so that puppies can quickly learn what they need to avoid to stay safe when they venture away from the litter and out into the world on their own.

So if they have a scary experience during this time, it’s going to stick with them for life.

This limited window of time lasts from 3 weeks to roughly 12-14 weeks of age and can vary slightly from dog to dog and breed to breed. It’s referred to as the critical period of development and it’s called that because it really IS critical.

There’s actually a few stages within the critical period where a puppy is learning more about certain things than others. Studies have discovered amazing differences in the way puppies learn at very specific times which is beyond the scope of this article but the most important for you to know are:

3 – 5 weeks – Primary Socialisation – At around 3 weeks of age the eyes and ears open and so puppies become more aware of their surrounds. This is the critical time for puppies to interact with litter-mates and learn social skills from each other such as bite inhibition and appropriate play and interactions

6 – 12 weeks – Secondary Socialisation – this time has been found to be the most effective time for social learning around humans and the human world that the pup needs to live in.

Interestingly, around 7-8 weeks of age is when the mother of the pups becomes less tolerant of her puppies and her corrections for annoying pup behaviour increase. I’m sure this is partly because the pup’s teeth are now very sharp! It fits in well with the socialisation periods that puppies are removed from their litter and go to new homes at 8 weeks of age. Waiting too long past this age OR too early before this age can also cause issues later in life.

When should you start your puppy training? Straight away. A puppy’s learning capacity from 8-16 weeks of age is in its prime and a puppy that learns how to learn during this stage will make for a smarter and more trainable adult dog.

What Does Your Puppy Really Need During The Critical Period?

You’ve probably heard about the need for puppy socialisation and that’s exactly what is needed during your pup’s critical period.

A lack of socialisation can actually threaten your dog’s life. I can tell you it’s incredibly sad to see a 12 month old dog put to sleep because it cannot cope with the outside world, due to being kept at home for the first few months of its life on the vet’s or breeder’s advice.

If puppies aren’t exposed to a variety of environments and social situations during the critical period, their development can be compromised and the pup is unlikely to reach its full potential as an adult, even developing serious behaviour problems as a result such as separation anxiety, fears, dog aggression and human aggression.

In fact, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviour acknowledges this in their position statement on puppy socialisation:

Behavioral problems are the greatest threat to the owner-dog bond. In fact, behavioral problems are the number one cause of relinquishment to shelters. Behavioral issues, not infectious diseases, are the number one cause of death for dogs under three years of age.”

So you see, socialisation IS the most important “immunization” of all – an immunization against behaviour problems.

But What Exactly Does Socialisation Mean And How Should It Be Carried Out?

When most people hear the words, “puppy socialisation,” they often think immediately of puppies playing with other puppies and meeting other dogs. But did you know that this is only a tiny part of what makes up correct socialisation?

Socialisation is all about teaching your dog the correct social skills and how to be confident in the human world. So your puppy needs to have exposure to lots of different environments, sounds, people, animals, traffic and objects that they will need to be able to cope with as an adult dog. While socialising during the critical period is the most crucial time, socialisation never really ends and you should continue to socialise your dog throughout their life to maintain a balanced dog. Puppy training segues into adult training in this sense. The socialization side of puppy training continues to your dog’s great advantage as an adult.

So how does socialisation work? Let’s use other dogs as an example. Take note of how the outcome could go several ways depending on how socialisation is carried out:

  • Your puppy has a really fun and rewarding experience with other dogs. They play furiously and the excitement levels are through the roof. This results in a dog that can’t contain their excitement whenever they see another dog, to the point that they bark and lunge towards any other dog they see, making walks unpleasant for you.
  • Your puppy has a scary interaction with another dog – the other dog just wants to play but is too rough. Your pup is likely to learn that other dogs are a threat and should be avoided. This could result in fear aggression.
  • Your puppy never meets another dog. They are therefore more likely to be scared of other dogs later because they haven’t had any exposure at all.
  • Your dog meets other dogs that are friendly and calm and has short play sessions but when he returns to you, you provide him with play and a lot more fun.
  • Your puppy will learn that other dogs are ok – but the owner is better and worth listening to! This is the option I prefer that will result in the most balanced dog later on.

You can replace the words, “other dog,” in the above examples with anything that your puppy needs to be exposed to:

  • children
  • strangers
  • lawn mowers
  • new environments
  • livestock, etc.

You should aim that your puppy has either neutral or positive calm experiences but you should always be the most rewarding and fun thing in your puppy’s life. This will set you and your puppy up for easier training later because your pup will be learning the value of focusing on you no matter what else is going on in the environment. Another benefit of early socialisation and puppy training is that it develops the bond between you and your pup.

Your puppy should also learn to accept physical handling such as checking paw pads, trimming nails, checking ears, eyes, teeth and holding still for examinations. This will make trips to the vets and groomers a lot easier later and those professionals will thank you for it. It’s also a great idea to do fun trips to these places where only pleasant experiences happen. This will help you avoid fear and anxiety over going to the vet/groomer later on.

Still worried about disease? Simply don’t put your puppy on the ground in areas that are highly trafficked by unknown dogs. Remember, meeting other dogs is not the only part of socialisation anyway. Your puppy can even benefit by taking in the world from your lap or the car window.

You can also do a lot around the home by using sound recordings. I recommend the “Sound Proof Puppy Training App” for this.

The Genetic Factor

How your dog turns out is a combination of their environment AND their genetics. And the genetic influence is massive.

Fear and timidity can be passed on through genes so you may have a puppy that is genetically timid of new things.

You may also get a pup that doesn’t seem to be phased by anything in life, which is ideal.

When socialising, we need to work with what we’ve got. A stronger pup genetically may get away with less socialisation than a timid pup.

In the case of timid puppies, take it slow and make social experiences very rewarding. Your pup may never be a confidence superstar but doing your best with good socialisation now will make a significant difference.

No matter what your puppy is like, never force them to do something they are afraid of.

Should You Take Your Puppy To Puppy School?

One thing a lot of vets tell owners is that it’s not safe to go out before the end of vaccinations, but that you can bring your puppy to the vet-run puppy training school. I do find this ironic because if you’re going to be exposing your puppy to diseases anywhere, a vet clinic is where they’ll be. For this reason, carry your puppy inside when you visit the vet and don’t let them on the ground in the carpark and gardens outside of the building. The inside is usually safely sterilised.

Puppy school can be a fantastic idea but not all puppy school instructors are using the right approach, and some can actually do more harm than good.

As mentioned earlier, your puppy could learn that other dogs are a scary threat, nothing to worry about, or that they are more valuable to pay attention to than you are. The result will depend on how the school is conducted and it is worrying just how many behaviour issues I see that have resulted from poorly run puppy schools.

You’ll want to find a puppy school run by a reputable dog trainer, not a vet nurse or anyone else that talks about all the health products you need (that they sell) while the puppies have a free-for-all in the middle of the room.

A good trainer will know how to match up the right puppies to meet each other and won’t force a fearful puppy to have another puppy overwhelm them with play. They will know techniques to bring out confidence in the shy pups and prevent inappropriate play in the more exuberant pups. Plus they will know the value of teaching you how to make YOU the most important thing in your pup’s world, NOT other dogs. And of course, they’ll teach you how to correctly socialise your pup with more than just other dogs.

If you don’t have access to such a well run puppy training school, you’re likely better off doing the socialisation yourself or hiring a private trainer to help you.

Putting All The Pieces Together

There are many factors that influence how your puppy will turn out behaviour-wise. There’s genetics, socialisation, diet, medications, and the way you train them. All these pieces work together to determine whether you’ll end up with a truly vital dog in both body and mind.

A well socialised puppy can still have behavioural issues later if the genetics are poor, if they are allowed to run havoc in your household with no rules, if they are not adequately exercised and stimulated, or if there’s toxic chemicals and fillers in their diet.

Other than your pup’s genetics, you can see that all of these aspects are up to you and the choices you make for your puppy in the early days.

Correct Socialisation Doesn’t Have To Be Difficult

I’ve created a Puppy Socialisation Checklist that you can download when you become a free member of  My Dog Matters.

The checklist covers a variety of experiences to go through with your pup. You don’t have to tick off every single one, but if you do a few from each category you’ll be creating a truly vital dog.

Puppy-hood shouldn’t be overwhelming for your puppy OR for you. Just go out and have fun together!

That puppy breath stage isn’t going to last forever so embrace your puppy’s antics and enjoy it while it lasts.

Originally posted on VitalAnimal.com

Litter Mate Syndrome – Don’t Get Two Puppies at Once

Litter Mate Syndrome – Don’t Get Two Puppies at Once

This is Ned. If you saw this without knowing anything about him, you might assume that he has been abused and is traumatised. But you’d be wrong. Ned and his sister Kelly have been in the same loving home since they were bought together as puppies and are now five months of age.

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There are a couple of reasons that Ned is so fearful (Kelly lacks confidence too but it isn’t as severe).

– There could be a genetic factor contributing to the timidity and making it worse. But we can’t know this one for sure.

– The dogs, and especially Ned, have not been socialised early in life (I have spoken about this in other posts and you can read more detail about it on the blog). More so with Ned as the owners could not get the lead on him to take him anywhere – When Ned gets his collar touched for a leash to go on he actually yelps. Not knowing how to solve this, Ned could not be taken anywhere. There was a great deal of difficulty and many attempts to just get him to the vet for his vaccinations.

– The owners bought the litter mates together – a major factor working against them

– The pups were adopted at 6 weeks which is a bit too early and could compound these issues.


Buying litter mates together is something that people often do with the best intentions. It seems like a win-win as the dogs can grow up together and keep each other company when you’re away. But it can cause a lot of issues too.

Litter mate syndrome comes about because the two siblings are so emotionally dependant on each other that their learning is inhibited. Signs include phobias of people and other dogs, fears of anything novel, intense anxiety when separated, difficulty learning even basic training skills and can lead to the two dogs fighting when they hit adolescence.

Litter mate syndrome makes it more difficult to bond with and train the dogs and actually hinders their learning severely. You will likely never see the true potential of each dog as an individual but will have two difficult to manage anxious dogs that are not mentally developed.

This can also occur with two pups raised together from different litters or different breeds.

For the most success, each dog should be raised and trained completely separate from the other, except for brief interactions, until they are over a year old. This is a difficult task and so it’s often best to rehome one of the dogs so that both can develop into confident individuals. While a difficult decision, this is likely the best outcome for both dogs involved.

Many people are not aware of the pitfalls of raising litter mates together so the owners kindly agreed to me writing this with Ned and Kelly as an example to raise awareness so please share and tag anyone who is considering getting two puppies at once.

Puppy Socialisation Checklist

Puppy Socialisation Checklist

In this simple whiteboard explainer video, I discuss what puppy socialisation is and why it is so important as well as HOW to do it correctly.

Socialising a puppy must be done in a safe, social and positive environment such as that generally provided at a puppy school.

I also did a Facebook Live video on puppy socialisation. Also, how do are you meant to socialise your pup when the vet says not to take them out before two weeks after their final vaccination? All this and more is covered in the live video below.

In the video I also mentioned a free checklist you can use for socialisation ideas. You can download it by entering your email below the videos:

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Little Dog Syndrome – Is Your Dog Spoiled?

Little Dog Syndrome – Is Your Dog Spoiled?

Would you like some spoiled milk ? Perhaps in your tea or coffee? Hot chocolate? No? I’m guessing not. Because we aren’t exactly celebrating when milk gets spoiled. So why do we grin and laugh when we say “Oh my baby is a spoiled dog?”.

Another trainer friend used this example when we were chatting on the phone one day and what can I say, I’m a thief. If I get a great analogy, I’ll use it.

So often people giggle as they say their dog is spoiled as it growls at guests or refuses to move off the furniture, barks and lunges at other dogs or even at people!

Or more often, people have no idea that the way that they show love to their dogs is causing big behaviour issues and of course they only mean well.

And I get it, it feels good to spoil our dogs. We want to give them the best. I know I do. But there’s a difference between giving our dogs the best toys, food and care and giving our dogs everything they demand on a silver platter. That’s when we see issues arise. When your dog has no boundaries and do whatever he likes…

Watch: Treat Your Small Dog Like A Dog

I see this all the time and I really do understand why little dogs get spoiled (sometimes big dogs do too!) In fact, I have made major errors by spoiling our own little dog. They just make it so easy!

But we need to try to stop because it’s actually not good for the dog. Coddling and lack of boundaries or rules can actually create anxiety and insecurity in the dog. Without a clear leader present, the dog can feel like the burden of being in charge falls to them. This can even result in aggression. And the majority of dogs don’t want this burden. Dogs feel a lot happier with a clear leader giving them guidance. And that leader is you.

So how can we start being a better leader if we perhaps have a dog that is already too spoiled?

If you haven’t seen my video series on five foundations to a well behaved dog yet, that is where I suggest you start. You can sign up for it here (it’s free).

Now could you do me a favour? If you know someone that would like some help with a naughty dog, perhaps that has been “spoiled,” could you forward this to them? Let’s spread the training messages to all who will listen and start improving the lives of more dogs and their owners 🙂

How to Stop Your Puppy From Mouthing and Biting

How to Stop Your Puppy From Mouthing and Biting


It’s one of the major puppy-hood issues that people face when they get a new puppy. And while it’s normal puppy behavior this doesn’t mean that we need to accept it.

So let’s talk about how to stop puppy mouthing and biting.

But like any behavior, before we start working on it, it’s important to know why it’s happening.

So first…

WHY Do Puppies Mouth and Bite?

Rest assured, it’s rare for a puppy to be truly aggressive. Puppy biting is common and normal and does not mean that your puppy is trying to aggressively hurt you.

I do hear from concerned puppy owners, often parents, worried that the puppy is an aggressive monster because the puppy bites and growls. But it always turns out to be play.

Puppies’ mouth and bite to practice life skills like hunting, to have fun and to work their teeth and jaws. By instinct, these skills need to be practiced to set them up for later in life when they need to hunt for real. This all comes from their natural instincts dating back to when they were wild dogs and wolves.

The instinct to chase and grab prey. ie fast moving or small furry objects is also a strong one. This is why young puppies often bite children – they move quickly, pull their hands away quickly and squeal. Just like prey! The puppy thinks it’s a great game!

Which leads us to…

HOW Do I Stop My Puppy From Mouthing and Biting?

The first clue to stopping an unwanted behavior is in the WHY.

Looking back at the reason why puppies mouth and bite, can you guess what the first thing is that we need to change?

The first thing that we need to do is remove the fun game.

Every time the puppy has fun mouthing and biting, it is learning that mouthing and biting pays off.

So the first thing we need to do is take that fun option away. Every time the puppy starts to put teeth on skin, say “no,” get up, and walk away. If the puppy is chasing and grabbing at your heels, stand up and stand completely still. Once you have said, “no” once, say nothing else.

A big mistake people make is using too many words when trying to teach their puppies. So say one clear word and then show the pup what it means by standing still or leaving immediately afterwards.

For additional effect, you could quickly and quietly pop the puppy into a time-out.

TIME OUT – For a time out to work, it needs to be a small, boring area with nothing to do. If you send a child to their room and they start playing video games in there and having fun, are they going to feel like they are being punished? It is the same for puppies. If you put puppy in a big room with things to grab and play with or interesting things to look at, they will quickly be occupied with something else. A time out should also be no long than one minute as past that point, there is no additional effect or learning.

How To Train Your Kids – Be A Tree

Part of stopping the puppy from biting the kids involves also training the children. While child training is not my specialty, here is a technique I have success with:

Teach the kids to “be a tree.” This means they stop what they are doing instantly, fold their arms and stand still, not even looking at the puppy.

How to stop puppy biting

IGNORING a puppy means not even making eye contact or looking at them


You can even make this training into a game with the kids.

It’s interesting to see how quickly the puppy gives up, gets bored and leaves when the children stops all reactions and stands still.

After the puppy has given up and calmed down, calm games may resume. But everyone needs to be really consistent that all play and attention stops the moment that the puppy starts to mouth or bite.

If everyone is consistent you should see the behavior getting less and less before your eyes! Puppies are such fast learners!

I would estimate a few days to a week of this for the behavior to stop completely.

Of course, there are other methods we can try if this doesn’t work but I find that this is the best approach to start with.

You can see a video lesson of how I treat mouthing and biting in the Puppy Priorities course, along with lessons on other common puppy issues like toilet training.

You can also join our Puppy Priorities Program for only $47.

In this course, we will cover everything about:

  • What is socialisation and HOW to socialise the RIGHT way
  • How to get through toilet training with less accidents
  • How to house train your puppy to not destroy your prized possessions and furniture
  • How to crate train your puppy
  • How to start leash training your puppy
  • How to stop mouthing, biting and jumping early on

* All Prices Are Displayed In US Dollars

5 Lessons Every Puppy Should Learn

5 Lessons Every Puppy Should Learn

It’s hard to pick a top 5 most important lessons for a new puppy. This article will cover some of the lessons I consider most important (other than socialisation which is THE most crucial!)

Being left alone is OK

Take it from me – separation related issues is one thing you really want to avoid. Most new puppies cry when left alone and this is not the same as a dog with separation anxiety. Train the puppy early to be comfortable while alone whether in a crate, laundry, back yard or dog run etc. Never go to the puppy and let her out when she is crying for attention

Come when called

A reliable recall would have to be THE most important obedience exercise. This is a safety issue. You do not want your dog to think twice about coming when called if there is an emergency – such as your dog running towards a busy road to chase a bird. Make sure that every time your dog comes when you call her, she feels rewarded. Never punish your dog after she has come when called. Even if she has done something wrong beforehand, the last thing she will remember and associate the punishment with is that she came to you when called.

Remember, punishment is what the dog finds undesirable. This may include putting the leash back on to go home.

Sit & Stay

A good reliable sit is useful for many training situations. For example, train a solid sit and teach your dog to sit to greet people rather than jumping up. Rather than teaching dogs the word “stay” after we have said “sit,” we teach dogs to hold the commanded position until they hear their release word. Such as, “ok” or “free.”

Stationing training where we teach the puppy to get on a mat and stay there until release is also an extremely useful skill.

Crate training

I find a lot of people have never heard of crate training. I too was sceptical at first but now I can’t imagine raising a puppy without crate training! Puppies need strict supervision just like a toddler. You wouldn’t let a toddler roam free in the house without supervision so why would you let a puppy do it? Free roaming allows puppies to practice bad habits such as chewing things and toileting in the house. Crate training is so useful for those times you can’t supervise, great for toilet training, a place for puppy or dog to sleep and also for travel or medical reasons. Teach your puppy to love her crate as her safe haven where pleasant things happen such as games, treats and meals.

Leave it

Protect your puppy from grabbing and eating harmful things such as cane toads or unknown edible items on the foot path by teaching your puppy to “leave it” on command. Reward your puppy with a better alternative for leaving the original item.