Definitely Dogs

Puppy Primer

The Challenging Dog

Kids and Dogs


Puppy Primer

“Their success is in our hands!”

Developmental Stages

Puppies begin their lives blind and deaf, and yet mature into young adults within only one year! The most significant changes occur in the first 20 weeks as the pup passes through a number of critical developmental stages. This is what nature has prepared for the puppy to learn in its first weeks:

Old Fashioned Advice

Formal dog training has traditionally been delayed until the pup is five or six months old (correction-based methods are too hard on young pups)*. Many traditional veterinarians still insist on isolating the pup until all vaccinations are complete (roughly 16/17 weeks of age). Both time lines significantly lag behind the pup’s natural development and critical socialization periods and today’s state of the art knowledge. By waiting, we would start training a dog that is already well into adolescence with misbehaviours learned in puppyhood having to be unlearned. Other developmental deadlines are past and most importantly, we miss out on the pup’s unique readiness to understand the human world as positive.

* Warning: Punishment or “correction” based training often leads to detrimental side effects, such as avoidance, insecurity, distrust, hand shyness, learned helplessness, and self-defensive aggression.


Kindergarten Puppy Training

New research and insights into the fast-paced early development of pups have led to a new approach in dog training. It is recommended to start training the pup as soon as you bring him home, using mostly positive reinforcement** and to take full advantage of the critical socialization period. (However, since the pup is not yet fully vaccinated it is very important to keep exposure to potential disease transmission to a minimum.) Enrolling in a competently run Kindergarten puppy class as early as possible (after at least one set of vaccinations) will greatly help you and your pup with socialization, early training, trouble shooting, encouragement and support. To sign up for a Kindergarten puppy class in your area go to or to enroll locally, contact me

*Positive reinforcement training methods are reward-based, humane and dog-friendly; they transform the pup’s interactions with people into positive outcomes.


Early puppyhood is the ideal time for you to learn great owner/handler skills, such as:

“All I ever needed to know about life I learned in Kindergarten!”
AKA: Top Ten Priorities for Your Pup’s First 20 Weeks of Life:

Priority #1: Socialization

Successful socialization creates a dog that takes life in stride! This is achieved by repeated positive experiences with the many aspects of our complex human world. The pup’s clock is ticking fast: The most critical period for socialization is from the 7-12th week. However, the pup’s mind stays fairly open to new experiences and exposures until approximately the 20th week. If socialization is missed during this critical period the time can never be made up and is lost forever!

What an adult dog does not know it must fear
 and either fight against or flee from!

Let your pup meet and be fed by 100 new people in a week (all ages and sizes, including all odd appearances)! Have him experience 100 new things and locations in that same week! Repeat for the next weeks! You cannot overdo socialization, as long as experiences are positive. Never push, drag, or call your pup towards something even slightly frightening! Instead, let him explore on his own terms and praise/reward the smallest steps of courage. Also, do not console or pet if he shies back; consolation does not work and is easily misunderstood as praise. Never punish fear or fear-based behaviours!*

It is very important for you to understand that dogs do not generalize (except for fear-inducing experiences). They do not see a babe in arms, a toddler, a five year old girl or ten year old boy as the same species, nor as a “human” nor as the same as an adult. They do not naturally understand that a “dog” is a dog, either! If brought up in relative isolation they might expect all dogs to look like their littermates or parents, therefore fearing dogs of other sizes or breeds. (You will find that the same lack of generalization applies to most things we would like to teach to the pup, such as sit, attention and recall.)

Do your best to avoid any fear-inducing experiences: From 8-10 weeks your pup is particularly sensitive to the imprinting of fearful experiences. During that period, one bad experience - for instance with a man wearing a baseball cap - can make him afraid of that for life. Mildly fear-inducing experiences might be balanced by several skilfully set up positive exposures. If in doubt, please, find help from a positive reinforcement** trainer or contact me

Kindergarten puppy classes are especially designed to help you and your pup with socialization and many other topics of critical importance. To find a competent trainer in your area go to or to enroll locally, contact me

* Warning: Punishment or “correction” based training often leads to detrimental side effects, such as avoidance, insecurity, distrust, hand shyness, learned helplessness, or self-defensive aggression.

**Positive reinforcement training methods are reward-based, humane and dog-friendly; they transform the pup’s interactions with people into positive outcomes.

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Priority #2: Secure Bonding

After being uprooted from his original family the pup is ready to bond with his new human/animal pack. It is important to appreciate that the pup is an orphan in a foreign culture!

Correct human behaviour facilitates strong and secure bonding. The biggest goals for the pup are to turn any insecurity into security, whether it is with us or the rest of the world, and to teach the pup that the owners are available as caring social partners and consistent and benevolent leaders. The owners then become the source for the pup’s physical and emotional security.

Of course, while we chat in English, the pup will communicate with us in his language (canine body language). When natural social signals from the pup are not known or understood, or wrongly interpreted by the caregiver, misunderstandings can develop and lead to deeper insecurities in the pup and his attachment.

Learn more about your pup’s language by enrolling in a competently run puppy class or acquaint yourself with some of the excellent resources on this topic (T. Rugaas: Calming Signals, book or video; Sarah Kalnajs: The Language of Dogs (DVD), B. Aloff: Canine Body Language – A Photographic Guide).

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Priority#3: Impulse Control and Self-Calming

In the natural environment of a dog pack, the pup, as a subordinate, would quickly be taught to control his impulses! Impulse control is akin to “polite” behaviour and later on will make the dog a pleasure to live with. It is easily taught in the early stages of puppyhood and is the foundation behaviour for all obedience. It is the essential missing ingredient to a list of unfortunate behaviours such as grabbing, stealing, mouthing, jumping up, chewing, leash pulling, general excitability and demand barking.

The ability to calm down is going to be a huge asset to your dog and a gift to you, the owner! Although breed tendencies play a large role in the dog’s natural tendencies towards excitability, it is fairly easy to teach all pups to settle on command within a few weeks.

To learn how to develop an excellent foundation on impulse control, contact a positive reinforcement trainer in your area or for help locally, contact me

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Priority #4: Bite Inhibition

During the first 18 weeks of his life a pup naturally learns dexterity with his mouth and teeth by constantly practising on other dogs or us. Over a period of several weeks, the pup can learn to use his mouth very gently (especially on human skin); the acquired limitation of bite strength is called bite inhibition. Once learned, the next step is to teach your pup never to initiate mouthing. Should your dog ever resort to biting, bite inhibition can make the difference between a warning (teeth do not puncture skin) or serious damage.

Learn how to train for bite inhibition by taking instructions or enrolling in a competently run puppy class like mine. Contact me Other fabulous resources are the Ultimate Puppy Toolkit, Dr. Ian Dunbar’s Before You Get Your Puppy, available for a free download from and his follow-up book After You Get Your Puppy.

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Priority #5: Prevention of Resource Guarding

Early in the first few weeks of life with the litter, pups gain great pleasure through winning resources and keeping them away from others. In approximately 40-50% of dogs this natural behaviour will develop into resource guarding against humans if not addressed preventatively.

Unfortunately, the common advice is to take things away from a pup “to prove that you can do so”. This is ill-informed advice and will likely contribute to more resource guarding in the future. The pup experiences the loss of a valuable resource as a result of the approaching hand or human! He will learn to be better prepared next time or when old enough to take a stance. Resource guarding results in many bites, especially in households with children! Therefore it is imperative to teach the pup that humans and their hands approaching always mean good things!

Please, inform yourself and learn about early warning signals that come long before a growl (mostly not understood by people) and get help as early as possible! For more information go to or talk to a competent trainer. Contact me for a private consultation or enroll in my puppy class to set you and your pup on the road to success!

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Priority #6: Happy Time Alone

Dogs are obligate social animals meaning that they must be part of a social group. Therefore, time alone does not come naturally to them. With the demands of our modern life, many dogs need to learn to cope with being left alone. Time alone should be taught in very small increments without traumatizing the pup: A puppy needs to learn separation without fear. Child gates, exercise pens, tie-downs and developing a great ‘Kong’ chewing habit can help build a bridge to time alone and make it more pleasurable for the pup. To learn how to put above ideas into practise seek the help of a competent professional in your area or contact me

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Priority #7: Acceptance of Human Leadership

As the pup turns 3 months he enters the next critical developmental phase: The Seniority Classification period from 13-16 weeks. He is now naturally primed to recognize and establish his position in the hierarchy of the human/animal pack. Unfortunately, some of our common caring or spoiling behaviours might be misinterpreted as servitude and catering to the leader and give him an inflated sense of position! It is just as easy to teach pups to accept a lower position in the pack with humane and non-confrontational means.

Children require particular consideration with respect to human leadership of dogs: Involve children early in guided, non-adversarial training and caring activities, such as clicker training. For more information on the subject of children and dogs look @ Kids& Dogs.

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Priority #8: Acceptance of Human Handling

This is the time to introduce your pup to many of the necessary, though invasive, ways we use to handle his body. It includes physical inspection of all body parts, the routine maintenance tasks of grooming, collar or body grabs, and gentle restraint. We can make this fun and more palatable by initially using treats for small steps of compliance. This is not only a fabulous investment into your pup’s tolerance of handling (including visits to the vet or groomer), but also his general safety for the rest of his life.

Get professional help based on positive reinforcement with this important topic or learn all about this in a Kindergarten puppy class! To enroll locally contact me or find a positive reinforcement trainer in your area.

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Priority #9: Housebreaking

Early on, while puppies still live with their litter, they show a natural propensity to eliminate away from the nest (the sleeping, eating and resting area). They also begin to prefer certain surfaces to eliminate on. However, when litters are not raised in very clean environments (as prevail at puppy mills, negligent back yard breeders, or pet shops) the pup learns to eliminate right where he lives, which makes housetraining significantly more difficult.

Elimination training can readily be accomplished in the first 20 weeks of age. It only takes some basic understanding, patience and diligence.

For great advice on this topic, go to and Dr. Dunbar’s free download Before You Get Your Puppy. To help you troubleshoot, please, contact me or go to and find a knowledgeable trainer in your area.

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Priority #10: Enroll in a Kindergarten Puppy Class

The single most important investment you can make for your pup is to enroll in a competently run Kindergarten puppy class! You and your pup will receive guidance on all or most of the above priorities while partaking in a fun, stress-free and enriched environment. The class offers unique support for you to become the best owner possible for your new dog. Find out more about my puppy classes by clicking on Kindergarten Puppy Classes or go to to find a competently run class in your area!

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