Behavior Training and Socialization

How To Avoid And Treat Behavior Problems
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Dogs and people have lived together for thousands of years, but that doesn’t mean we always understand each other. Living with pets can sometimes be as frustrating and confusing as living with people! The following program will help you make the most of your relationship with your dog.

​Dogs are pack animals – they are social and like to interact with people and other dogs. You can use this sociality to your benefit; your dog will do what you want if it earns him praise or petting AND he considers you a leader in his pack. This is a key point. All dog packs have a leader dog that makes decisions for the rest of the group. Other dogs are subordinate to the leader. Your dog should never think he is the leader in your house. You are the one who should decide when to eat, when to go out, when to go to the veterinarian for a check-up or when to get a nail trim. As with children, dogs that have rules to follow and respect for their parents are well behaved. Many behavior problems arise as a direct result of lack of leadership on the part of their owners.

​Dogs behave as though they prefer knowing that you are in charge, and often seem much happier when they understand that you have taken charge. Following the advice below may be harder on you than on your dog! It’s lonely at the top, so give your dog a break and take over. He’ll love you just as much.

​Also keep in mind that dogs are very sensitive to body language and visual cues. Behaviors that you don’t think much about may have meaning to your dog, in a way that may not be what you intended to say! For instance, two people talking face-to-face is confrontational in a dog’s body language. Standing side by side is not. You can learn to take advantage of nonverbal cues.

The following suggestions are an effective and humane way to let your dog know that he or she is safe, well loved and NOT the leader of the pack. Keep in mind that love is not related to social status, and that most dogs live in relaxed harmony when the social hierarchy is clear, no matter where they stand in it.

​These are not practices that you must follow every minute of the day. Who wants a dog if you can’t ever pet it just for fun? But it’s not good to cater to your dog. Your dog’s behavior should drive your decisions on how to treat him or her. If your dog has always been a perfect gentleman you may not need to change a thing you’re doing. But if your dog gives you problems, follow all these “social distance” suggestions.

​If Spot just bit you, totally ignore him for two days to notify him there’s been a change in the household. Don’t speak to him or look at him, even while feeding or letting out. Then follow this program to the letter for at least a month before giving him any slack. If Ginger ignored a command at the park today, adopt these tips for a few days. Applying “social distance” when your dog is misbehaving and rewarding with praise and attention only when he is good is the key to good behavior. Reward the behavior you want to continue to see!


Pet only as a reward for obedience (come, sit, down, stay, shake, etc.). Reward obeying commands with attention.

Keep petting brief (don’t indulge your dog).

If your dog demands petting, either: look away (fold arms, turn head up and away from the dog) or ask for a sit or down and then pet when he obeys.

If you want to pet your dog, call him to you, don’t go to him.


Don’t let your dog demand play, food or petting. If your dog gets pushy, simply cross your arms, turn your head upward and to the side away from your dog. (This is an example of the body language mentioned earlier) If your dog counters by moving to your other side, turn your head the other way.

​This is good practice to do any time your dog approaches you if he is very dominant and pushy. It is especially important if your dog has been aggressive towards you.


A good, solid down and stay is one of the best learning tools. It teaches your dog to be patient and to wait for your command. You can practice while watching television. Start with one-second stays for the first few days, and work up to longer and longer ones. After three weeks most dogs can handle a half hour down stay during a quiet time of day.

Correct breaks with a body block (act like a traffic cop), or a downward leash correction – not by simply repeating “down” and “stay” over and over again. If your dog gets up 25 times, then correct him or her 25 times with the same actions and tone of voice. Do NOT include anger in your correction. Be very matter of fact.


Alpha (pack leader) dogs have priority access to limited resources, which means they get to push out the door first to get something they want. This is why a lot of dogfights occur at doorways over who gets to go out first.

Control the space in front of the dog and you control the dog – use body blocks again to herd him away from the door. Or head toward a door or doorway and then suddenly turn and go the other way if your dog tries to get ahead of you. This puts you back in the lead. Praise and pet your dog when he starts to turn around after you and keep moving until he reaches you. Practice this as you move around the house until your dog is content to stay behind you and follow your lead.


Dogs interpret an increase in height as an increase in status. Dogs that sleep up on the bed are especially impressed with themselves. Keep dominant dogs on the floor, not up on chairs, couches or beds. If you want to cuddle, get down on the floor, ask for obedience and then pet when your dog complies.


Leaders are in the lead. Teach your dog to stay at your side while you initiate pace and direction.

This basic 6-part obedience program should make treating any other behavioral problems easier, if there are any. A dog that looks to you for direction can be taught almost anything. He will be happy to work for what he wants and it helps keep his mind occupied constructively. Integrate this training into your day by asking your pet to perform some action whenever it wants to go outside, get dinner, play ball, etc. Letting you be in charge will soon become second nature to your dog.

Much progress has been made in the past few years in understanding how dogs think and learn. We are able to deal with problem behaviors much more effectively when we understand how a dog’s mind processes signals and information. Most problem behaviors are NORMAL dog behaviors that are simply unacceptable to the humans they live with. Redirecting and retraining can make our canine companions better and happier pets.

Problem behaviors which we can help you deal with via

  •  Barking
  •  Digging
  •  Aggression
  •  Running away, boundary training
  •  House soiling, submissive urination
  •  Fearfulness
  •  Separation anxiety

Proper training include:

Here are a few more tips to make training more effective:
Do your homework! There are reams of books available to assist in training. Be cautious, as some are better than others. Outdated or cruel methodologies are still widely available in print. Read more than one and pick the methods that seem to make the most sense to you.

Consult with us, a good dog trainer, or a behavioral specialist. What works for one dog may not work for another. The experience and training of those educated in the field of canine behavior and training is invaluable.

Consider using a Promise™ halter. This is a different style of training collar, which takes advantage of the dog’s natural response to pressure over the muzzle and behind the ears (points dogs use to signal each other about status and control), rather than a choke collar. Promise™ halters are more humane and more effective and can aid in solving several behavior problems.

Using food as a reward for learning new a command is fine but don’t give a food reward every time they do the behavior thereafter. Giving food intermittently means your dog will perform commands for you even when you don’t have food, and also prevents weight gain.

Keep all training positive and consistent. There is no need to scold or punish your dog if you tap your dog’s inborn need to follow a leader and respond eagerly.

Please call us any time you have questions or problems with your dog’s behavior. We have information on most problems and can refer you to a trainer or specialist if we can’t help you ourselves.

Socialization and fear prevention in puppies
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What is socialization?

Socialization is the process during which the puppy develops relationships with other living beings in its environment. While socialization takes place throughout the first year of life, the first 12-16 weeks seem to be the most important time for young puppies to learn about their environment. Two other important terms in a pup’s development are “habituation” and “localization”.

What is habituation?

As all animals develop there are numerous stimuli (sounds, smells, sights and events) that when unfamiliar can lead to fear and anxiety. Habituation is the process whereby dogs get used to repeated stimuli, and stop reacting to them provided that there are no untoward consequences.

What is localization?

Localization is the process by which the puppy develops attachment to particular places.

Why are these terms important?

To reduce the possibility of fearful responses as a puppy grows and matures, it is essential to expose young puppies to many stimuli (people, places and things) when they can most effectively socialize, localize, and habituate to these stimuli. Early handling and events that occur during the first 2 to 4 months of life, are critical factors in the social development of the dog. Dogs that receive insufficient exposure to people, other animals and new environments during this time may develop irreversible fears, leading to timidity and/or aggression.

What can I do to improve my chances of having a social, non-fearful dog?

Puppy Selection

The genetics of the breed and of the parents in particular play an important role in how sociable, playful, fearful, excitable, or domineering a puppy becomes. Choose a breed and parents (both male and female) that have the type of behavior that you would like the puppy to have. Of course, there is a great deal of variability between individuals, so that breed and parental behavior will not always be indicative of what the puppy will be like. If the parents have been previously bred, the behavior and health of these siblings from previous litters may provide additional insight into how your dog might grow and develop.

b) Puppy assessment

Avoid selecting puppies that are shy, withdrawn or fearful. But selecting a friendly and non-fearful puppy does not ensure that this behavior will persist into adulthood. In fact, little or no predictive value has been found in assessing puppies under 3 months of age, since these puppies are still developing their social skills and many problem behaviors do not begin to emerge until sexual or social maturity. However, as puppies age these criteria do begin to become more reliable.

c) Early handling

Puppies that are stimulated and handled from birth to five weeks of age are more confident, social, exploratory, faster maturing and better able to handle stress as they develop. Puppies obtained from a breeder or home where they have had frequent contact and interaction with people are likely to be more social and less fearful as they develop. Puppies who have spent large amount of time in pet stores or confined in cages may not have had the environmental stimulation needed to easily transition to a new home.

d) Primary socialization

There is a sensitive period in the development of most species when they develop social attachments with their own and other species, independent of punishment and rewards. In fact, both positive and negative events seem to accelerate socialization. The events that occur during this socialization period determine the puppy’s future social partners, as well as the species with which it feels comfortable. By recognizing the critical time frame in which canine socialization develops, you can help to ensure a healthy social attachment to people and other animals, including other dogs.

The primary socialization period for dogs begins at 3 weeks of age and is diminishing by 12 weeks. Peak sensitivity is at 6 – 8 weeks. Fears begin to emerge around at 8 weeks of age, so that beyond 12 weeks of age fearfulness may surpass sociability. Although there is a great deal of variability between breeds and individuals, dogs should be socialized to as many people, animals and situations as possible before the sensitive socialization period begins to wane. However, regular social interactions should continue through adulthood so that puppies do not regress and become more fearful as they grow and develop. The 6-8 month period appears to be another important time where social contact should be maintained or social skills may diminish and fear may escalate.

To help a healthy social relationship with other dogs throughout life, dogs should maintain their social contacts with their mother and littermates until 6 – 8 weeks of age.

What is the best age to obtain my new puppy?

Since it is critical for the puppy’s development to interact, observe, play and learn with members of its own species, the puppy should remain with its mother and littermates until about 7 weeks of age. Then when placed in the new home, social contacts can be expanded to new people and species while still in their primary socialization period. Also by this time puppies will begin to develop preferences for elimination sites, so that this is a good age at which to begin house-training. See our handout on housetraining puppies.

What can I do to assist my puppy in its social development?

Generally, there should be little problem with a puppy that is less than 12 weeks of age developing healthy and lasting attachments to the people, sights and sounds in its new home. Your puppy is most likely to become fearful of stimuli that are not found in its day-to-day routine. Make a conscious effort to identify those people and situations to which the puppy is not regularly exposed. For example, if there are no children in the home, you might arrange regular play sessions with children. If you live in the country, make a few trips into the city, so that the puppy can be taken for walks on city streets, or through neighborhood plazas. Conversely, a puppy that grows up in the city might become fearful or aggressive toward farm animals that it was not exposed to during its early development.

Introduce your puppy to as many new people and situations as possible, beginning in its first three months of development. People in uniforms, babies, toddlers, the elderly, and the physically challenged are just a few examples that might lead to fear and anxiety, unless there is sufficient early exposure. Similarly, car rides, elevators, stairs, or the noises of cars, trains, airplanes, or hot air balloons are some examples of events and experiences to which the puppy might be usefully exposed.

One way to facilitate the introduction of the puppy to new situations and people is to provide a reward such as a favorite toy or biscuit each time it is exposed to a new stimulus. Having a stranger offer a biscuit to the puppy will teach it to look forward to meeting people and discourage hand-shyness since the puppy will learn to associate new friends and an outstretched hand with something positive. Once the puppy has learned to ‘sit’ on command, have each new friend ask it to ‘sit’ before giving the biscuit. This teaches a proper greeting and will make the puppy less likely to jump up on people.

Be certain that the puppy has the opportunity to meet and receive treats from a wide variety of people of all ages, races, appearance and both sexes during the formative months and well into the first year of life. There will of course, be times when your puppy is in a new situation and you do not have treats. Be sure then to use a happy tone of voice and encourage your puppy.

If your puppy seems to panic, back off a little and try again later, rather than aggravating the fear. Be sure to identify any emerging fear and work to revisit the situation slowly and gradually using favored rewards to turn the situation into one that is positive.

Is it healthy to take my puppy out in public at such a young age?

There is always a concern about the risks of taking the puppy out of its home before it is fully vaccinated because it may be exposed to infection before the vaccines have had time to become protective. However benefits gained from these new and early public appearances can be enormous and without them the risk of the puppy developing permanent fears or anxiety is a serious concern.

One solution is to have people and healthy vaccinated animals visit the puppy in its own home, until it is sufficiently vaccinated to be taken out. A compromise is to take the puppy out to meet people and other pets in low risk environments. As long as vaccines are up-to-date, taking the puppy for walks along the sidewalk and avoiding neighborhood parks where stools and urine might accumulate is generally safe.

Another valuable aid is to enroll the puppy in puppy socialization classes. If these classes are held indoors in a room that can be cleaned and disinfected, and all puppies are screened for vaccination and health prior to each class, then these classes provide good exposure to people and other dogs, in a low risk environment. In addition to insuring that vaccine s are up-to-date and each puppy is parasite free, perhaps the best way to reduce disease risk in a puppy class is to insure that the owner has owned the pet for at least 10 days before enrolling in the class (beyond the incubation period for most of the serious contagious diseases). Not only do these classes offer an opportunity for play and socialization with a variety of people and dogs, they also help guide the owners into proper training techniques from the outset.

Puppies – getting started off right
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When you bring a new puppy into your home there will be a period of adjustment. Your goals are to help your puppy to quickly bond to its new family, and to minimize the stress associated with leaving its mother, littermates, and former home. If there are already dogs in the new home the transition may be a little easier as the puppy is able to identify with its own kind. Obtaining two puppies would be another option. However, most puppies, especially those obtained before 12 weeks of age, will form attachments almost immediately to the people and any other pets in the new home, provided that there are no unpleasant consequences associated with each new person and experience.

Dogs are a highly social “grouping-living” species that in the wild is often referred to as a pack. Packs have a leader that the other members follow and look to for “direction.” In fact, each individual in the pack generally develops a relationship with each other pack member. When puppies enter our homes the family becomes the new social group. It is essential that all owners take a leadership role over the puppy and gain a position of leadership in the family pack. Allowing behaviors that are pushy, disobedient or inappropriate may lead to problems that become increasingly difficult to correct. Control must be achieved by the proper use and timing of rewards and by directing the puppy to display appropriate responses rather than through physical techniques that can lead to fear and anxiety.

When is the best time to begin training my puppy?

Formal dog training has traditionally been delayed until 6 months of age. Actually, this juvenile stage is a poor time to begin training. The dog is beginning to solidify adult behavioral patterns, challenge behavior is emerging, and behaviors that they have learned in puppyhood may need to be changed. Therefore, it is best to begin teaching puppies from the time they are obtained. One important task to begin early is to establish you as the leader. This can be done by rewarding desirable responses, training the dog to obey commands, avoiding the reinforcement of behaviors that are initiated by your dog and training the dog to accept some simple body handling techniques.

Are physical exercises necessary for gaining control?

Although there are many physical techniques that have been advocated for gaining control, it is the owners’ attitudes, actions, and responses to the new puppy (along with the puppy’s genetics) that are most important in the puppy becoming either well-mannered and responsive, or assertive, stubborn, disobedient and “domineering”.

Dog training literature has often discussed using scruff shakes and rollover techniques to discipline puppies. However, these physical techniques do not mimic how dogs would communicate with each other and such handling by a human could lead to fear, anxiety and even retaliation. Training is intended to teach the dog what you want, rather than discipline what you don’t want. This makes a positive learning environment for the puppy to grow up in. There may be a number of advantages to teaching your puppy to assume subordinate postures (on their side, on their back, hands on neck, hand stroking the top of the head, hand grasping muzzle) but this does not mean that they teach your dog to be subordinate in its relationship to you. Having an obedient, well behaved dog that enjoys handling and accepts restraint should be a focus of puppy training, but needs to be accomplished through reward based training, avoiding punishment and confrontational based training techniques and gradually accustoming your dog to enjoy handling. (See new puppy handling).

How can I gain control without physical exercises?

The best way for each family member to take control is to teach your puppy that each reward must be earned. This is also the best way to insure that undesirable puppy behaviors are not inadvertently reinforced. The puppy should learn to display subordinate, deferential postures through reward training, rather than through any type of force. Begin with some basic obedience training, teaching the puppy to ‘sit’, ‘stay’ and ‘lie down’ for rewards. Practice short sessions, multiple times each day. Whenever the puppy is to receive anything of value (affection, attention, food, play and walks) the puppy should first be taught to earn its reward by performing a simple obedience task such as ‘sit’ or ‘stay’. Teach the puppy that rewards of any sort will never be given on demand. This is also known as ‘nothing in life is free’, a term coined by veterinary behaviorist, Victoria Voith, or “learn to earn” as described by William Campbell. The puppy must be taught that vocalization, nipping, mouthing, overly rambunctious, or demanding behaviors of any sort will never earn rewards. In fact, these behaviors should be met by inattention, by confining the puppy for a few minutes until it settles down, or with training devices and commands that get the puppy to exhibit the desired response. Another option is to immediately control and calm the puppy with a head collar (See our handout on Biting – play biting and mouthing in puppies for details). Rewards should be given as soon as the puppy is performing an appropriate response (See handout on puppy training sit and down).

Set limits on the puppy so that it does not learn that it can control you. Having the puppy sleep in its own bed or own cage rather than on your bed or couch, helps to prevent the dog from gaining control or becoming possessive of your resources. When the puppy is taken for walks it should be taught to follow. This should begin at the front door where the puppy should be taught to sit, wait, and follow, and never allowed to lead or pull you through the doorway.

How do I prevent my puppy from doing damage or getting into mischief?

The rule of thumb for dog training is “set the dog up for success”. Supervise the puppy at all times until it has learned what it is allowed to chew, and where it is supposed to eliminate. Keeping the puppy on a 10-foot remote leash is an excellent way to keep it in sight, and to train it not to wander off. This is particularly helpful with a highly investigative puppy or for a very busy household.

At any time that the puppy cannot be supervised, such as throughout the night or when you need to go out, house it in a secure area. An escape-proof crate, a dog run, or collapsible pen are simple, highly effective, and most important, safe. The puppy could also be confined to a room that has been carefully dog-proofed. When selecting your dog’s confinement area it is useful to consider a number of factors. The dog will adapt fastest to the new area if it is associated with rewards. Have the puppy enter the area for all its treats, toys, and perhaps food and water. The area should have some warm, dry, comfortable bedding, and should never be used for punishment (although it can, and should, be used to prevent problems). Housing the puppy in isolated areas where there is minimal human contact, such as in a laundry room or basement, should be avoided. In fact, often the best area is a kitchen (so that this can also be the dog’s feeding area) or a bedroom (so that it becomes the dog’s sleeping area). Each time the puppy needs to be confined, it should first be well exercised and given an opportunity to eliminate. Another consideration in selecting the type of confinement area is how long you may need to leave the dog alone. You must provide an area for elimination anytime the puppy will be left alone for longer than it can control its elimination. A room or collapsible pen with a paper-covered area would be needed. A cage or crate could be used for owners that do not have to leave their puppies confined for longer than 3 or 4 hours (See crate training handout for instructions on crate training your puppy).

What is the best way to punish my puppy for misbehavior?

Every effort should be made to avoid punishment for new puppies as it is generally unnecessary and can lead to avoidance of family members, at a time when bonding and attachment is critical. By preventing problems through confinement or supervision, providing for all of the puppy’s needs, and setting up the environment for success, little or no punishment should ever be required. If a reprimand is needed, a verbal “no” or a loud noise is usually sufficient to distract a puppy so that you can then redirect the puppy to the correct behavior. Puppies that are supervised with a remote leash can be immediately interrupted with a pull on the leash. (See our handout on ‘Punishment’ for further details).

What should I do if my puppy misbehaves?

Undesirable misbehavior must be prevented, or corrected in the act. Allowing the puppy, even once to perform an undesirable behavior such as entering a restricted room, jumping up, mounting or jumping onto the couch will serve to reward and encourage the repetition of the behavior.

There will be times when your new puppy misbehaves. How you respond to the puppy will often influence later interactions. Young puppies are very impressionable. Harsh physical reprimands are contraindicated. They only serve to frighten the puppy and perhaps make them hand shy. Unfortunately, animals can learn in one trial if something is averse enough. We want young puppies to look toward a human hand as something pleasant that brings comfort, food and affection. Most puppies can be easily interrupted with vocal intonation and loud noises. What is equally important is to redirect the puppy to the correct behavior after you interrupt what you do not like. Remember that punishment must take place while the behavior is occurring, not after.

If you catch your puppy misbehaving, try a loud noise such as clapping your hands or a loud “uh-uh”. Remember, reprimands need to occur while the behavior is happening, preferably just as it begins, and never after. Often puppies will be startled when they hear these noises and temporarily stop the behavior. At that time you should redirect the puppy to a more appropriate task and reinforce with an immediate and positive ‘good dog’.

Another way to interrupt your puppy is with various types of noise devices. One such device is a “shake can”. This is an empty soda can that has a few pennies inside and then is taped shut. When given a vigorous shake it makes a loud noise, which will interrupt the puppy’s behavior. Ultrasonic and sonic dog-training devices are also available (See our handout on ‘Behavior management products’).

The most important thing that you can do to avoid undesirable behavior is to supervise your puppy. Unsupervised puppies will chew and destroy objects as part of their natural curiosity and play. Rather than finding yourself with the need to reprimand your puppy, keep your puppy on a leash to avoid bad behaviors. Always provide suitable play objects designed to entertain your puppy so that it will not want to destroy your possessions (See our handout on ‘Destructiveness – chewing’ for ideas). Most importantly, if you find something that your puppy has destroyed but you did not catch him in the act, just clean it up and vow to supervise your puppy better in the future. Do not go get your puppy and bring him over to the mess and yell and physically discipline him. Remember that you need to punish the behavior you wish to change at the time it occurs. If you did not see your puppy chew up the object, all you are doing is disciplining your puppy for being present at a mess on the floor. Since that makes no sense to your puppy, your reprimands could create fear and anxiety, which could lead to aggression and owner avoidance.

How can I prevent problems?

Supervise the puppy at all times that it is not confined to ensure that the puppy does not get itself into mischief, or cause damage to itself or the home. Leaving a remote leash attached is all that is usually needed to prevent or interrupt inappropriate behavior such as garbage raiding, chewing on household items, house-soiling, or wandering off into rooms or areas that are out of bounds. If the leash is attached to a head halter you can quickly correct other problems that might arise, such as nipping, play biting, and jumping up. When the puppy cannot be supervised, confinement (discussed above) will be necessary. See our handout on housetraining for guidance in training your puppy to eliminate in the proper location.

What can be done for the particularly stubborn, disobedient, or headstrong puppy?

Puppies that are particularly headstrong and stubborn might need some fairly stringent rules. Tug-of-war games should only be allowed if the owner initiates the game, and can successfully call an end to the game, with an ‘out’, or ‘give’ command when it is time to call it quits (See our handout on ‘Controlling stealing and teaching give’). Rough play must not escalate to uncontrollable play biting that cannot be controlled by the owner.

One of the best management tools for gaining safe and effective control at all times is a head collar. The puppy can be supervised and controlled from a distance by leaving a long line or leash attached to the head halter. The principle of halter training is to gain control over the dog with as much natural communication as possible and without the use of punishment. Positive reinforcement is used to encourage proper behavior. A pull on the leash is used to disrupt misbehavior. Since the halter is attached to the dog’s muzzle, common behavior problems (nipping, barking, jumping up, pulling, stealing food, etc.) can immediately be interrupted without fear or pain by pulling on the leash. The halter places pressure around the muzzle and behind the neck. This simulates the muzzle and neck restraint that a leader or mother dog might apply to a subordinate, and therefore is a highly effective and natural form of control (See our handout on ‘Management devices in dog training’).

What must I do to provide for my puppy’s needs?

Chewing, play, exercise, exploration, feeding, social contact and elimination are basic requirements of all puppies. By providing appropriate outlets for each of these needs, few problems are likely to emerge. Puppies should be given chew toys that interest them and occupy their time. When supervised, the owner can allow the puppy to investigate and explore its new environment and can direct the puppy to the appropriate chew toys (and away from inappropriate areas). Play, exercise, affection, training, and handling must all be part of the daily routine. New tasks, new routines, new people and new forms of handling can be associated with rewards to ensure success. And, of course, the puppy will need to be provided with an acceptable area for elimination, and will need guidance until it learns to use this area.