Don’t Traumatize Your Puppy
While severe abuse can lead to more disastrous, lifelong problems — such as biting and aggression — veterinarians say that it’s the more subtle traumas that cause the most common behavioral problems. If a puppy endures rough handling by a groomer, or faces negative forms of punishment, like a choke chain, it can grow up to be a difficult dog.
Fortunately, these smaller traumas often can be reversed — especially if the owner seeks help from a professional trainer or animal behaviorist.
Too often, Hughes says, owners will yank on the leash, yell at their puppy or hit their dog. Some people still think it’s OK to rub the puppy’s nose in its urine if it has an accident inside.
"If you do this, puppies learn to fear you," Hughes explains. But they don’t learn much else. "They know you are angry, but they don’t know why," she adds.
A better approach would be to notice that your puppy needs to go, let it out and then give it tons of praise and a treat when the puppy successfully goes to the bathroom outside.
"It’s all about positive reinforcement," Hughes says. In fact, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior endorses this approach (using positive rewards instead of negative techniques) in its new statement on punishment. For details, visit this page.
The wisest puppy owners start their dog in obedience training right away, instead of waiting until a problem arises and trying to correct it after the fact.
For many puppies, the first grooming appointment can be traumatic. When people come at them with clippers and start trimming around their eyes and ears, young dogs can become fearful. To prevent this reaction, owners need to prepare their puppies beforehand.
"We teach the owners to rub their puppy’s gums and to handle their puppy’s ears and paws, and to do this with a lot of positive reinforcement," says Sheldon Rubin, DVM, of Blum Animal Hospital in Chicago. "That way, the puppy knows that if someone touches its ears, it’s not a negative thing."
At home, clipping nails too short is a common mistake. For more information on the correct way to do it, see healthypet.com.
Rubin suggests giving lots of praise, hugs and treats before and after the first grooming session. The same goes for veterinarian visits. "The animals should be excited to go there," Hughes says. "If you make it a positive experience, they’ll be happy to go."
Experts at the East Bay Animal Hospital in California offer a great primer on socializing your puppy so that it will get used to city noises, new pets and children that are encountered at home or out in the world.
"If you start out with a puppy," Rubin says, “you have a great deal to do with its social life and how it’s going to interact with people and other animals."
Melissa Knopper is a freelance writer based in Denver, Colo.