The rescued pups we bring to the UK have to be over 15wks old due to import restrictions. The pups will often have spent most of that time in kennels with other young dogs. Even the pups that have a good start in life, because their mum has arrived pregnant at the shelter and start in a foster homes, are likely to have the last month in kennels, as a litter of 15wk old pups is hard for any foster home.
This means that the pups do not have the usual socialisation that one tries to give a pup when you pick them up at 8wks old. The introductions to a variety of people, places, older dogs and different situations just don’t happen in the crucial first 16wks of the pup’s life. Is this a total disaster? No! But you should be aware and ready to help your pup catch up on this missed education whilst being aware that this big bad world may now look quite scary and daunting to the sheltered adolescent. They may not be used to meeting new dogs, new people, cats, passing traffic, household items like the washing machine, hoover, TV, windows, mirrors, stairs and lawn mowers.
What does this mean? And what should you do?
- The pup may be physically 75% grown and look more teenager than pup, he may be substantially bigger than your cat so do bare that in mind if planning cat introductions.
- They may be used to playing with siblings / young dogs and treat you, your cat and your dogs in the same way. This may be tough puppy bites and relentless rough play. Be aware that the puppy teeth will soon be falling out, so the sharp needles will be replaced by larger teeth. You will need to spend time playing with your pup and redirecting the puppy mouthing onto suitable toys. You must ensure that weaker family members (dog / cat / child) have a break from the puppy play when they need it and you should have puppy activities up your sleeve to distract and occupy them (tearing up cardboard / chasing a hanging carrot / digging in a suitable area).
- Because the pups have lived in a sheltered environment so much will be new (and scary). It is easy to overwhelm a pup so take things slowly and watch the body language of the pup to see if they are comfortable with this new experience. Try to take things at the pup’s speed, let them approach the new visitors, the garden or the scary hoover, let them explore things at their own speed and have a safe zone (dogs bed / mat under table) where they can retreat to and watch from if they wish.
- Just like humans going through adolescence, all puppies have periods when they tend to loose some self-confidence (imagine the spotty teenager who suddenly can’t look anyone in the eye and hardly speaks), these are called the first and second fear periods. In these periods things that were not scary last week can suddenly become overwhelming. It is really useful if you can recognise the body language of your pup, their fear may be expressed with the position of the ears, furrowed brow, tail tucked in, crouching posture, wide eyes, lip licking, staring, panting, turning head away from the scary thing, greater reactivity to other dogs. If you recognise that the dog is fearful or stressed, even if you don’t understand why they are, you should take action. The way you handle the situation may have a big impact on how they react in the same situation next time. Try to stay relaxed and patient. If you know your puppy is struggling, step back a pace so they are further from the scary thing and try to re-assure them, pair the thing they are worried about with something they like (maybe some treats). Let the puppy investigate the new scary thing / person / dog in its own time, don’t force the situation. Your job is to show your puppy that these things are not scary, will not hurt them and can be safely ignored or even enjoyed.
- Do have a read of some of our other blogs as they are very relevant to the puppies as well as older dogs ….
- Some fear in puppies is perfectly normal and dog behaviourists have a wealth of techniques to help them overcome it. Here are two of them.. Desensitisation – this means exposing your puppy to the scary / exciting trigger for a just a little bit at a time, but not near enough or long enough to make the puppy feel stressed, vulnerable, overwhelmed or overexcited, this is known as working below the threshold. Over time the pup may happily move nearer the object or be exposed to it for longer. The idea is to increase the exposure at a pace the dog is comfortable with and not elicit a fear response. Counter conditioning – this is building positive associations between a scary situation and something good (yummy treats / ball). You need to be in a position where the pup has clocked that the scary thing is nearby but not close enough to be overwhelming (below threshold), and then the treats arrive. Building positive associations for the pup will make your life much easier long-term, even if sometimes it may feel like one step forward two steps back.
- Further reading … a couple of books we would recommend are …
Crates.. Many trainers will recommend crate training a puppy, but we don’t and here is why..
Our pups are having to adapt faster than an 8wk old UK pup, they come as an un-socialised 16wk pup from a kennel with lots of dog company, they arrive after a long road trip and suddenly their world is turned on its head. They land in a home with humans and possibly older dogs and they recognise nothing, inevitably this is going to be a scary period. These pups needs reassurance, human companionship and confidence building. One way to build confidence is to allow the puppy choices (just make sure you manage the available choices, so they can only make good decisions). Ideally this will include where and when they wish to rest, so shutting them in a crate, cut off from you (possibly their only current source of solace) and removing their choice is far from ideal. Some people like to use an open crate as an optional indoor kennel for the dog which can work well, but please do not be tempted to shut them in. If you are struggling with house training or chewing then get in touch with your rehomer, there may be other options that are fairer to the dog and long term more beneficial to the trust you are trying to build with your new friend. A new pup cannot be left for long periods and do take a lot of your time, playing and training them, a crate should not be used as a quick solution. Often a dogs bed alongside your bed overnight is a good place to start with puppies, you can remain in contact overnight and wake when they need a wee. You can reassure them with a hand and you never have the heartbreak of listening to them cry.