Top Tips on Puppy Raising from the Experts (Guide)

How to train your puppy, what to do about the zoomies, and house training... Common questions about caring for puppies answered by the experts.

A Golden Retriever puppy lies down and chews a toy. Top tips on puppy raising from the experts
Photo: Photology1971/Shutterstock

By Zazie Todd, PhD 

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Puppies are so cute! It must be wonderful to have one, right? But it can also be exhausting. And the need to socialize your puppy can feel like a big responsibility.

We know that once people have had a puppy before, they typically do a better job of the socialization and training. They’ve learned from their earlier experience.

But what if this is the first time you’ve got a puppy? It's very common to have questions about the best things to do to socialize and train your puppy. And let's face it, even an experienced puppy guardian can have questions.

I asked some of North America's top experts for their tips for new puppy parents. Check out these questions and answers for ways to raise your puppy game. And share with friends and family too. 

I’m getting advice from all my friends and family and can’t figure out what’s the best way to punish my new puppy?

Answered by Tim Steele, Behavior Matters Academy (TwitterFacebook).

I remember when I got my tiny little bundle of energy who bit me, ran away when I called, and pooped in the living room while looking right at me. 

Sometimes I laughed. Sometimes I wondered what I’d gotten myself into. And sometimes I was downright angry. 

So, I read all the books my library carried. And some of them told me to punish her with some pretty forceful methods. And I did it. But I didn’t like the results - she seemed less trusting of my hands which sometimes meant cuddles and sometimes meant that something scary was going to happen. 

So, I did more reading and learned better ways. What I learned is what I try to do now with every dog I’m working with: Teach them what you want them to do and don’t worry too much about the less-preferred behaviors. Dogs do what works to produce a consequence they want (like a yummy treat) and they’ll stop doing things that don’t produce a desired outcome. 

So, if we teach them that pooping outside gets them a treat, they’ll start pooping outside and not inside. If we teach them that coming to us results in a big payout of something especially tasty, they’ll learn to come reliably. If we give them a legal outlet for chewing and make it fun, they’ll play with toys instead of our hands. 

No, it won’t be perfect and yes, it will take lots of repetitions for some things. For those moments when you can’t take it anymore, gently place them in a crate if they are crate trained or perhaps a playpen if they’re more comfortable there. 

Nothing is more important than making sure your puppy sees you as the source of good things, fun, and safety. You’ll have the rest of their lives to teach them behaviors but your first months are key to establishing your relationship. Make the most of that time.

Two puppies play together, sitting on a wooden floor. It looks as if one is whispering in the other's ear
Photo: atiger/Shutterstock

My puppy seems to just lose her mind a couple of times a day. She zooms and bites, and barks and I don’t know what to do!

Answered by Linda Green, Green Dogs Training.

Dogs are crepuscular creatures (more active at dusk and dawn), and puppies generally have at least a couple of periods of really active, intense play every day that coincide with these times of day. This is normal puppy behavior, even if it seems that your puppy has temporarily lost her mind and is unreachable. As your puppy grows into adolescence, these frenetic periods tend to decrease in frequency and intensity. 

Rather than try to settle your puppy down during these periods (which likely won’t work and will be frustrating for both of you), try rearranging your schedule a bit to accommodate your puppy’s need to zoom. The good news is that even 10 minutes of focused, dedicated activities with your pup at these times of day can often fulfill your puppy’s activity needs at those moments and channel the out-of control behaviors that tend to present at these two times of day in particular.

Rearranging your schedule can be difficult if you also have human puppies. This frenetic time seems to overlap in both species! Ask for help if you can, and remember that your pup will mature out of this fairly quickly. 

If possible, try to set up your puppy’s morning and late afternoon routine to fulfill her needs and to give her a predictable structure to allow her to blow off steam and then enjoy some quieter independent enrichment while you take care of other familial responsibilities. Routine is really important for puppies.

Most younger puppies get up in the early morning and need to go out to relieve themselves immediately. Then they are ready to rumble, and they are also hungry. They are not going to let you go back to bed for another 15 minutes of snoozing after they potty. 

A brown labrador puppy lies down with a rope toy. Top puppy tips from the experts

This is a great time to toss toys, play chase, take a sniffari or a morning walk, play tug or use a flirt pole with your pup for 10 to 15 minutes. After they have gotten some of their energy out, you can feed their breakfast in a food-dispensing puzzle toy, and take them out for another potty break. After burning off some energy and filling their tummies, most pups are receptive to a nap or some quiet time in their crate with a delicious chew object, giving you time to shower and dress, get the kids up and breakfasted, laundry done, or otherwise get the human half of the household ready for the day.

Problems arise when the human half of the team gets the pup up and out for a potty break, and then tries to multitask (or cuddle with you while you go back to bed). Pups have recharged their batteries for 8 to 12 hours during the night and they NEED to expend that energy! Guide them here or they will invent fun games that humans tend not to enjoy so much!

The second frenetic period in the day usually coincides with early evening/dinner time for families; somewhere between 4 and 6 pm. I often refer to this as the ‘witching hour’ because both canine and human young can be really intense about this time of day. If you have come home tired from work and want to chill for a bit, you are likely going to find yourself at odds with your pup, who may have been snoozing for hours and is ready for action.

Some structured and interactive play, sniffing and nosework games, a training session, game of chase, tug, flirt, or a good off-leash play session with other dogs or humans in the late afternoon/early evening will help your pup channel that over-the-top energy into positive and non-destructive areas, and help you build your bond with your pup. If your pup is social, dog-dog play is one of the best ways for your pup to spend that energy, tiring her out physically, mentally and emotionally.

On days when you are too tired or don’t have the time, look into a good doggy daycare or dog walker to help your pup channel that excess energy in positive ways, allowing both of you to relax and chill on the sofa on those long work days. 

Chewing is highly engaging and relaxing for most dogs, so if you really need your pup to settle during a frenetic period, a high-value chew like a bully stick or stuffed Kong can deflect the zoomies temporarily while you take that unplanned Zoom call. But dogs NEED to move, chase and play, so try to program times in your day to allow your dog to be a dog and do her version of Zoom!

Help! I’m not getting any sleep. What do I do?

Answered by K. Holden Svirsky (Instagram)

Puppyhood is exhausting. My sleeping and eating patterns changed significantly when I brought home my puppy, funnily enough named ZZ. I got way fewer “Zs” and I swear, I used to actually plan and cook meals other than macaroni & cheese! 

While most people understand and expect to be losing sleep with a new, human baby in the home, we don’t think about how the same caretaking rituals and sacrifices are required for baby dogs. And most jobs don’t give pup-ternity leave!

The good news is that puppyhood is much, much shorter than childhood. Even if it feels like it will never happen, you will eventually get back to a more normal routine.

To get there as efficiently as possible, do the following:

Write down exactly what your puppy’s schedule is today. For every hour of a 24 hour cycle, write down whether your puppy is awake or asleep. 

Try to use this information to plan your own sleep times (“sleep when the baby sleeps”).

Set alarms on your smartphone for mid-night potty breaks.

Then, each day, systematically push back these potty breaks by five minutes per night.

It can be incredibly helpful to have a co-parent. I’m a night-owl so I give my puppy his last potty break at 11:00pm after everyone is asleep. A family member takes him out first thing at 6:00am so I can sleep in. After the 6:00am potty break, he goes back into his crate next to my bed to sleep until I wake up. The 6:00am break used to be a 3:00am and 6:00am break, but I slowly pushed them back. Eventually my puppy will sleep until I wake up.

It’s worth repeating that this is temporary. Dogs grow up fast. And most dogs need much more sleep than humans. Your puppy will eventually sleep through the night (and probably take a mid-day nap too!).

A Golden Retriever rolls around on the lawn, playing with a toilet roll
Photo: Daniel Maas/Unsplash

I just don’t have time to train my new puppy. 

Answered by Eileen Holst, Great Day Dog Training

There’s no doubt about it, puppies keep you busy. Adding those extra responsibilities on to work, family and life obligations can sometimes feel overwhelming. 

Even so, bringing home a puppy who will depend on you for over a decade for their health and happiness means you will have to fit them into your schedule.  

Here’s the good news, you don’t have to do everything right now. Prioritize the two things that will be the foundation for a happy future for your puppy and you: socialization and housetraining. 

Being comfortable around what life brings them will make for a content dog. Not having pee and poop in the house will make for a content human. 

Once those are under your belt, carve out the time for a basic manners class, leash training, enrichment or any other tools you will need for a long, joyful life with your dog.

I took my puppy out to pee but they didn’t pee. What should I do?

Answered by Vanessa Charbonneau, Sit Pretty Pet Services, and author of Dog Care for Puppies: A Guide to Feeding, Playing, Grooming, and Behavior. (Facebook, Instagram).

I would encourage you to take your puppy outside for bathroom breaks on a leash to keep them from getting distracted or playing, as well as taking them to a consistent ‘potty spot’ in the yard. 

Once at the spot, stop and become a statue – avoid talking to or interacting with your puppy, as this can sidetrack them from the task at hand. 

When your puppy does eliminate, have a celebration! Use treats, praise and, if safe to do so, unclip their leash and transition into backyard play time to reward them for their potty success!

When your puppy does not eliminate during a potty outing, we consider them “full,” meaning, they might have to go at any minute! These puppies are at risk of having an accident in the house, so I recommend utilizing some sort of confinement, such as a crate or exercise pen, to limit their access.

The smaller confinement area is to encourage your puppy to hold their bladder until their next potty break. As a rule, puppies don’t usually like to eliminate where they sleep, so will be less inclined to soil in this area. 

Confine your puppy for about 10-15 minutes then take them outside to the potty spot to try again. You should repeat this process of potty break, 10-minute confinement, and so on until your puppy successfully eliminates during a potty trip, at which point we consider them ‘empty’, and they are much safer to give freedom (within reason) to inside the house!

A brown and white puppy with blue eyes looks soulfully at the camera
Photo: Jeremy Tremblay/Unsplash

My puppy won’t walk! He sits down and won’t budge. It is so frustrating! What am I to do?  

Answered by Bonnie Hartney, Ocean Park Dog Training (Facebook, Instagram).

Puppy parents report it happens with every neighbourhood walk. Luring with food sometimes helps but forward progress is painstakingly slow. Amazingly once they turn around, the puppy happily walks home.

So what could be going on? Why are confident, curious puppies unwilling to go forward?

I discovered anecdotally 4 out of 5 puppies won’t walk, which suggests the behaviour may be hardwired. Could there be an evolutionary advantage afforded to puppies who stay close to home?

When we consider that puppies are defenceless, it makes sense. Historically stay-at-home pups survived. Those who wandered away were picked off by predators. Natural selection favours puppies who stay near their home den.  

Our modern pet dogs may very well have retained those ancient genes.

So if you have a puppy who won’t walk, stop and celebrate this amazing connection to the past. Be patient as it probably feels wrong for the puppy to leave home. Fortunately that feeling doesn’t last long.

In fact, the behaviour seems to fade about the time adult teeth come in. What a beautiful adaptation to keep puppies safe until better equipped to defend themselves.

Let me share a tip. If you have a puppy who puts on the brakes, first take her for a short drive or carry for a distance. The puppy will then merrily walk forward to experience positive socialization in your community.  Happy walking!

My friend said to make sure my puppy doesn’t become possessive about her food by sticking my hand in her bowl while she’s eating. But my puppy seems to get annoyed when I do this.

 Answered by Jessica Ring, My Fantastic Friend (Facebook, Instagram).

It’s a great idea to teach your puppy to love when you come near while they’re eating or chewing. 

Even though resource guarding or possessiveness of coveted items is a completely normal behavior for dogs—it was helpful to their ancestor’s survival after all—we can teach puppies that there’s no need to guard their treasures from humans. 

Rather than worry or annoy your puppy by putting your hand in her food dish, let’s instead teach her that fabulous things happen for her when you come nearby while she’s eating. 

At first, walk past her at a distance and toss a special treat near or into the food bowl. Make sure the treat is something much better than the food she’s got in the bowl. 

If she’s totally comfortable, and ideally perking up with anticipation of the yummy bonus, gradually walk closer to the bowl. 

The sequence is important. 1) Walk near the bowl. 2) Reach for and toss the tasty bonus. 3) Walk away and pause for a bit before repeating. 

Pretty soon, your puppy will look forward to you coming near when she’s eating, because it means something even more fabulous for her! You can do the same thing when your puppy is working a chew. (Please note that a qualified trainer can help if your pup is showing more serious signs of resource guarding.)

A cute malamute puppy cuddles a cushion with a red heart in front
Photo: Africa Studio/Shutterstock

My puppy was fine the first few times she got her nails trimmed at the vet, but the last time I took her, they said she was growling and biting and screaming and they couldn’t do her nails. I don’t understand, she lets me touch her paws when she’s cuddling with me. How do I convince my puppy to not be aggressive for nail trims? 

Answered by Joan Forry, The Dog Abides (Facebook, Instagram)

This is a very common issue! Puppies who were once amenable to body handling at 10 weeks old can develop aversions to handling and husbandry procedures as they age. 

We can think of our puppy’s experiences with body handling like a bank account. Every happy experience your puppy has with handling is like a ten dollar deposit. 

We have to work hard to build up the balance in your puppy’s account to insure that they’ll continue to feel happy about handling. If your puppy has a worrisome experience, think of it like a fifty dollar withdrawal. You’ll have to replenish and repay that withdrawal to get your puppy’s account balance back up to where it was. If your puppy only has $70 in their account, a $50 withdrawal is going to feel huge. But, if your puppy has $1500 in their account, that $50 withdrawal may not be so dire. 

Unfortunately, many puppies’ accounts become overdrawn quickly with scary experiences. We should always aim to avoid withdrawals and keep that balance growing and growing. 

We can best prevent the development of aversion to handling, and subsequent fear and aggression, by using training to help our dogs be comfortable with body handling. It’s never too early to start on this kind of training! 

How do I do this kind of training? Here are my five tips for getting started: 

1. Break it down into small parts. Start with merely reaching for your puppy’s paw, touching lightly for a second or two, and then feeding them a piece of chicken.

2. Use food. Always follow up any kind of handling with something delicious for your puppy. Yes, *always.* Always introduce new tools, like nail clippers and files, with a generous followup of delicious food. All your puppy has to do is notice the implement in the first steps to begin to build a positive emotional response.

3. Be aware of context. Touching paws during a cuddle session is nice, but it’s very different than trimming nails, just like kissing is not the same as going to the dentist. In addition, your puppy might be perfectly fine with you touching them at home, but they might be worried about strangers touching them or they might be worried about being touched when they’re in a strange environment. Practice in lots of environments. 

4. Let your dog say “no.” If your puppy pulls away, runs away, growls, or bites, stop! Your puppy is using the tools they have to express their feelings and preferences about what is happening. They are not being mean, dominant, dramatic, or stubborn. If you force them, you risk the behavior getting worse. It’s okay to take a step back in your training if your puppy is uncomfortable. 

5. Ask for help. If you’re having trouble, reach out to a qualified trainer for help. This is not something your puppy will grow out of, or something that will get better on its own. This is an issue that can compromise your dog’s welfare over the course of their lifespan. Early, careful intervention with an incremental training plan is essential. In addition to guiding your training, your trainer should be able to guide you to the appropriate tools for your puppy. We are so lucky to live in a time where we have lots of creative solutions for managing our dogs’ nail care! Scratchboards, grinders, and files are lovely alternatives to clippers. 

Above all, remember that your puppy is your friend! Help your friend feel good about nail trims and body handling so they can enjoy a long, happy life of pedicures and handling. 

A little brown poodle puppy rests on the floor in front of a settee
Ruta Zukauskaite/Shutterstock

My vet said not to let my puppy meet other dogs until they’re fully vaccinated.  

Answered by Maria Karunungan of Fetch the Leash (Facebook, Instagram).

Your veterinarian’s expertise is primarily medical (unless they are a veterinary behaviorist), with some overlap into behavior because, as we know, nothing in life operates in a clean, compartmentalized vacuum. 

I like to weigh opinions like these by asking what the specific risks are, and if there are areas to avoid while engaging in the important endeavor of socializing your puppy. For example, it’s possible that there is a local outbreak of parvovirus in the area, and if that is the case, your veterinarian is highly likely to know this. 

The risks of being partially vaccinated should be weighed against the behavioral risks of not getting your puppy vital life experiences that could teach them that the world is mostly safe. 

The AVSAB has a position statement that strongly urges puppy owners to socialize their puppies during the first three months of life. 

“Incomplete or improper socialization during this important time can increase the risk of behavioral problems later in life including fear, avoidance, and/or aggression. 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.” 

The fact that behavioral issues stemming from lack of socialization can actually be more life threatening, and pose greater statistical risk than medical issues stemming from exposure to disease, puts many puppy owners in a quandary. 

I recommend navigating this by finding safe opportunities to let your puppy experience the world. One example includes puppy classes. Screen your puppy class options by asking the trainer if floors are disinfected, and if other puppies are required to show proof their vaccine series has started -- the answer to both questions should be yes. 

Also ask if the class allows puppies to play with each other during class. The answer to that, ideally, is also yes. (See Zazie Todd’s writing on puppy play in puppy classes). 

The benefit from classes is that your puppy not only gets to meet other puppies in a safe environment, but also has the added benefit of the trainer’s expertise to help manage play. Do choose a trainer that will only use reward-based methods and will not use aversive techniques with your puppy -- as this can completely undermine your socialization efforts if your puppy becomes scared or frightened. 

Other options include introducing your puppy to friends’ and neighbors’ dogs, provided they are vaccinated, well-cared for, and enjoy playing with puppies. Posting to a local online community forum seeking like-minded puppy owners in your area might be a great way to organize some quality socialization, while allowing you to establish some ground rules for the meet-up (such as venue, and proof that vaccines have been started). 

And of course, socialization is not only about meeting other dogs, but really about providing your puppy with a broad range of experiences that signal to them that new things in life are fun, and safe.

I was standing outside my local supermarket with my puppy in my arms, with the aim of socializing them. But someone saw me giving my puppy treats and came over and yelled that I was spoiling them and needed to show them who’s boss. What should I have done?

Isn’t it frustrating when a self-appointed dog “expert” gives you unwanted “advice”—especially when they are rude about it too? 

First of all, well done for taking your puppy to a safe place for socialization. Not everyone knows it, but your puppy simply observing other people from a safe distance counts as socialization. It’s really important to give puppies a wide range of positive experiences during the sensitive period for socialization (which is from 3 until about 12-14 weeks). 

Unfortunately when someone comes and yells at you, that’s likely no longer a positive experience. So it’s great that you had treats handy because whenever anything seems to be going a bit wrong, you can use treats to try and turn it into a positive experience, and also get some distance from the thing (or person) that is potentially upsetting your puppy. Try not to get rattled yourself, and use a bit of happy talk to help your pup along too. 

Sadly, dog training is not regulated, and a lot of people still have outdated ideas about how to train dogs and puppies. So there are still a lot of people out there whose “advice” will be completely wrong. It’s generally best to ignore them. In a situation like this where someone is hard to ignore, you can always say “Sorry I have to go now,” and go away. You don’t owe them an explanation and you don’t have to get in an argument with them.

In the long run, hopefully people will get more clued up about dog behaviour. Sharing posts with good information (like this one) will help to spread the word. 

Wag is a clear and compassionate guide to bringing out the best in your dog
Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy

P.S. Sign up now to get my free guide, Seven Secrets to a Happy Dog and learn how to have a better relationship with your pet. 

Zazie Todd, PhD, is the award-winning author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy and Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy. She is the creator of the popular blog, Companion Animal Psychology and also has a column at Psychology Today. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband, one dog, and two cats. 

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