The best age to bring a puppy home is at 8-10 weeks. That said, bringing an older puppy home doesn’t mean your dog won’t have any social skills. The slightly younger puppy is at a perfect time time for bonding and learning. Older puppies can also be worked with a good bond created.

small puppy in teacup

The primary socialization period for puppies is between the 3rd and 12th week. An increase in social play is seen around 7-8 weeks, with hypersensitivity to unknowns happening between 6 and 8 weeks of age. Ideally, puppies should be introduced to most of the situations they will encounter as adults before the age of 14 weeks.

House-training and Rules

One of the first things your puppy must learn is house-training. Some puppies will have been trained by the breeder, some will not; it depends on the breed and breeder. The younger the puppy, the smaller the bladder and the less developed their urinary sphincters are. 

You need to take the puppy outside to an area where you expect dogs to do their business the moment the puppy wakes up in the morning and after every nap, after every meal, after indoor playtime, and last thing at night. The more often you go outside and praise the puppy for going there, the faster your housetraining is more likely to occur.

That said, any outdoor area your puppy goes to needs to be free of other dog and even cat traffic as infectious diseases can occur. If you’re fortunate enough to have a private yard, that’s the best. Otherwise you may expose your puppy to a life threatening disease.

Do not punish a puppy in any way for an indoors accident; it just teaches a puppy not to eliminate in front of you. It’s a learning curve, just as it is for human babies. It may take longer than you think is necessary or possible, but it will happen with enough effort on your part. For the rest of the dog’s life, your time will be ruled by their bladder, but especially now.

Just as puppies must learn house-training, they also need to learn your household rules. If you do not want your adult dog on the furniture, don’t let the puppy on the couch even once. Some dogs do better with being asked or permitted on to the furniture. In other words, they stay off your furniture unless you invite them. 

puppy being trained by owner
Puppy being trained using rewards

Whatever puppies perceive as acceptable behavior, even if you’ve said “just this once,” will be sure to continue. They don’t speak English. The entire family must be on board with the rules and using the same word for the desired response or the puppy will be confused.

As an example, if you want your puppy to leave an object alone, everyone must use the same word or words such as “off” or “leave it.” Alternating or changes commands will be confusing to your puppy.

Social Skills

Puppy play/training or kindergarten is an excellent starting point so that your puppy gets used to other dogs, although you usually have to wait until the puppy is up to date in his / her vaccination series vaccine and Bordetella (kennel cough). 

They learn how to play with dogs that are not litter mates, and how to meet other dogs. Some will be more timid or outgoing than others, but being timid is a red flag and needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. If your puppy is fearful at 12 weeks, you are going to have a fearful adult if you don’t gently and patiently work with them to overcome this issue.

Basic social skills are an absolute must unless you are willing to live with a dog that jumps on your grandmother, begs when you eat, gobbles dropped medication, jumps on the couch and more. Generally speaking, the behavior of such a puppy gets worse as they get older, sometimes to the point where people are unable to handle the dog.

That’s why it’s so important to address unwanted behavior sooner rather than later. Going to training classes and regularly doing the exercises at home is your best bet towards having a dog that you can handle. Understand that training doesn’t train the dog so much as it trains you to train your dog.

Puppies explore the world with their mouths. They have tiny, sharp teeth that can’t do much damage but which can be annoying and somewhat painful if they sink into your hand during “play.” Mouthy adults are far more annoying and can do more damage.

Although roughhousing will be taken by some children and puppies as fun, it can lead to the puppy thinking it’s okay to be rough and bite you. Keep the play gentle.

Puppies need appropriate socialization to grow into dogs that are good with people, children, and other dogs. Some dogs will always be reactive to other dogs no matter what. Remember that socialization is about exposure and, from the dog’s perspective, positive experiences.

Puppies should encounter something new every day. Between 8-12 weeks of age, the puppy should be around people wearing all kinds of things, including hats, beards, large purses, sunglasses, and noisy shoes; puppies; adult dogs; dogs that don’t want to play with puppies and say so; people of different color; children of different ages and sounds; and so on.  

The more positive experiences the puppy has, the more confident they are as adults. They don’t have to meet people, they can be just sitting away from people, and you can reward them as different people go by and your puppy doesn’t react poorly.

The tricky part of this time frame is that it should happen while the puppy is still receiving parts of the vaccination series, which lasts until 4 months (and sometimes past by a few weeks) of age. Those vaccinations are necessary for health and cannot be skipped or delayed.

One solution to the vaccination/socialization issue is play dates with puppies and dogs you know are vaccinated (perhaps from puppy kindergarten or obedience classes, or friends and neighbors); and having people come into your home to introduce your puppy to new things. Stay away from trafficked dog areas and dog parks.

puppies at training class
Puppy class

Puppies are either awake or moving around, playing, running, getting into mischief. As a general rule of thumb, until your puppy has proved themselves trustworthy, they should always be in the same room as you or an adult family member so they are supervised.

What You Need on Day One

Since you will likely have been talking to the people who have the puppy, you have a better chance of having the right equipment at home on Day 1 because you will have had time to prepare, unlike finding a stray. Also, if you shop before the puppy comes home, you won’t bring an immature immune system into the pet supply store where a lot of other dogs have been, giving them a better shot at remaining healthy before their vaccination series is over.  Still, what is necessary on Day 1?

What you will need eventually, but do not have to have on Day One

While individual dogs prefer less affection than others, puppies want it. They want everything from your family: time, affection, love, gentleness, play, exercise.

They must be supervised to see that they don’t ingest ant bait, don’t fall off the deck, are being treated well by family members (no one is pulling the puppy’s tail), aren’t getting out of the yard, and aren’t making a habit of chewing on the couch or peeing behind it. If you find that the puppy is destructive when you leave the house, keep the puppy in the crate when you do leave until the puppy learns the house rules.

What you do now for and with your new family member will pay off in significant dividends for the rest of the dog’s life, whether that’s 6-10 years (average life span of a mastiff) or 14-16 (Chihuahua). Your life will be changed for the better.

If you think after your puppy has been home for two days that you would do anything to save them, think about how you’ll feel in a decade after the human-animal bond has deepened every passing day. 

Toxic Substances for Dogs

Dogs are a different species, so some things we can eat or ingest may essentially poison them. There’s no need to panic if your 120-lb dog eats two M&Ms, but you do need to be concerned if your 20-lb dog eats half of a chocolate cake. If you know what your dog has ingested, you can call ASPCA Poison Control Center for a fee, at (888) 426-4435, or contact a veterinarian immediately.

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