Puppies are constantly learning, whether it’s from their environment, from socializing with people or other animals, or from direct training.
This creates a critical foundation that will set the stage for their adulthood. Providing puppies with the appropriate socialization and basic puppy training allows them to grow into confident adult dogs.
Follow this step-by-step puppy training guide to set you and your puppy up for success!
When Can You Start Training Your Puppy?
Training a puppy starts as soon as you bring them home, which is typically about 8 weeks of age. At this young age, they can learn basic puppy training cues such as sit, stay, and come.
Tips for Training Your Puppy
Here are some basic puppy training tips to get you started.
Use Positive Reinforcement
There are many different methods of training your puppy that you might have heard about or even seen in person with a dog trainer. However, there is only one acceptable and scientifically backed method of training, and that’s the use of positive reinforcement.
Positive reinforcement is the process of giving a reward to encourage a behavior you want. The use of punishment—including harsh corrections; correcting devices such as shock, choke, and prong collars; and dominance-based handling techniques—should be avoided, because these can produce long-term consequences that result in various forms of fear and anxiety for your dog as an adult dog.
To apply this, first find out which rewards work best for your puppy. Some puppies might find something as simple as a piece of their normal kibble exciting enough to train with, while others might need something tastier, like a special training treat.
Then there are the puppies that are not motivated by food at all! For those puppies, try to find a toy they enjoy that they can get when they do a good job. Praise is also a way to positively reinforce a puppy. Petting or showing excitement and saying, “good job!” may be all you need for basic puppy training.
Keep Training Sessions Short
When training a basic cue, keep the sessions short, about 5 minutes each, and try to average a total of 15 minutes per day. Puppies have short attention spans, so end your session on a positive note so that they are excited for the next session!
Use Consistency When Training Your Puppy
It is important to be consistent in your approach to cues and training. Use the same word and/or hand signal when you teach your puppy basic cues such as sit, stay, and come.
It is also important to reinforce desired behaviors consistently, even when it’s not convenient. So if your puppy is at the door needing to go outside to go to the bathroom, stop what you are doing, let them out, and reward them for going to the bathroom outside.
Practice in Different Environments
Taking a puppy to a new environment like a park or the beach and asking for a cue is vastly different than training at your house. This is due to the variety of new sights and smells they will encounter outside the home.
Make attempts to practice in different settings to set your dog up to be confident no matter what their situation. Please keep in mind that puppies should not go to areas where there are a lot of dogs until they have finished their puppy vaccination series!
Puppies are growing and learning, just like young children. They will make mistakes and may not always understand what you are asking.
All puppies learn at different speeds, so stick with it and don’t get frustrated. Maintaining a consistent routine with feeding, potty breaks, naps, and playtime will make your puppy feel secure—and a secure puppy is ready and able to learn!
Basic Puppy Training Timeline
So when do you teach your dog the different cues? When does house-training start? Here’s a puppy training timeline that you can use.
7-8 Weeks Old
Basic Cues (Sit, Stay, Come)
You can start with basic cues as early as 7 weeks old:
Say a cue such as “sit” once.
Use a treat to position your dog into a sitting position.
Once sitting, give your puppy the treat and some praise.
You can start leash training indoors at this age. Because puppies don’t have their full vaccinations at this point, it is unsafe for them to be walking around where other dogs walk.
Start by letting them wear the collar/harness for short amounts of time while providing treats. Increase this duration slowly. Once your puppy knows how to come to you, you can walk around inside on the leash with no distractions. You can move the training outside once your puppy has all their vaccinations.
Get your puppy used to being touched. Gently rub their ears and paws while rewarding them. This will get them used to having those areas touched and will make veterinary visits and nail trims less stressful when they are older!
8-10 Weeks Old
Your puppy should see their crate as a safe and calm place. Start by bringing them to their crate for 10- minute intervals while they are nice and calm. Reward them for going in their crate. You can even feed them in their crate to create a positive environment.
10-12 Weeks Old
Learning Not to Bite
Puppies become mouthy at this age. Putting things in their mouths is how they explore their world, but it is important to teach them not to bite your hands or ankles. When they start biting at you, redirect them to a more appropriate object to bite, such as a toy.
12-16 Weeks Old
Maintaining a schedule is important for potty training. Make sure to take your puppy out first thing in the morning, after eating, and after playtime and naps throughout the day. At this point they should start having enough bladder control to learn to hold it. Reward your puppy with a treat every time they go to the bathroom outside.
6 Months Old
Puppies are entering the adolescence stage by this point, and it is the most difficult stage to start training at. That is why it is important to start training them as young as possible! At this stage you will continue training to solidify and strengthen their skills in more public and distracting settings such as dog parks.
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Shelby Loos, DVM
Dr. Shelby Loos is a 2017 graduate from the University of Florida with a certificate in aquatic animal medicine. After completing a year…
Is your new puppy biting everything they can get their mouths on? Why do puppies bite so much when they are young? Is it normal, or should you be trying to stop your puppy from biting you?
Here’s a breakdown of puppy biting behavior and what you can do to keep your puppy from biting you.
Why Do Puppies Bite?
It’s normal for puppies to use their teeth during play and exploration. Like human babies, it’s how they learn about the world, and it plays an important role in their socialization. And puppies are also going to chew on everything while they are teething.
Here are a few reasons why puppies bite.
Exploring the World
Puppies learn a lot from biting things, including other puppies, their owners, and inanimate objects. They receive sensory information about how hard they can bite that particular object, what it tastes like, and whether they should repeat that behavior or not.
Depending on the taste and consistency of the object, a puppy may continue to bite it.
When puppies explore their new home, you might catch them biting or chewing on furniture, rugs, carpeting, pillows, clothing, shoes, remote controls, window frames, door jambs, their crate, their bed, their food bowl, etc.
What to Do if Your Puppy’s Chewing Your Belongings
Give your puppy a wide variety of puppy toys to chew on, and pick up other household items within their reach that they could chew on.
If you see your puppy biting on inappropriate objects around the house, make a noise to get their attention and then distract them with a toy that they can chew on.
Schedule plenty of play sessions and exercise time with your puppy. If you do not give them enough mental stimulation, they may chew on random items just to keep themselves busy.
Adult teeth start to come in around 12-16 weeks of age, and during this time, you may see an increase in chewing on objects or on you. Your puppy’s gums may be a bit sore as they lose puppy teeth and adult teeth come in.
What to Do if Your Puppy’s Teething
Puppy teething toys can be offered when your puppy is old enough to teethe. These teething toys ease sore gums and are typically made with softer plastic so they won’t hurt the baby teeth or incoming adult teeth.
Supervise your puppy when they play with any toys to make sure that they do not chew off small pieces and swallow them.
Some puppies will exhibit a play bow, and other puppies approach and nip or bite the other puppy’s leg to entice them to play. When puppies bite each other, they learn a very important skill: bite inhibition.
With play biting, puppies learn how much pressure they can apply with their teeth and what happens when they apply that amount of pressure.
For example, let’s say puppy A and puppy B are playing together. When puppy A bites too hard and causes pain in puppy B, puppy B will cry out and refuse to continue to play with puppy A. Puppy B may even move away from puppy A.
Through this interaction, puppy A learns that if he bites that hard, other puppies won’t play with him. So puppy A makes his play bites softer so they don’t provoke pain and cause other puppies to leave.
Some puppies may learn through a one-time process, while other puppies need multiple play sessions with multiple puppies to learn to soften their bite.
Your puppy will try to engage in play by biting you because, to them, this is part of normal dog behavior. When this happens, you will have to teach your puppy not to bite in terms that they understand.
What to Do if Your Puppy’s Biting You to Play
Never encourage your puppy to nip at you by enticing them to chase your hands or toes. Soon enough, your puppy will get older and their teeth will be sharper. The puppy nip that used to be harmless will turn into a bite that is no longer fun and playful.
If your puppy bites to start play or during play, make a high-pitched noise and immediately stop interacting with your puppy. Move away from your puppy or go briefly into another room and close the door – especially if your puppy is persistent in their behavior.
Repeat this every time your puppy bites you, and they will soon learn not to bite. Without this feedback, your puppy will not learn how to temper their bite when playing with you.
Tips for Stopping Puppy Biting
While puppy biting is a normal part of their development, it’s important that you manage the behavior appropriately. You need to be patient, persistent, and consistent. If you are frustrated by your puppy’s behavior, seek professional help from your vet or a vet behaviorist.
Here are some tips for success in stopping your puppy from biting you.
Avoid Harsh Verbal or Physical Corrections
Verbal and physical corrections do not teach your puppy how to behave; they only teach a puppy to suppress a behavior. Using punishment to train your puppy will lead to fear and anxiety.
Give Your Puppy Age-Appropriate Toys
Start off with a good supply of various puppy-safe toys, such as soft rubber toys, a puppy-sized rubber ball, a rope toy, and a stuffed toy with a squeaker.
Encourage your puppy to play by showing them the toy and rolling or moving the toy around.
Whenever your puppy grabs onto the toy, offer plenty of verbal praise.
If your puppy grabs your hand or clothing, do not immediately pull back. Instead, make a yelp and move away.
If the puppy follows you and continues to bite your feet, ankles, or legs, leave the room briefly and close the door. It will send a clear message that every time your puppy bites you, you will stop interacting with them.
Wait 10-20 seconds, then come back out.
When your puppy comes running to you, immediately engage them with a toy.
Pretty soon, they will learn that it’s more fun to bite the toys instead of you.
Redirect Your Puppy’s Attention With Training Cues
If you have started teaching your puppy some basic training cues, you can also redirect your puppy to perform alternate behaviors.
Every time your puppy bites, make a noise to distract them.
When you have a break in the biting behavior, immediately redirect them to perform nonbiting behaviors, such as sit, stay, come, etc.
Offer your puppy plenty of praise and tasty treats to reinforce those behaviors.
Try Puppy Socialization Classes
Attending puppy socialization classes is also a helpful and crucial part of your puppy’s education.
In class, they learn to interact with puppies of different sizes, breeds, and sexes. Puppy classes also provide a controlled environment where they can learn from interactions with other puppies what is appropriate play behavior and what is not acceptable.
Nipping and Biting in Adult Dogs
It is much easier to teach bite inhibition to a puppy whose jaw does not apply a lot of pressure. Otherwise, you will be dealing with a dog that may bite hard enough to cause bruising and abrasions or punctures.
If you do not teach your puppy bite inhibition and provide them with appropriate objects to chew on, they will grow into an exuberant adolescent dog that may be more difficult to manage.
However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t help them learn bite inhibition when they are older. These same concepts can be taught to adolescent and adult dogs that have not learned bite inhibition as puppies.
If your juvenile or adult dog is biting you hard enough to break the skin, seek the help of a behavior specialist, such as a veterinary behaviorist (a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists or DACVB) or certified animal behaviorist (CAAB).
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Wailani Sung, MS, PhD, DVM, DACVB
Dr. Wailani Sung has a passion for helping owners prevent or effectively manage behavior problems in companion animals, enabling them to…
Swimming is an excellent form of exercise for dogs, providing a low-impact, full-body workout that strengthens muscles and improves cardiovascular health. The buoyancy of water reduces stress on joints, too, making it ideal for dogs with mobility issues.
Swimming can also be a bonding experience for pet parents and pups! Time in the water fosters trust, builds a stronger emotional connection, and provides an opportunity for both physical and mental stimulation for the dog (and humans too!)
All dogs can learn to swim, including senior pups.Start with a calm body of water or a pool to begin swimming lessons.Check water quality first (especially if a natural body of water) to ensure safety.Invest in a life jacket and water toys to keep your pup engaged during training.
Can All Dogs Swim?
One common myth is that all dogs instinctively know how to swim. While some dogs may have a natural inclination toward swimming, not all dogs are born with this skill.
Breeds with physical characteristics such as webbed paws and water-resistant coats (like most Labrador Retrievers) are generally better swimmers, and individual temperament and previous experiences also play a role. But retrievers aren’t the only exceptional swimmers! Other breeds that are well-known for their aquatic athletics include:
Portuguese Water Dog
This breed was historically used for fishing and water rescue; they have webbed paws and a waterproof coat.
Despite their large size, Newfoundlands are incredibly strong swimmers. They have webbed paws, a thick double coat, and an instinct for water rescue, making them excellent swimmers and lifesavers.
Chesapeake Bay Retriever
Originally bred for retrieving waterfowl, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers have a dense, oily coat that repels water. They are powerful swimmers and are known for their endurance and retrieving abilities in water.
Labs are well-known for their love of water and natural swimming ability. They have webbed paws and a water-resistant coat, making them excellent swimmers and retrievers.
But if your pup doesn’t have webbed paws or doesn’t know how to swim, it’s important to consider the following when approaching swim lessons for your dog:
Introduce the dog to water gradually and ensure they feel safe and comfortable.
Start in shallow areas and use positive reinforcement to build confidence. Not all dogs enjoy swimming, so it’s essential to respect their preferences and not force them into the water if they show signs of fear or anxiety.
Pet parents should always supervise their dogs while swimming, provide appropriate safety measures like a life jacket if necessary, and be mindful of any potential hazards in the swimming area, such as strong currents or deep water.
Senior Dog Swimming
Dogs can learn to swim at any age, including senior dogs. In fact, swimming can be especially beneficial to senior dogs who often suffer from uncomfortable joints, including arthritis.
However, when introducing swimming to a senior dog, there are a few things you’ll need to do a bit differently:
Take It Even Slower
Senior dogs may have physical limitations or health conditions that require a more gradual approach. Start with shallow water and allow the dog to get comfortable at their own pace. Gradually increase the depth and duration of swimming sessions as their confidence and stamina build.
Consider A Life Jacket
Older dogs may experience joint stiffness or muscle weakness, so using a buoyancy aid such as a life jacket can provide additional support and make swimming easier and more enjoyable for them. This ensures their safety and allows them to conserve energy while swimming.
Stick With Regular Breaks
Older dogs may tire more quickly, so provide frequent breaks during swimming sessions to prevent exhaustion. Monitor their energy levels closely and give them plenty of rest and recovery time.
Get The ‘All Clear’ From Your Veterinarian
Consult with your veterinarian before introducing swimming to a senior dog, especially if they have any underlying health concerns or mobility issues. The vet can provide specific guidance and ensure that swimming is safe and appropriate your pup.
How Do You Teach a Dog to Swim?
Teaching a dog to swim involves a gradual and positive approach. Below are some steps to help you introduce your dog to swimming:
Start in a shallow, calm area such as a pool with a gradual entry or a calm lake or pond. Avoid areas with strong currents or rough waves, like the ocean.
Begin by letting your dog explore the water at their own pace. You can use treats, toys, or praise to encourage them to approach the water’s edge and dip their paws.
For dogs who are hesitant or new to swimming, use a gradual entry. Walk with your dog into the water, keeping it shallow at first. Stay close to provide support and reassurance. Consider using a leash for dogs that are excitable or easily frightened.
As your dog becomes more comfortable, gently support their body by placing your hands under their belly or using a buoyancy aid such as a life jacket. This provides them with additional support and confidence in the water.
Use positive reinforcement techniques such as treats, praise, and encouragement to reward your dog for their progress and efforts. This will help associate swimming with a positive experience.
Once your dog gains confidence in shallow water, gradually increase the depth. Always monitor their comfort level and offer support as needed.
Use your hands or a toy to encourage your dog to paddle their legs and move through the water. Offer praise and rewards for their efforts.
Always supervise your dog while they are swimming. Be aware of their energy levels, monitor for signs of fatigue, and provide rest breaks as needed. Ensure that the swimming area is safe, free from hazards, and easily accessible for your dog to exit the water.
Water Safety Tips for Dogs
Not all swimming spots are the same, and there are some big differences between lakes, pools, ponds, and oceans when it’s time for your pup to take a swim.
Pools are typically treated with chemicals like chlorine to maintain water cleanliness. While these chemicals are safe for humans in controlled amounts, they can be irritating to a dog’s eyes, nose, and skin.
It’s important to ensure that the pool water is properly balanced and the dog’s exposure to chemicals is minimized.
In contrast, open bodies of water like lakes or oceans have natural water compositions, but they may contain bacteria, parasites, or other potential hazards. Before allowing your pup to swim in a natural body of water, check with local public works officials on the water conditions.
Water in the Great Lakes region (including states like Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin) as well as Florida and Texas can all experience toxic algae blooms, particularly in stagnant water. These toxins, produced by cyanobacteria, can be lethal to dogs, who can ingest them by swallowing water or licking their fur after a swim.
Many local authorities provide updates on water conditions, including algae blooms. Avoid bodies of water with visible algae or that appear stagnant, as they can pose a significant risk.
Access and Safety
Pools usually have defined entry and exit points, making it easier to control and manage the dog’s swimming experience. They often have steps or ramps for dogs to enter and exit the water safely. In open bodies of water, access points can vary, and some locations may have steep or slippery banks.
Pet parents need to ensure there is safe entry and exit points for their dogs and consider the water conditions, such as currents or waves, which can impact safety.
Distractions and Stimuli
Pools are typically a controlled environment with minimal distractions, providing a more predictable swimming experience for dogs. Open bodies of water such as lakes or oceans can have various stimuli, including waves, currents, wildlife, and other dogs or people. These additional factors may affect a dog’s comfort level, attention, and behavior while swimming.
In a pool, the water is usually clear, allowing both the dog and the pet parent to see each other easily. In open bodies of water, visibility can vary depending on factors like water clarity, waves, or vegetation. Dogs need to navigate these conditions and rely on their swimming skills and instincts while staying close to their pet parents.
Swimming Accessories for Dogs
When going swimming with your dog, it’s important to have a few essentials on hand to ensure their safety, comfort, and enjoyment. Consider bringing:
Safety gear like a life jacket
Towels to dry your dog off after swimming
Fresh water and water bowl. Bring a collapsible water bowl or a portable water dispenser for easy access
Dog-friendly sunscreen (if needed) to protect them from harmful UV rays. Consult with your veterinarian for suitable sunscreen options for your dog
Water toys or floating devices
First aid kit
Leash and collar/harness with ID tags
Specific items may vary based on the swimming location, your dog’s needs, and any specific requirements or regulations of the area.
Be prepared, prioritize your dog’s safety, and enjoy your swimming adventure together.
Swimming Lessons for Dogs
Swimming lessons for dogs and group lessons for pet parents are available in many areas. These lessons are typically offered by professional trainers, swimming facilities, or specialized doggy daycare centers that have swimming facilities.
They can provide guidance on teaching your dog to swim, improving their swimming skills, and ensuring their safety in the water. Group lessons for pet parents can also be beneficial, as they provide an opportunity to learn alongside other pet parents, share experiences, and receive expert instruction.
Some doggy daycares also offer pool options as part of their services. These facilities may have specially designed swimming pools or access to safe water bodies where dogs can swim and play under supervision.
Doggy daycares with pool options can be a great choice for pet parents who want their dogs to socialize, exercise, and have fun in the water while being supervised by trained staff.
If you’re interested in swimming lessons or finding doggy daycares with pool options, search online, consult with local trainers or veterinarians, and inquire with pet businesses in your area to find out what options are available.
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Gina Phillips, DVM
Dr. Gina Phillips completed her undergraduate education at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, where she earned a Bachelor of…
There are many products marketed to reduce fear and anxiety and provide generalized calming effects in dogs, and you may find the array of options dizzying.
While some pet parents swear by certain dog calming products and report them to be useful in dogs with mild to moderate anxiety, few products have been tested and proven through scientific research to reduce anxiety in pets. When scientific studies have been performed, many of these studies are of lower rigor.
If you elect to use one or more of these products, keep in mind that the placebo effect may lead pet parents to perceive benefits in treatments that in reality are ineffective. This could delay treatments that actually work.
Here are the facts about some popular dog calming products that can help ease your dog’s anxiety.
Studies on Dog Calming Products
When you read about research on a certain dog calming product, know that some studies may have been performed on the functional ingredient in a product, not on the product itself. Also, the studies may have been performed on rats and mice, not on dogs and cats.
While the amount of scientific information on non-pharmaceutical calming products in dogs is increasing, there isn’t much data on the quality, safety, and efficacy for the majority of products.
Another thing to note is that unlike the US Food and Drug Administration’s testing of supplements for people, there’s no standardized monitoring system for pet behavioral supplements. This can lead to differences in ingredients, purity, quality, and efficacy between manufacturers and between batches.
This is why it is important to discuss with your veterinarian starting any supplement, even if you can buy it over the counter, before giving it to your pet.
Common Ingredients in Behavioral Supplements for Dog Anxiety
Behavioral supplements may include calming treats, herbal supplements, dietary supplements, and calming diets. Here are some of the common ingredients found in these products, along with scientific research on whether they reduce anxiety in dogs.
Alpha-casozepine is a lactose-free derivative of a protein in cows’ milk. Some research studies have suggested that this derivative helps reduce anxiety in dogs by acting on gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain that produces a calming effect.
Alpha-casozepine has been shown to potentially reduce anxiety and fear of strangers in dogs.
But although it is sometimes administered for situational stress, such as during fireworks or vet visits, there is no evidence that it has any short-term effect.
Where to find it:
Alpha-casozepine is found in Zylkene (Vetoquinol) and is one of the main ingredients in some veterinary calming diets. Zylkene comes in capsules that can be given whole or opened and mixed with your dog’s food.
Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland of the brain. It’s secreted in high levels during the night and low levels during the day. Thus, it plays an important role in regulating the body’s natural wake/sleep cycle (circadian rhythm).
There is some evidence in humans that melatonin may help reduce anxiety and promote sedation before medical procedures. Side effects in humans can include sleepiness, headaches, and gastrointestinal upset.
Melatonin supplements have been used to reduce situational fear and anxiety and dogs, such as during veterinary visits, thunderstorms, and fireworks, as well as to promote sleep in dogs who are restless overnight. However, scientific evidence is lacking.
Where to find it:
It comes in tablet and capsule formulations, as well as dissolvable and/or flavored chewables. Make sure that any melatonin product does not contain xylitol, a class of sweetener that is highly toxic dogs. Melatonin appears safe to combine with other medications or supplements.
L-theanine is an amino acid derived from the tea plant. It is thought to help decrease anxiety and improve mental function by modulating GABA, serotonin, and dopamine, and by inhibiting glutamate, which is the main excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain.
There have been several veterinary studies that showed L-theanine to have benefits in dogs, including reducing fear of strangers, noise phobia, and storm phobia.
Where to find it:
L-theanine can be found in Solliquin (Nutramax) chews, Composure (Vetriscience) chews, and Anxitane (Virbac) tablets. Supplements containing L-theanine are intended to be used on a daily basis and may require 4-6 weeks to have therapeutic effect.
L-tryptophan is an amino acid precursor for the formation of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is key to the regulation of many behavioral processes, including emotion, mood, aggression, and anxiety. Studies have suggested that there may be an association between the metabolism of L-tryptophan and fear in dogs.
Where to find it:
L-tryptophan has been added to some veterinary calming diets. One research study showed that one of these diets (which also contains alpha-casozepine) helped dogs to better cope with stress, while another study showed no effect on the dogs’ anxiety levels.
Valerian is a plant that may help pets sleep through the night and may ease anxiety. However, controlled research studies are not available.
Where to find it:
One study found that pet parents reported that the Pet Remedy diffuser, which contains valerian, reduced the intensity, but not the frequency, of anxiety-related behaviors. As with some other products, it may take several weeks before pet parents can see any therapeutic effect.
Magnolia Officinalis and Phellodendron Amurense
Magnolia officinalis is a flowering herb that has been shown to have an anti-anxiety affect in mice, and Phellodendron amurense is a bark extract that has been shown to protect the brain from the effects of stress and prevent mood disorders. Studies have shown both magnolia and phellodendron to reduce fear-related signs during thunderstorms.
Where to find it:
Solliquin (Nutramax) chews contain a combination of magnolia and phellodendron extracts.
The gut microbiome, which consists of diverse populations of intestinal bacteria, has been associated with several behavioral problems in dogs, including fear and anxiety-related disorders.
According to a blinded, placebo-controlled study conducted at the Purina Pet Care Center, the probiotic Bifidobacterium longum BL999 reduced anxious behaviors such as excessive vocalization, jumping, pacing, and spinning in a small population of Labrador Retrievers.
Where to find it:
You can find Bifidobacterium longum BL999 in Purina Pro Plan Calming Care. It comes in individual packets of flavorful powder that is mixed daily with your dog’s food. It can take up to 6 weeks to take effect.
Pheromones are chemicals that are detected by a special organ in dogs, the vomeronasal organ. Pheromones affect parts of the brain that lead to changes in behavioral and emotional responses. When female dogs nurse their puppies, they release dog-appeasing pheromone (DAP) from their mammary glands. This has a calming effect on the puppies.
The effectiveness of DAP in reducing fear and anxiety in dogs is supported by quite a bit of scientific evidence. Research studies suggest that DAP may help reduce anxiety in numerous situations: changes in the household, car travel, boarding, veterinary visits, moving to a new home, when a new puppy is introduced to the home, in cases of separation-related disorders, and noise phobias, including thunderstorms and fireworks.
However, many of these studies are limited by their methodological quality. Furthermore, in some of these studies, other treatments, such as behavior modification, were also implemented at the same time as DAP. This does not mean that potential benefits of pheromone therapy should be discounted, but further research is necessary to better understand the potential benefits of DAP.
Where to find it:
Synthetic DAP is sold in collars, sprays, or diffusers. Pheromones are species-specific; in other words, the pheromones of one species will only affect other members of that species. The same is true for synthetic pheromones.
Adaptil (Ceva) spray can be applied to a crate or kennel or sprayed in a vehicle. The spray contains an alcohol base with an odor that dogs may not like, so spray it and wait at least 15 minutes before exposing your dog to that space, so the odor can dissipate. The effects last about 4-5 hours.
Adaptil plug-in diffusers aerosolize the pheromone up to 700 square feet, and the Adaptil collar and Sentry’s Calming Collar evaporate the pheromone. Both the diffusers and collars last for about 30 days.
Dog Anxiety Vests
Pressure vests or jackets for dogs are fitted to use pressure points to ease fear or phobias, such as during thunderstorms or fireworks. They are like a hug for dogs.
Like many other calming products, scientific research on the efficacy of these products is limited and inconclusive. A couple of studies found potential benefits of pressure vests for thunderstorm phobias and for separation anxiety in dogs, but the studies were of variable quality.
Subjectively, many of the pet parents in these studies believed that the pressure vests had positive effects on their dog’s anxiety levels.
These products may have small but beneficial effects on canine anxiety and are probably worth trying. For some pets, wearing an anxiety vest may actually be fear-provoking or discomforting, so do not force your dog to wear a product if they seem uncomfortable.
Pressure vests are meant to fit snugly but to not be restrictive. For proper fit, see that you can slip two fingers with ease underneath the vests. Pets should never be left unsupervised while wearing a vest, jacket, or cape.
Dog Anxiety Vests to Try
One dog anxiety vest that is popular with pet parents, according to some reviews, is ThunderShirt, which comes in a variety of sizes.
Food and Puzzle Toys
Food toys and puzzles can distract dogs from stressful events and promote soothing alternative behaviors, such as foraging and licking. In other words, they can give dogs something else to do besides worry!
Food toys are most effective when a dog’s triggers for anxiety can be identified, such as thunderstorms, fireworks, or visitors coming into the home. A food toy is best given in a safe space that is quiet and away from the stressor. You can give it to your dog just before the onset of stressful events, to divert their attention from the trigger and prevent their anxiety from escalating.
If you repeatedly pair something positive, like a food toy, with something negative, like a stressor, your dog will be more likely to form positive associations with their triggers over time. However, if a dog’s anxiety is too high, then they may not be interested in food.
Food and Puzzle Toys to Try
There are a multitude of food toys and puzzles available. Look for products that take 15 minutes or more for dogs to finish or solve, and that are not so difficult that they might cause frustration. Here are some good options:
A KONG or Zogoflex stuffed with a dog’s favorite food
Snuffle mats (a mat with spaces to hide food and treats to encourage sniffing and foraging behaviors)
Freezing the food in these products will make them last longer. Stash several food toys in the freezer so you are prepared before predictable stressful events, like fireworks or storms.
For puppies, a stuffed toy with a heartbeat and heat pack may provide calming effects when the pet is left alone.
Make a Plan With Your Vet to Manage Your Dog’s Anxiety
Discuss treatment options with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist. This helps ensure that you choose products that are safe and effective for your pet.
Veterinarians will also evaluate your pet for a potential physical problem that may be causing or contributing to their anxiety. Calming products almost certainly will not help if an underlying medical disorder is present.
Featured image: iStock.com/kozorog
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We love our furry best friends for their waggy-tailed, happy-go-lucky approach to life. Our dogs are basically optimism on four paws, ready to greet the world with a cheerful smile.
But that’s not always the case. Some reserved dogs prefer to watch life from the sidelines rather than being a part of the action. An afternoon at the dog park? No thanks. Hanging out at a party? Pass. These shy pups defy the stereotype of the “typical” dog, but that doesn’t mean they’re abnormal. Whether through nature, nurture, or a combination of both, some dogs just happen to be loners.
A shy dog shows timid or seemingly “antisocial” behaviors that fall outside of the reactions we typically expect of dogs.Both genetics and life experiences play a role in the way a dog’s behavior develops.Introverted dogs may cower, hide, avoid eye contact, lick their lips, and whine.There are ways pet parents can help introverted dogs become more confident and less stressed.
What Is a Shy Dog?
“Shy dog” is a catchall term that encompasses many different types of canine behavior. For example:
A puppy who hangs back and doesn’t play during socialization class might be considered shy.
A dog who retreats to a bedroom when guests visit could be thought of as reserved.
A low-energy rescue pup might be considered an introverted dog.
“Shy” can include any timid or seemingly “antisocial” behaviors that fall outside of the reactions we typically expect of our dogs.
That said, reserved dogs might only act withdrawn in certain scenarios, such as when they feel overwhelmed. Shy dogs might be perfectly happy in environments where they feel comfortable, such as at home or on familiar walks around the block.
Why Are Some Dogs Shy or Introverted?
Most pet parents adopt a new dog with the best intentions, ready to do everything possible to help their new best friend grow into a well-adjusted, confident dog. But it’s important to understand that both genetics and life experiences play a role in the way a dog’s behavior develops.
A dog’s temperament is influenced by a combination of different factors, including:
Traits inherited or learned from their parents
The amount and quality of early socialization
Ongoing socialization as the dog matures
Their level of daily exercise
What they eat
All of these can play a part in how a canine personality develops over time.
Does Breed Play a Role?
While a dog’s breed isn’t a guarantee of behavior (Labradors who hate swimming do exist!), there are some breeds that are known to be more reserved than others.
Dogs who were bred to work solo, such as livestock guarding dogs like Anatolian Shepherds and some working group dogs like Akitas, can be more introverted than other dogs. That said, there are always exceptions to breed-specific behaviors, so it’s possible for the usually aloof Shar-Pei to be snuggly or for a typically outgoing Golden Retriever to prefer their alone time.
What Does a Shy or Reserved Dog Look Like?
Nervous dogs can exhibit behaviors that range from shutting down to being seemingly aggressive. The level of reaction can vary depending on the intensity of the trigger. This means that a shy dog might cower if the thing that’s frightening them is at a distance, then resort to barking and growling as the scary trigger gets closer in an attempt to keep it away.
Typical shy, nervous, or frightened dog behaviors include:
Avoiding eye contact
Barking while backing away
Low energy/no energy
Some shy dog behaviors, such as avoiding eye contact and yawning, can be tough to notice. It’s important that pet parents take time to observe their pup and get to know their dog’s body language. It’s easy to assume that a quiet, low-energy dog is feeling OK, but those types of “shutdown” behaviors might be masking anxiety.
How To Help an Introverted Dog
Want to help your shy pup gain some confidence? The following tips are for both ends of the leash, so you and your introverted dog can learn to navigate the world with less stress.
1. Check Yourself
It’s tempting to try to model bold behavior for your shy dog, but being boisterous can backfire. Instead, when your dog seems uncomfortable, speak in a soft voice, move slowly, and observe your dog’s body language for insight into how they’re feeling.
Remember that our dogs have good days and bad days too, so be prepared to modify your behavior as needed.
2. Be Your Dog’s Advocate
Let your dog set the pace for interactions with others. If you know your dog doesn’t enjoy meeting people during walks, intervene before well-meaning strangers come over to say hello.
It’s not always easy to prevent a greeting, but saying something like, “My dog is recovering from an illness” or “We’re in training,” can make the interaction feel less awkward for introverts on the human end of the leash.
3. Use Positive Reinforcement Training
All dogs benefit from positive reinforcement training, but reserved dogs in particular require the confidence boost that comes with this science-backed methodology. Avoid using any training methods that employ harsh verbal or physical corrections, especially those involving tools such as choke, electric, or prong collars. Training should always be a fun, positive experience for your dog.
Training should always be a fun, positive experience for your dog.
4. Play Confidence-Building Games
Play training is a stealthy way to help your shy dog feel less anxious—after all, it’s tough to be worried when you’re having a good time!
Games that tap into your dog’s natural instincts, such as “find the treat” or “find the toy,” can encourage your dog to ignore potential stressors and focus on the fun. For example, if your dog starts to look anxious about something in the distance during a walk, you can scatter a handful of treats on the ground and encourage them to scoop them all up, then walk in a different direction. Or, if your dog is concerned about construction noises outside, hide a favorite plush toy and get them to focus on finding it.
5. Begin a Desensitization and Counter-Conditioning Program
When it comes to training anxious dogs, there’s no tool more powerful than desensitization and counter-conditioning. This combination helps dogs form a new association to stressors by linking them to something positive.
For example, if a dog is nervous around men in hats, pet parents can plan a training session with a man wearing a hat at a distance that’s far enough away to not evoke a fear reaction in the dog. Feed the pup a series of high-value treats while the dog observes the man at a distance—this helps the dog begin to connect the scary person with special goodies. Then slowly move closer to the man, all while feeding treats and making sure the dog’s body language is relaxed and confident.
This slow and steady training changes a dog’s emotional response to a stressor over time, and it moves at a pace that keeps the reserved dog in a calm emotional state. Be aware that this process may take time and patience, as each dog will progress at their own pace.
6. Consider Hiring a Certified Trainer or Veterinary Behaviorist
Feeling overwhelmed? Consider working with a trainer to help design a confidence-boosting program. Look for a professional who uses positive reinforcement training and is willing to work with both your dog and you.
A shy, nervous, or insecure dog pushed to the limit can become a reactive dog, so it’s best to get help early to prevent behavioral challenges from worsening.
7. Love the One You’re With
You’ve got a shy dog, and that’s OK! If your pup doesn’t seem overly stressed in your everyday life together and their behavior doesn’t bother you, it’s perfectly fine to carry on.
Your dog doesn’t have to interact with strangers or other dogs in order to live a rich and fulfilling life. As long as you’re navigating the world as a bonded team and you’re aware of how your dog is reacting by keeping track of their body language, letting a canine introvert do their own thing is totally fine!