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Raising a dog-friendly dog

Saturday April 18th, 2009

There's a short period in every puppy's development, from very early puppyhood to three or four months of age, when his experiences have a big effect on his entire approach to life. If he has lots of positive encounters with other dogs during that developmental window, he's far more likely to grow up to be dog-friendly. If he doesn't, he can become fearful and aggressive.

An adult dog's personality is far less malleable than a puppy's, but exposure to other dogs can still improve his social skills. Just move slowly and cautiously, and if you see signs of aggression or timidity, get help from a professional trainer right away.

How to raise a dog-friendly puppy

This is easy, since other dogs, starting with your puppy's mother and littermates, do most of the work.

Young puppies teach each other how to act around other dogs, mainly by practicing how to show and read the signs of submission and dominance. Without this lesson in canine etiquette, a dog may attack another dog who's trying to tell him, "I give up--you're the boss!" Or he won't know how to defuse a dominant dog's aggression by signaling his submission. Either way, you're likely to wind up with expensive vet bills.

The solution is simple: Give your puppy plenty of chances to practice his canine etiquette.

Bring home your puppy at the right age. Don't buy or adopt a puppy who was taken away from his mom and littermates before eight weeks of age. Any earlier, and your pup won't have had enough chances to practice his canine manners with them.

Set up playdates. When you bring your new pup home, invite your friends to bring their healthy, vaccinated dogs over to play. To make sure your pup doesn't get intimidated, start with mellow, well-behaved dogs.

Start him in school. As soon as possible, sign up for puppy kindergarten classes that allow the pups plenty of time for off-leash play.

Feed his social life. When your puppy grows up, take him to the dog park, invite friends' dogs over to play, and keep exposing your dog to other canines. Even if your dog had a hopping canine social life during puppyhood, he needs regular exposure to other dogs throughout his adulthood or he risks becoming less friendly over time.

Bottom line: No matter what the breed or bloodline, every dog should get regular playtime with canine pals to be friendly and safe around other dogs. This is especially important before the age of three or four months, when a pup's experiences can shape his personality as an adult.

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