The very best behavior advice for new puppy owners (Proceedings)


The entire hospital staff should play a role in the counseling of new puppy owners.

The entire hospital staff should play a role in the counseling of new puppy owners. There is no other time during of life of the pet where the client will be most open to advice. Staff can make the biggest impact when their new pet is novel and endearing as puppies can be. This makes it the ideal time to educate clients on becoming successful pet owners. How clients and their new puppies are handled and counseled in the clinic on their first visit can help guarantee an educated client for the life of that pet.

The ideal person to educate and coordinate the staff and the roles they will be performing is the veterinary behavior technician. This can be accomplished at staff meetings or after hour seminars. The entire staff should develop good working knowledge of what will be discussed with the client. It will also give staff members the opportunity to review or develop behavioral resources. This assures consistency of information given out by all staff members. It also promotes a team-orientated approach to behavior.

Client Resources

The behavior technician will need to put together packets of resources for the client. Many of these item are available free of charge from pet food companies but it is still important to review such items for content. It also may be preferable for the behavior team to develop their own handouts providing the client with positive solutions for preventing problem behavior. A cookbook style format will make these handouts user friendly, increasing the likelihood they will be referred to. These can be customized to include the hospital logo and contact information. Such handouts can also be used at promotional or community service events. Other pet care professionals in the community recommended by the hospital will gladly provide brochures and business cards to be included. Having additional support from approved professionals throughout the community is another way to guarantee the client will become a successful pet owner.

The best way to organize behavior resources for new puppy owners is in a 3 ring binder. All of the handouts can have holes punched in them be included in the binder along with vaccination records and other veterinary informational handouts. The binder with a clear sleeve on the front cover will accommodate a page with the hospital logo and other contact information.     

Extra time needs to be allotted to the appointment for the behavior technician to provide support, give preventive behavior advice and for the client to ask questions in addition to the veterinary exam. Not only will the client leave better educated on their pet's behavior but it will also endear them to the practice.

Proper management of the waiting room will keep things running smoothly and assure a pleasant first experience for the pet. Positive intersections can be initiated by the receptionist offering treats to the new patient. If there is a lot of activity, in particular other unruly or frightened pets quickly move the puppy to an exam room.

Handling in the clinical environment

One of the first items addressed at the initial visit is to teach new pets to accept the type of handing needed to keep them healthy and well groomed throughout their lives. This will also keep things running smoothly and save staff time by creating a cooperative patient in the clinic. This first appointment is the ideal time to prepare puppies for physical exams, venepunctures, teeth cleaning, ear cleaning and pedicures. Exercises not only should be performed by the technician but instruction should also be given to the client.

For confident self assured puppies simply smearing peanut butter, canned cheese and meat based baby food on the exam table, scale, feeding off a tongue depressor, stethoscope, your boss, the possibilities are endless. As the pet busily licks up their treat, the staff has the opportunity to examine the mouth, roll eye lids, check inside ears, examine coat and skin and work on feet. Add some mild restrain such as a position that mimics taking a blood sample. The pet is cooperative because they are focused on the treat but at the same time developing a positive association with mildly uncomfortable handling.

Topics staff members should be knowledgeable about are development, normal puppy behavior, successful management and positive solutions to prevent a behavior from becoming problematic.


Housetraining puppies

The biggest concern of most new puppy owners is housetraining and must be addressed in the first The client should be advised the puppy should earn the house a room at a time. The larger the area a puppy has access to, the more indoor options they will have.

When puppies first arrive in their new home they should be put on a regular schedule of going outdoors once every hour they are awake. The owner should accompany them to a designated area in the yard or an alternative location that is used for no other purpose. Once established it will become saturated with the puppy pheromones which will help stimulate the puppy to relieve themselves. The owner should praise them after they have completed the job and should be cautious not to interject too soon. If they are interrupted with praise too soon it may cause them to halt the process and finish up later indoors. After they have eliminated they can be taken to another area for play time. It is also may be helpful for the owner to add a cue when the puppy relieves themselves such as “get busy”. This can be helpful especially if the owner is going to travel with their puppy. As the owner predicts the puppy is about to relieve it's self by watching the body language, they can add the cue.

Each trip outdoors should be made through the same door. It is often helpful to hang sleigh bells back level to the puppy on the door. When rung prior to going out the door, some puppies will learn to ring it on their own. The behavior can also be easily taught using a clicker. Even if the puppy doesn't learn to ring the bell, they are likely to linger by the door when they need to go out and brush up against the bell, alerting the owner it's time for a trip outdoors. Puppies can easily become distracted by minor things such as a left blowing by. If the puppy is taken out door at an interval when they should have relieved themselves but did not, confine them to their crate for 10-15 minutes instead of letting them have the run of their area. Take them out again until they have eliminated. Once the puppy starts reliably relieving themselves out doors, the intervals between trips outdoors can gradually be increased.

Some additional indications it may be time to take the puppy outdoors to eliminate are when they wake from a nap or let out of their crate. Most puppies are like clockwork and will need to defecate 20 minutes after a meal. If there is a lot of activity or water consumption it's likely the puppy will need a trip outdoors. If the puppy relieves them self indoors resist the urge to punish even when caught in the act. A key ingredient for successful house training is having a puppy that will freely urinate and defecate in front of their owner so they can be rewarded for going in the appropriate area. Owners who punish their puppy risk creating a puppy that sneaks off to remote areas to relieve themselves creating an even bigger problem. All soiled indoor areas should be thoroughly cleaned and treated with a bacteria enzyme to break down the particles of urine which is the best way to eliminate any remnant odors.

Owners should be encouraged to keep a detailed log of all accidents, especially in the case of an older puppy that should be further along in the process. Most commonly, the log will serve as reassurance to the owner that their puppy is having fewer accidents. It can also be an important tool for identifying physical or behavioral problems such as urinary tract infections or separation anxiety.


The most important thing new puppy owners can due to help create a stress free adaptable pet is to socialize them. Keep in mind a puppy's most sensitive socialization period ends at approximately 15 weeks of age. It is essential that the veterinary staff emphasizes the importance of this topic during the first visit. Creating a check list for the client is helpful. Owners should be advised to take plenty of special treats to pair with these new experiences.

Instruction should be given to the client on how to handle a fearful response. Although it involves systematic desensitization and counter conditioning, it should be explained in simple terms. The first thing the pet own should do is create space. They should be instructed to move a distance away but with the stimulus still present. Once the pet is calm enough to eat the treats, then gradually move toward the fearful stimulus continuing to pair it with the food. All though this process can go quickly with some pets, it can be a slow process for others. Emphasize the importance of patience.

Although the extensive list can be daunting for most pet owners, it can also be put more simply. Have them think of all the people, places, noises and other animals they are going to be exposed to throughout their lives. These are the areas of socialization that should be emphasized.

A simple recommendation you can make to a client that will cover many areas of socialization is puppy. Remember, this is time sensitive and sensitive socialization periods should be identified. Well run puppy classes will set your client up for successful pet ownership and provide additional behavioral support.  Recommended classes should be rewarded based and taught by a professional with a good working relationship with the clinic. Look for an instructor who is equally as good at people training as dog training.


Exercise and play

Puppies whose exercise and play needs are met are better behaved and more enjoyable pets. Many unruly behaviors clients are concerned about often is the result of a pet being under stimulated. Exercise and play are also important for the pet's mental and social development as they mimic adult behaviors. It's important to counsel owners on games that will enhance the training process. Exercise must be on the owner's terms and play that causes the puppy to become overly aroused should be avoided. Some examples of appropriate games and exercises include;

  • Neighborhood walks are not only good physical exercise but will also help habituate the puppy to the sights and sounds of the neighborhood

  • Retrieving is a form of cooperative exercise and can be done in combination with obedience commands

  • Hide & Seek

  • Biscuit Hunt

  • Puppy Soccer

  • Puppy Tracking

  • Round Robin

Puppy Parties

Veterinary practices that feel they don't have the time to devote to puppy and kitten counseling during appointment times should consider the option of Puppy Parties, offered separately from one another. Generally they are held in a two hour seminar format, where you invite multiple clients at the same time to attend with their new pets. It gives veterinary staff an opportunity to combine educational topics and socialization exercises. Extra consideration can be given to handling puppies and kittens in the clinic at a time separate from any inoculations or other unpleasant procedures. Not only is this a time saver but it also endears the client to your practice. Parties can be as festive as the practice wishes or just purely for information and socialization. For puppies the recommended age for participation is 8-12 weeks and for kittens 7-11 weeks. Other local professionals such as dog trainers can be invited to help and sell their supportive services.

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