Originally posted July 2013

When we get a puppy, we are happy and looking forward.  We look forward to the times we will spend in the company of our adult dog, and all things we will do and all the fun we will do together.  We realize that there will be work along the way, including taking the dog to the vet, training and cleaning up after him, not to mention the dust bunnies and other household reminders he will leave in his wake.  What we often don’t think about is Plan B.

Plan B is what we intend to do in the event of an unexpected tragedy.  How will we deal with an unexpected surgery?  How about when the gate gets left open, and the dog gets out?  What about your own health; who is going to feed, walk and water your dog when you are ill?  What if you die?  When we get a puppy, it is a good idea to have a Plan B for all the things we can think about that the dog might encounter through his life that we wish he didn’t.

I encourage everyone to spend some time planning for medical emergencies, and who will care for your dog in the event that you are incapacitated or if you pass away.  Everyone should think about who will take care of your animals in the event that you cannot.  Our animals cannot care for themselves without our help and if they are presented with a situation where they cannot get the care they need, they could end up in a rescue or at the humane society.  Beyond your animals’ basic care though, there are a lot of things that we can do to help our pets to be successful and not get into trouble.

Teaching your dog to sit when the door opens could save his life.  Just keep in mind that if you are depending on prompting your dog, then it will only work when you are there to prompt him.  I would encourage this person to use putting his hand on the door as the cue to sit instead of his pointed finger!  Image credit: alexeys / 123RF Stock Photo

Let’s start with sitting at the door.  If your dog is accustomed to sitting before going out of your house then if the door is accidentally thrown open, your dog isn’t going to bolt out and into the street.  Making sitting at the door a priority also prevents your dog from bolting out in the event that you have to bring things into the house or a guest inadvertently opens the door for you.  On the flip side, don’t make your dog sit to come in.  Make coming in the house a really rewarding and valuable experience.  I had a dog who used to enjoy jumping our back fence.  To keep that dog safe, I taught him to come to the front door if he escaped the back yard.  He thought this was a great game.  Once he understood to come to the front door if he escaped the fence, then I dog proofed the fence and made it very difficult for him to jump the fence.  Why did I not just fix the fence to begin with?  Simply because that might fail and I wanted a set of behavioural suspenders to go with the belt that fixing the fence was.  I wanted my dog to have a Plan B should he ever get out again.

Another very important behaviour is for your dog to really enjoy having his collar grabbed, by anyone, anytime.  There is a dog who has been missing in Guelph for over a month now, and I regularly get emails and Facebook notes that a dog is missing and has been sighted.  Often these posters come with a note about not grabbing the dog because he is timid.  The best favour you can do for your dog if he is lost is to teach him that being caught and grabbed is a great and exciting thing to do.  It is really easy to do this.  Walk up to your dog with a treat, grab his collar and give him a treat.  Let go and repeat.  Get everyone in the house to do this.  If your dog is timid, work slowly and gently until you can grab any part of his body without warning and make it fun for your dog.  The fact is that if your dog is timid and gets loose, then someone is going to try and grab him, and probably by whatever is the closest body part.

Teach your dog to automatically leave things that they find.  Having a leave it on cue is not as important a behaviour as being able to walk past something that your dog wants and having him just automatically leave it alone.  Consider what might happen for instance if your dog is alone at home and you have left a grocery bag on the floor with a box of baker’s chocolate inside.  Would your dog automatically leave it, or would he only leave it if you had identified that the bag was off limits?  At Dogs in the Park, we teach the dogs that nothing is theirs unless we identify it to them.  The broader implication of this is that if my dog walks down the street and there is something that he should not have on the ground, I don’t have to be on alert to notice it first.  This has so many applications.  One of my colleagues’ mother came to visit once.  Her mom takes a very heavy duty medication and dropped a pill in the house.  Her older dog didn’t eat the pill, but her young puppy did and was very sick because of that.  I cannot count how often I have dropped my own medications, and my dogs all look up not down when that happens.

Here a dog learns to come over a pile of toys and treats.  This prepares him to be able to cope with things that don’t belong to him falling in front of him, and he won’t touch them even if he wants them.  Asking first is a great tool for teaching dogs to leave things that don’t belong to them.  Photo Credit:  Sue Alexander

Teach your dog that it is safe to come when called to whomever calls.  Playing lots of recall games helps a lot with keeping dogs safe in the event that they ever get away from you.  Playing games with your dog in fact builds trust and bonds and helps dogs to understand that they are able to come when called no matter who calls them.  Periodically, I have a client who wants to teach their dog cues in a different language.  I do this for Schutzhund, where we do most of our cues in German.  My dogs also know the common English equivalent.  I want to make sure that if something happened and someone else needed to help my dog, he could come when called.

All my dogs learn to wear muzzles when they are puppies and we practice periodically throughout their lives.  My dogs don’t live in boxes; they do stuff.  They will likely get hurt.  They will need veterinary attention, and using a muzzle keeps them and the vet safe while the vet does things that hurt.  Muzzles are perhaps the best tool invented to keep people safe and we need to keep in mind that if your dog needs to wear one, that is not a slight against your dog.  That is the veterinarian taking reasonable steps to keep everyone safe.  When your dog is in pain, he is not likely going to behave the way that he might when he is not in pain.  There is no glory in having a dog who doesn’t need a muzzle and there is a lot of glory in keeping your vet safe.

D’fer had a very serious cut pad that needed medical attention including some surgery to clean it out and stitch it up.  You can see that he is relaxed and concerned when the vet is looking at his foot.  Why should we muzzle a dog who is tolerating this?  Because we want to keep the veterinarian safe and even though D’fer is a real gentleman of a dog who has never ever tried to bite anyone, we don’t feel the need to take any risks with our veterinarian.  Photo Credit:  Sue Alexander

Perhaps the most important thing I can do to help my dog have a good Plan B is to make sure that he is well socialized to begin with.  If I am working with an adult dog who is timid it is a very high priority to teach him that he can trust people not to harm him.  This is sometimes difficult when you are working with a dog who was not properly socialized or who has been traumatized, but if something goes wrong, I want my dog to know that he is not going to come to harm if someone tries to help him.  If I am ever in a car accident with my dogs on board, or if I am injured on the trail and a search party is trying to find me, I want my dog to accept that help, no matter what the person looks like or what they are wearing or doing.

Plan B is something we don’t talk enough about.  Years ago, we didn’t talk about fire drills either, but we know they save lives.  The best thing we can do to help our dogs live long healthy and safe lives is to think about Plan B long before we need it.



Originally published May 2013

I just got an email from a lady who described her 4 year old dog as a puppy, and she wondered if he was old enough to start coming to school because he was driving her crazy.  The problem is that her dog is not a puppy.  The term puppy is roughly equivalent to the human term infant or baby.  Puppyhood is one of the most interesting periods of development of a dog.  A puppy, technically speaking is a dog under about 16 to 20 weeks.  After that he is a young adolescent.

This is NOT a puppy.  This is an adult dog and it is too late to do puppy classes or puppy socialization.

The neonatal stage is when puppies are just born and lasts until they are about 13 days of age.  From 1 to 3 days, you can start dramatically improve a puppy’s chance to be a stable, resilient adult dog with a great immune system, but it must start in the earliest days.  The process for doing this takes the first couple of weeks and is called Early Neurological Stimulation.  If you are going to invest in a puppy, make sure whomever whelped the litter you are interested in is doing this because we know that this will improve the likelihood of your puppy having a successful adult life.  If your breeder has no idea what you are talking about, you can direct them to am willing to pay more for a puppy who has had the benefit of this procedure because the science on this is very clear; it develops brains that are as much as ten percent larger and immune systems that are significantly healthier, as well as better resilience.  Better resilience means that your pup will tolerate handling better, will tolerate frightening situations better and will come back to baseline faster when frightened.  They also learn more effectively in my experience.

At about thirteen days to twenty days, the puppies are in a stage called the transitional stage.  At this stage, they start opening their eyes and ears and they start to be able to learn about their world.  Pups at this age need lots of different footing, and objects to investigate but they really aren’t doing things yet.  They don’t walk, although they do begin to creep and crawl in a more organized way.  At this stage the breeder should be handling them a lot; several times a day, the breeder can get into the litter box and cuddle and tickle the pups and restrain them.  Doing this prepares them to be handled when they are older.  Quiet visitors can come in provided they are wearing clean clothes.  If you are buying a puppy, you should be able to begin meeting the litter towards the end of this stage.  You won’t be choosing a puppy though; you are helping to raise a confident happy adult dog by helping the breeder to gently handle those pups.

Around about 21 to 23 days is a really interesting “blip” in development where the pups have a sudden sensory development period.  This stage is called the awareness period and it is during this period that the puppies start to waddle around a lot more and begin forming social relationships with the other pups and their dam.  Puppies in pairs can start to be introduced to different rooms in the house, and a variety of different surfaces.

The canine socialization period occurs between three and seven weeks of age; this is the age where pups learn the most about being a dog.  They learn that if they bite too hard, their littermates will squeal and mom may interrupt them and make them stop playing.  Mom has a very important role to play in this stage and if she is removed from the puppies at this age, they may always have a little bit of trouble with dog to dog interactions.  This is perhaps the most important time for bite inhibition and lays the foundations for pups to learn about how to use their mouths appropriately.  When pups are separated from their littermates and mom during this stage, big problems can evolve.  We have recently been seeing rescues that remove pups from litters of feral dogs in this window and we often see these dogs develop significant problems later on.  If you are considering a puppy from a rescue, ensure that the rescue has kept the litter together until at least seven weeks.

The next big stage that comes along is the human socialization period from seven to twelve weeks.  In my experience the advantage of the breeder keeping the puppies for a week into this stage is that the puppies have a solid start with a knowledgeable handler and you can use that week between seven and 8 weeks to visit the litter and get to know the pups.  At seven weeks, your puppy can come home, and there is going to be little harm in doing so, but in my opinion and experience that extra week with the breeder can really help.

From 8 to 12 weeks more or less is the time when puppies learn about people and how to live with them.  Everything you do during that time frame will impact how your pup sees and meets people in adulthood.  If you overwhelm and frighten your puppy while meeting someone during this time, he will store that information for future reference, so you need to make certain that puppies have a lot of really positive, happy experiences with a wide variety of people.  Concurrent with this phase, puppies may go through a period where they are suddenly afraid of things they may have encountered in the past.  Often called a fear period, this developmental phase is about learning about things that are dangerous.  It might be better to call this a sensitive period, when the puppy is sensitive to new experiences.  This works really well for things like understanding that jumping off a cliff or throwing yourself into a raging river might be dangerous, but it works less well for a puppy living in a relatively safe environment in our homes.  Puppies can develop weird fears such as the fear of their water bowl, or fear of the blender in the kitchen.  If you notice your puppy suddenly afraid of normal things in his world, don’t worry; this is very normal; you just need to expose your puppy to these things slowly and carefully to ensure that they learn what is actually safe, and what is actually dangerous.

These puppies are learning about being handled by strangers in puppy class.  When they are 24 weeks, the socialization window will be completely closed and you will never again be able to access the flexibility of acceptance that they have at this stage in their lives.

At about twelve weeks, your socialization window starts to close, and by the time your puppy is 16 weeks, it is mostly shut.  Occasionally that window will remain open as late at 20 weeks, but the lions share of the work of exposing your puppy to people, places and things must be completed by the time that your pup is 16 weeks of age.  If you got your puppy at 8 weeks, that means that you have 8 more weeks to do great socialization.  Once that socialization period is over, it is over.  At 16 weeks, when the window closes, you are finished.  You have 8 weeks, and then, you are done.

More and more often we are seeing puppies coming home later than 8 weeks; some dogs are being advertized by breeders and rescues as puppies as late as 24 weeks, well into early adolescence.  These young dogs can no longer be easily socialized to things that are new, and if the puppy’s breeder or rescue hasn’t done the things they should have done to help the dog to learn about the world around him, then you are behind the eight ball and the longer you delay addressing the problem, the more difficult your job will be.

The socialization window doesn’t slam shut at 16 weeks, so you CAN insert some experiences in and still have an effect, but the longer you delay, the more difficult it will be to help your dog to integrate the experiences in a positive effective way, and sadly your dog is well past the time when you can benefit from going to puppy class.  This is why most puppy classes ensure that dogs must register in time for puppies to complete puppy class by the time they have reached 24 weeks, when that window is really closed tight.

Another issue we are seeing more and more of in puppy classes is families who come to puppy class for the first few weeks, and then skip a few weeks and then return when the puppy is smack dab in the middle of their sensitive or fear period.  Then the puppy owner wonders why their pup is not succeeding in puppy class.  That eight week period that immediately follows coming home is the most important time in your relationship with your dog.

Families are busy people and often they have other things they need to do.  Kids play hockey and soccer, and parents are involved with choirs and volunteer as youth leaders and coaches.  Families want to add dogs to their lives in the hopes of improving their lives.  Motivations for getting a family pet vary from family to family, but very few people get a dog in the hope of having an animal who lunges and barks at strangers and who is afraid of the garbage truck and the mailman.  If your goal is to have a great pet, then you have to take that eight week period seriously.  During the eight weeks after your dog arrives home, putting the time into his training should be a big priority.

Some families try and shoehorn in their puppy’s needs and skip puppy classes when other commitments get in the way.  On the other hand, we have had families develop very sophisticated schedules in order to meet their puppy’s needs for class and for out of class socialization.  We have seen families arrange for the kids to get car pool rides to lessons and then join the class part way through.  We have seen families who have put commitments to choirs and volunteer work on hold for the eight weeks that they are involved in puppy class.  We don’t want families to completely shut down their lives during their puppy’s socialization period, but we do hope they will understand that this eight week period is special, and if you miss it, it is gone.

The take home message here is that puppyhood is important and it only happens once.  If you don’t have time to socialize and do the early training that you want your pup to have as an adult, if you cannot carve out the opportunities to carefully and thoughtfully expose your puppy to the things that you want him to cope with as an adult, you may want to hold out on getting your pup until you have the time.



Originally published May 2013

With our new puppy program we have been hearing from more and more puppy owners and a surprising number of them are bring home their pups at six weeks of age, often without their first set of shots.  Puppies from pet stores may be older when you meet them, but may have been taken from mom as early as four weeks of age.  Many of the people who are getting these puppies have been told by the people producing them that six weeks is the age at which they have always sent their puppies home.  While this may be true, we have had studies since the 1960’s that show us over and over again that puppies need to stay in their litter just a little longer.

This bulldog puppy is shown at one day, one week, two weeks, three weeks, and four weeks of age.  Image credit: Copyright: <a href=’’>Cole123RF / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Before the studies done by Fuller and Scott in the 60’s at Bar Harbour, almost everyone brought their pups home at six weeks.  Then we started to look at the best time for puppies to come home based on how their behaviours develop.  Puppy development is a fascinating topic that we know a lot more about now than we ever have before.  One of the things we know is that puppies who stay in the litter until they are 7 weeks do better than those who leave before then.  8 weeks is often the standard and is really a better time for most puppies.  What do I mean by “do better”?

Let’s start with bite inhibition.  Puppies who stay with the litter until 8 weeks of age have better bite inhibition.  They are more careful with their mouths, possibly because they have had the chance to learn from their littermates and mom that when they bite hard, they lose the chance to do things they want to do like play.  Bite inhibition training must continue once the puppy gets home, but if you have a puppy who hasn’t learnt from mom to bite gently, your job is going to be much tougher.

Puppies who leave the litter too early are also much more easily frustrated.  When faced with things they want and cannot get they are more prone to temper tantrums, barking, and throwing themselves around.  This in turn is frustrating for the people who have to live with the puppy.  Impulse control, or the ability to disengage from one stimulus and re-engage with another is often difficult for these dogs and that may manifest as frustration too.

Leaving the litter early may also impact your dog’s ability to interact with other dogs.  These pups often did not have the chance to learn about being a dog from their siblings and mom.  We see this in play sessions where the pup who left the litter early may not read the metasignals that the other dogs offer.  When a puppy yelps and asks the other puppy to stop biting, the pup who left the litter early may not recognize this signal and may continue to bite or harass the other puppy.  The result is that the normally developed puppy may behave defensively.  These puppies are often described as the underdog by their families; always being the victim of the other dogs in the dog park.  Often this underdog role is the result of not listening to the more subtle signals that are offered.

Reactivity is an issue for these puppies too; they tend to be more reactive and harder to settle down.  This means that when sudden things happen, they don’t cope as well and they may even be anxious.  Signs of anxiety include things like over grooming, licking things like people and floors, and circling or staring at shadows or reflections.  Anxious puppies can grow up to be anxious dogs.

The biggest issue we see in our puppy classes with these dogs is handling issues.  When pups leave the litter too early, they often have more difficulty with things like veterinary examinations, nail clipping and grooming.  When restrained they are more prone to wiggling and struggling and may bite when you insist on handling them.

These problems are even worse in pups who are brought home even earlier than six weeks.  Possibly the most behaviourally damaged dog I ever met had been pulled off a dump at 2 weeks of age and raised alone.  They could not introduce him to other dogs due to disease risk-they did not know if he was healthy enough to expose.  They did not know if he was carrying something that other dogs could get.  His eyes and ears were not open at all.  He was a very reactive, needy dog, with serious separation anxiety and was dangerously aggressive even to his family.  More and more we are seeing puppies pulled off beaches in the Caribbean, off garbage dumps in the far north in an effort to control local populations, and placed in homes local to us.  The resulting dogs that grow up are not completely normal.

So what should you do if you brought home a puppy before you should have? If the puppy is under six weeks, take it back as soon as you can to mom.  If you cannot do that and you know that the puppy is healthy, try and cross foster it with a litter the same age.  There is nothing we can do that will equal the experience that mom and the rest of a litter can provide.  We can try, but we will never be as good as what nature intended.

If your puppy came home from the breeder at six weeks, and you cannot return him there to stay until he is seven or even better slightly older than seven weeks, then there is a lot you can do, but it isn’t going to be easy.  First, your pup is going to need a tonne of sleep.  Don’t worry if your pup seems to wake up, be really active and then after twenty minutes, crashes into sleep where ever he lands.  He may do this for 20 or more hours a day and that is just fine.

Your puppy is going to need to be fed four times a day.  He should be getting a moist puppy diet because his digestive system cannot handle kibble well.  Consult your veterinarian for information on what the best alternative might be, and make sure his food is soaked so that it is mushy.  At about seven weeks you can start letting it get a little harder, and he should be able to handle kibble by about 9 weeks of age.  You need to feed frequently for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, he has a very short and under developed digestive system, so transport time isn’t very long for him.  This means that he will need to have food more often in order to be able to get the most nutrition out of his diet.  Do not free feed however; mushy food goes bad quickly and if you make up a bunch of mushy food and leave it out once a day you could make your pup sick.

Very young puppies need to eat soft food more often.  If you have a six week old puppy you will need to feed him soft mushy food, four times a day.  Image credit: laures / 123RF Stock Photo

Next you are going to have to provide the kind of play, feedback and support that mom and his littermates would have supplied, at least four times a day.  This means getting down on the floor with your puppy when he wakes up, and playing with him with your hands.  You can play fairly roughly but any time that your pup grabs you hard with his mouth, you will need to squeak and then stand up, walk away and pretend to do something without him for between 15 and 90 seconds.  Then you have to go right back to playing again.  This feedback is going to help your puppy to learn bite inhibition which is his best bet for growing up to have a safe mouth that won’t hurt people.  Do NOT pin him, grab his mouth or do any other behaviour you think a mother dog might do if he is naughty.  You are not a dog and you will not be able to do it nearly as well as another dog would do it.  If you have an older, proven to be safe with puppies dog who can help you to amuse the puppy, so much the better, but remember that the older dog is not mom and will not have the hormones she would have to help her to modulate her behaviour towards the pups, so always supervise.

Twice a day, you should practice gentle but firm restraint and handling and you should groom your puppy with a soft brush all over his body.  You should look in his ears and open his mouth and check his teeth.  Handle his genital area and look under his tail at his anus every day; you want to teach your young puppy that handling is a normal part of his day and that he has nothing to fear when you do so.  Don’t be surprised if he resists at first; be firm and gentle and teach him that wriggling and squealing won’t end the activity.  If you let go when he is tiny, he will learn that when he is frustrated and squealing, he can get away from you.  Also teach him to wear a muzzle so that if he needs one, it isn’t an unpleasant surprise when he is sick or injured.  You can do this simply by taking a small cup or plastic container and teaching him to take treats out of the bottom of it.

And then there is toilet training.  A six week old puppy will go to the toilet pretty much where ever he is.  He doesn’t have muscular control over his bladder and bowels yet and if he were in the litter mom would be teaching him to take it outside.  The drill of take the puppy out on waking and when he has toileted, play with him works well with eight week olds, but not as well with six week olds because they just don’t have the control over their bodies that older puppies do.  Ideally, you would provide an absorbent organic surface such as a boot tray with wood chips, or a piece of sod for the puppy to use.  They will often choose absorbent surfaces when they can get to them, which means that if you turn a six week old puppy loose in your home, the living room carpet is often a first choice for toileting.  Substrate preference or the understanding of what to pee and poop upon develops before 20 weeks, and really develops even earlier, so you want to avoid providing that Persian Rug as the puppy’s first experience lest he develop a preference to use that over outdoor surfaces.  Chastising a young puppy for toileting on the rug is an exercise in frustration and futility, so just don’t do it.  The only result you will have is a puppy who either pees in fear when you approach or who hides to toilet and then toilet training becomes nearly impossible.

If a very young puppy toilets in front of you, name the behaviour, and then clean it up.  6 week old puppies don’t have much control over their bladders.  Image credit: alexeys / 123RF Stock Photo

There are many recipes for providing an environment for a six week old puppy to live in and explore but all the good ones have a few things in common.  First, they must be safe for the puppy.  A three metre by three metre area is more than large enough, and can contain everything the puppy needs.  He should have a shallow pan of water available at all times.  Don’t give him a giant water bowl because if a tiny puppy got into it, he might drown.  I like ceramic ramekins such as you might use to bake custard in; they are not deep and if a puppy gets all the way into one, he can get all the way out.  He should as mentioned before have an organic toileting surface available to him.  He should have dozens of toys to play with, and they can be rotated every day.  Ideally he should have two or three mirrors in there so he can see another dog moving around and so that he isn’t surprised the first time he sees a dog he doesn’t know.  These mirrors have to be secured in such a way that they won’t tip and break or break if he crashes into them.  The flooring should be easy to clean and disinfect, but should also incorporate different surfaces in them.  PVC lattice work laid down over a towel can provide an easy to clean obstacle, as can a towel rolled up and covered over with a rubber yoga mat.  Ideally you should have a low platform for the puppy to get onto, and a small dog crate or cat carrier for him to get into.

As a final note, if you have a puppy who is eight weeks old, but who had the misfortune to be very ill shortly after coming home, all of the above advice will help you to help him to be as well socialized as possible.  If you have any specific questions about supporting a young puppy or an older puppy who is ill please post questions to the blog and I will respond to them.  We can make life better for these pups even when they are at a developmental disadvantage.

Raising a younger puppy can be rewarding, but it is a ton of work.  This is part of what you are paying for when you purchase a puppy at eight weeks.  When people sell pups at 6 weeks, a big part of why they sell them at that age is to save themselves the time and the money related to the final two weeks of properly raising a puppy.  If you thought that you were going to save money by buying a younger puppy, you have to understand that the saving is going to cost you somewhere else.  If you want to do it right, keep your puppy with his litter and his dam till he is eight whole weeks old, and either way start puppy class at eight weeks for the maximum benefit as an adult.



Originally published November 2013

The pinnacle of my relationship with my dogs is being able to take them off leash and walk with them anytime, anywhere.  Being ABLE to do so is different from choosing to do so when it would not be in their best interest, but being able to do so is magic.  Taking my dogs to a natural area and letting them run free has been one of the greatest relationship building activities I have ever had the pleasure of engaging in.  We are doing different things in the same environment together.  We each explore in our own way, and do different things within the environment that are meaningful for us.

When I was a child, I was fortunate enough to live in an area where I had access to wilderness trails anytime I had time to explore them.  I was also fortunate enough to have a dog to share those adventures with.  I never went for a hike; I always described it as going exploring.  We had fields and woods and swamps to explore and rarely did I encounter other people there.  It was a peaceful oasis for me in an otherwise chaotic life.  Thurber, my dog, would come with me and help me to break trail in the winter snow and find new places in the spring, summer and fall.  Watching Thurber is part of what led me into the field of dog behaviour.  She told me all sorts of things, just by her body language.

I could always tell when people were around, by what she did.  If she knew them, she would orient on them and wag her tail, low and slow and then run towards them when they got close.  If she didn’t know them, she would orient on them but stand really still.  By observing my dog, I got to see many more things out in the wild land that surrounded my home.  She would tell me when other dogs were close by, when wildlife was near and when there was fire, all through her behaviour.

When I grew up, I moved to Guelph and got a dog.  We spent countless hours walking through the bush, often at night.  A whole new world opened up to me.  The woods in the dark is a beautiful and mysterious place and because I was accustomed to using my dog to signal what was around me, I could easily avoid things I didn’t want to engage with, such as teens out drinking or wild life.

Over the years, I have shared hours and days and weeks of time out in the natural world with my dogs.  By observing my dogs closely and preparing for the activities, I have been rewarded with breath taking events, great laughs and some sadness too.  All of these activities have been enhanced by sharing my time and experiences with my dogs.

When puppies are really young, the key to success is to get them off leash as early as possible.  The first day home, I take my puppies out onto our farm and let them off leash.  Young pups don’t tend to go far.  If I have a breed of puppy who I think might be a problem, such as a terrier or a hound, I will put a light leash on the puppy to drag along for the first few times, but getting the puppies out of doors and off leash as soon as possible is a very high priority for me.  I keep treats with me so that when the puppy comes bolting BACK to me, I have something to give him that he wants.  Most pups want to keep the familiar person in sight at 8 weeks of age.

At eight weeks of age, puppies aren’t able to get away from you; they don’t want to be alone, and they aren’t very fast.  This is the right age to start off leash activities.

I try and mix up the places I take my pups so that they are not always familiar with the terrain.  This teaches them to look to me for information.  The more new places I can go, the better in my opinion, but I have to keep a bunch of things in mind.  I don’t want to run into other dogs, especially dogs I don’t know.  That could expose my puppy to diseases I don’t want him to catch, or to behaviours I don’t want him to experience.  I also don’t want to run into the stools of unknown dogs because I want to protect my young pup from worms.

I don’t want to run into predators either.  Hawks and owls can easily take a young small puppy.  Coyotes, wolves and bears are also a concern in some parts of Canada.  Even foxes can be a problem and will take a small dog if they stumble across it.  Water can be another natural hazard to be aware of.  About four years ago in Guelph, a young pup was playing on the ice and fell in and drowned.  Fast water, deep water, ice and hidden water are all things I keep in mind when I am taking my puppies out for their first excursions into the natural world.

Introducing puppies to water should be done in shallow safe areas where you can get in and help if they run into trouble.  Ideally, pups should start to learn about water before they are 16 weeks old.

As puppies get older, they start to get a little more independent, and we start seeing pups bolting at about 12 to 16 weeks.  When this starts to happen, I quietly follow the puppies and step out of sight when they realize they cannot see me.  Most puppies start looking for me right away, and that starts them on the road to a million dollar recall; they learn that their job is to keep an eye on me lest I disappear on them.  I don’t want to frighten a pup, but I do want to make sure they know that if they are not paying attention to me, they may lose me.  When they find me, I make a big deal about how clever they are and how much I value them finding me.  I always bring treats with me so that I have something to give the puppy when he finds me.

At about 16 weeks of age, I start bringing multiple dogs on walks with me.  I use my older dogs to teach my youngsters that the aim of the game is to walk as a group and that although they are welcome to go and explore things or find surface water to cool off in or drink, they need to stick with the group.  The older dogs are usually faster at coming back when called and the puppies learn to come quickly by following their older peers.  I also start to leash up during the walks at this age.  Half way through the walk, I will call, catch and treat the puppy, perhaps do a bit of training and then let him go back to exploring and playing.  Whenever I am on the trail, even if I don’t intend to use my leash, I always have one with me and I always have collars on my dogs.  If we are traveling through particularly dense bush, I also put a bear bell on my dog so that I can find him should he stray.

 Eco 012
I like to take adolescent dogs out in the company of older trained dogs to help them to learn important lessons such as coming when called.

Around about 20 weeks, I can start to see something I call the recall sweet spot.  This is the point at which the dog is still willing to come when called.  If he gets out beyond the sweet spot, he is much harder to get to come back.  The problem I see most often in my client sis that they allow the dog to range much too far away before they call them back and the dog is out of the sweet spot and into the danger zone.  At this point, I will often stop going out in the bush and go to safe, enclosed sports fields instead, and work mostly on coming when called and lying down at a distance.  The down at the distance is the brakes on my dog; if I don’t have a good set of brakes I don’t trust that my dog will stop if I need him to do so.  If he bolts across a road, and a car is coming, I don’t want to trust that he will just stay on his side of the road; I train him to lie down and stay at a distance for his own safety.

Working with my puppies off leash early and often allows me to do much more advanced work than I could do if I never let them off leash.  There is an idea I keep coming across that says that the dog must earn the right to get off leash by proving himself to be trustworthy in his recall.  This turns into a chicken and egg scenario; you cannot trust the dog off leash because he hasn’t earned it and he hasn’t earned it because you don’t trust him off leash.  By taking advantage of the early time in his life when he is reliable about staying close by due to his developmental stage, then we can teach him what we want to do.  I think also that this attitude of earning off leash privileges conveys an interesting attitude of distrust about our dogs; we are assuming that the dog wants to leave us.  Very few dogs actually want to leave us.  Some of them want to have more time to do their own thing or to explore but few dogs are actually invested in escaping.  Most dogs like their people and like their life, and don’t want to be left behind.

This is the goal.  Adult dogs who are willing to stay with me, and explore the world around us.  Off leash work is all about doing the similar things together and sharing the wonder of the natural world.

As a closing note, I want to point out that when I take a dog out to enjoy the natural world, I do this with planning and intent.  I don’t just go out and take off the leash and hope for the best.  Even when I am hiking with friends, if I have a dog with me, there is always a small part of my attention devoted to where the dog is, at all times.  I am always aware of my dog’s sweet spot, and what might happen if I allowed him to roam beyond the safe distance that I know he will readily come within.  I always make it worth my dog’s while if I call him back to me; calling just to prove that I can is grandstanding and disrespectful.  If my dog is engaged with something, I try and be aware of it and go and have a look for myself.  This pays big dividends in many ways.  As a child, I learned to use my dog’s behaviour as information, and honing that skill as an adult has allowed me to see turtles and snakes hatching, nests of ground dwelling birds and the droppings of a great horned owl.  By following my dog’s lead in some of these exploration activities, I am able to connect with my dog on a deep and meaningful level.  When I call, he assumes I will have something equally interesting to share with him, be that a treat, a chance to work, or the opportunity to see something that I notice and find interesting.



Originally posted April 2013

Probably the toughest question you get as a dog behaviour consultant is “why does my dog have this problem”.  Regardless of the problem, aggression, anxiety, fears and phobias, separation anxiety, everyone wants to know why THEIR dog has a behaviour problem.  This is important to people for a variety of reasons including but not limited to the genetics of the dog, how he was raised and where he lives now.

When I saw Dr. Ian Dunbar speaking in Guelph several years ago, he made the point that the only time we can prevent a genetic problem from coming up is before the puppy is bred.  Once mom and dad have done their thing, whatever they pass along is expressed in the puppies.  This implies a very big responsibility on the part of the breeder, but also on the part of the puppy buyer.  In every class we take a moment to ask people about their choice of puppy and the responses are interesting.  They range from the serious dog enthusiast, like us who spends years meeting dogs they like, and visiting shows and breeders to select the best possible parents for the puppy and then selecting the offspring of those puppies, through the asinine.  Our most unusual rational behind getting a puppy involved a lady who went into a store looking for a potted plant for her sun room and came out with a Belgian Tervuren.  Not a terrifically easy Terv either.

If you are going to take the time to add a dog to your home, consider meeting at least mom first.  Meeting mom and dad should happen when mom is not being bred and there is an important and poorly kept secret about best practices in breeding.  If mom AND dad are on sight, it is unlikely they are a great match as breeding partners.  Sometimes, but not usually.  Usually, if you own a breeding bitch, you select a male or dog from someone else’s kennel to augment your breeding program.  If you are breeding dogs on purpose, you should have a goal in mind and once you have bred your brood bitch once, if she whelped or “threw” what you were looking for, you would keep one of the pups back to breed in a couple of years.  Often a reputable breeder will have a mom and a daughter on site, or even a granddaughter.  Normally the breeder might be breeding one of these dog in a year, but it is not common that a breeder would be breeding these dogs repeatedly.  There are exceptions; service dog organizations might be producing multiple litters, or kennels that provide dogs to the police and military might produce many litters, but in general, people who are serious about their breeding keep mom on site and take her to dad for breeding.

You don’t want to meet mom when she is in heat because she will be hormonally all over the map.  For the first while she will be very cuddly.  Then she will be somewhat stand offish.  Then she will be flirty, but not receptive to attention.  And finally she will only be interested in breeding the closest male.  When you do meet the bitch, you should be looking at her in terms of how she behaves.  Is she polite?  Is she nervous?  If she is behaving aggressively will she call off when the owner asks her to mind her manners?  Is she timid?  Is she a dog you could live with?  If she isn’t a dog you could live with, tomorrow, without any other training, then do you really want to live with the puppy she produces and teaches for the first eight weeks?

You don’t want to meet the sire of your litter on site either.  You should be visiting him separately from the bitch and you should be able to approach him and handle him.  If the stud is not a gentleman, do you really want one of his pups?  Probably not.  Once you have met the bitch and the sire, recognize that breeding is not like mixing paint; if you breed a tall dog to a short dog, you will not necessarily get a medium sized dog.  You probably won’t get any dogs who are as tall as their tallest parent and you also probably won’t get any dogs who are as small as their smallest parent, but you also are unlikely to get a litter of dogs all exactly the same size and all exactly mid way between the parents’ heights.

When you are meeting the parents of the litter you are interested in, the best thing you can do is to ask the breeder and the owner of the stud what they are aiming to produce in their litter.  They should be able to give you some really good information about what they are aiming for and why they think that these dogs will produce that.  if you don’t think you could live with either of the parents, most likely you are not going to be able to live with the offspring and the only time you get to make a genetic decision about a puppy is before he is bred.  Once mom and dad have bred, the genetic potential is set.  As a consumer, you get to make another choice though and that is to not purchase any puppy whose parents temperaments you don’t like.  For more information about choosing a good set of parents you can visit my blog called “Good Breeders Few and Far Between?” at

Once you have chosen great parents and a fantastic breeder, the next place you can directly influence behaviour problems is when the puppies are born.  This is what I call the “Miss Manners” stage.  It is everything that happens from the time the puppies are born until they are about 6 months of age when all the major social milestones have passed.

Ideally, puppies should have the opportunity for Early Neurological Stimulation in the litter before their eyes and ears open.  You can find out more about ENS at Neurological Stimulation gives your puppy the best chance at having great bounce back at avoiding anxiety issues and at overall better health.  If you are visiting breeders, take a copy of Dr. Battaglia’s work with you and ask them if they know about it and if they are doing it.  If they are doing “our own version” and are not willing to talk about concrete data and results, then they are not doing ENS; they may be giving the pups a lot of advantages, but then again they may not.

 Spider Pups Enriched Environment
Here is a great puppy den.  Look at all the surfaces and textures and toys, and everything is very clean.  This is what your puppy’s nest should look like when he is creeping and crawling from about four weeks till about 6 weeks when the litter can move onto bigger and better things.

When the pups begin to creep and crawl, they should have wonderful opportunities to climb, carry things around with them, explore and find things and generally develop the best brains possible.  If a breeder is sending out litter pictures and there are no images of toys and the pups are housed on flat newspaper, then they are going to have much more trouble as they develop learning about things like carrying items and climbing.  The person who does this the best in North America in my opinion is Suzanne Clothier.  Duckhill Kennels in the US does a fantastic job getting their little guys ready to go home and they do incredible stuff with their older dogs too; their Youtube video is well worth the watch if you want to know how to really do it in style;   Developing confident out going pups who are happy and eager to work is a lot of fun and is the least that a puppy deserves.

Then the puppy goes home and it is up to whomever had your pup between 8 and 16 weeks to introduce him safely to everything and everyone he will meet in the world.  If every puppy were carefully socialized during this period of time, there would be far fewer problem dogs in the world.  You can fix a lot of problems from the genetics department if you know what you are doing at this stage.  Not every genetic problem is fixable, but many of them are.  This means a great puppy school, and a great family who will help that pup to get where he needs to go and feel safe about doing it.

Before your pup hits 6 months, he also needs to learn things like not to jump up when greeting and not to drag you down the street to meet people, and not to snarf food off the table.  In short he needs to learn to be mannerly and to ask politely for the things he wants.  If you do your homework diligently at this age, before he gets huge, before he is able to knock you over, and before he is an adolescent, then adulthood is much easier.  If you have put everything into place before this stage, and he has good genetics, then you are ready for what might happen in the event that your puppy encounters a War Zone.

War Zones are what I call the horrific situations that dogs end up in that we wish they would not.  A car crash can set a nice dog seriously back if he is not resilient enough to incorporate that into his experience and look at it as something that happened just once.  Living in complete chaos is another kind of war zone that many dogs experience, and those resilient dogs are those who do just fine, even though they don’t live in an optimal situation.  It is also important to understand that what might be normal for one dog, may be unreasonable for another to cope with.  Labrador retrievers should not worry when guns go off suddenly and unexpectedly.  A working herding dog such as an Australian Shepherd should not be frightened by gunfire, but also should be concerned for the flock if he is hearing a lot of it.  When a dog goes through a War Zone, his ability to cope is going to depend on his genetics, which cannot be changed once he is conceived, and what happened between birth and six months, the “Miss Manners” stage.

There are four conditions here to consider.  There is the dog who as great genetics and who had a wonderful puppyhood.  This pup may be frightened but is likely going to bounce back and cope once the crisis is over.  These are the dogs who experience bad things and take the experience in stride.  These are also the dogs who sometimes seem not to worry about anything, no matter how crazy the situation is that you put them in.  These dogs also cope with unpleasant experiences by changing their behaviour, not by having a meltdown.

Then there are the dogs who have really, really sound genetics, and but didn’t get a great start in life.  Often these dogs cope just fine with war zones, but they may not always respond as predictably as we would like for them to respond.  They may behave quite outrageously or with a lack of inhibition.  They may be explosive in their responses.  Their bounce back from crises is not as fine tuned as their cohorts who got what they needed from birth onward.

D’fer as a puppy.  He has terrific genetics and had as perfect a puppyhood as I have ever seen.

Then there are dogs who got rolled the crummy genetic dice, but who had great puppy hoods.  These dogs may learn to cope with war zones, but they are never as good at it as those pups who got great genes.  These pups really ought to be in the hands of people who recognize problems early and who know what to do about it.  The sad fact is that these pups often end up in the hands of beginners and without a lot of support and luck, they end up in difficulty.

Next we have the dogs with decent genetics, but a really crummy puppyhood.  This was probably the situation that best describes how I ended up as a behaviour consultant; I had a dog who was genetically okay, but not fabulous, but she had a very difficult puppyhood.  We didn’t know as much as we do now, and I flooded her with all the things that frightened her believing that I was socializing her.  I was told to take her to the market, and the park and to let children give her treats.  I tried really, really hard, and looking back I can see that I frightened her.  Puppy classes were not available at that time and I did what I thought best.  I introduced my pup to people and when she showed that she was afraid by hiding behind me, I would put her in front of me and when she wouldn’t take treats, I would get frustrated and sometimes angry.  She was moderately fragile in her ability to cope to begin with and when I overwhelmed her as much as I did, she finally figured out that biting would make the scary thing go away.  The way that I over socialized this pup left her without good coping strategies as an adult.  This is the most difficult situation of all for the people, because when we look back, we feel overwhelming responsibility.  Looking back, I can see all the errors I made and when she became aggressive towards strangers, I eventually had to euthanize her.  Rest in peace Newtie; never again.  Now I help people to understand why this strategy is a bad idea.

D’fer has great genetics, and we were aware of the potential for overwhelming him.  Here he is in the bathtub for the first time.  You can tell he is not confident or happy because his brow is furrowed, his ears are dropped back and his eyes are quite large.  Realizing he was uncomfortable, I got in with him!

Finally we have the dog with both crummy genetics and a crummy puppy hood.  These dogs are fragile and don’t have any coping skills.  These dogs are the ones who present as frightened and withdrawn and overwhelmed or as over confident and defensively aggressive.  A lot of these dogs have a great deal of bravado but when faced with someone who comes back at them will back down and sometimes flee.  In an acute war zone, such as a home invasion or a car crash these dogs are extremely frightened and cannot escape their fears.  These dogs will often exhibit all sorts of behaviours that demonstrate their anxiety.  When they live with people who recognize the signs of their anxiety and can protect them from frightening stimuli, they can sometimes cope, but when they live with people who don’t recognize their anxiety, they really struggle.  When these dogs live in chaotic situations where stress is a part of day to day life, these dogs are often very overwhelmed and their people even if they are well meaning may not recognize that they are over threshold because these dogs don’t act out.

If you are looking for a stable pet, you need to start with good genetics.  Once you have found the genetic picture you want to live with, then make sure that your pup is raised to the standards of Miss Manners. He will need a great puppy class where the instructors are able to help you to recognize when your pup might be approaching threshold and help you to address that, while gently expanding your pup’s horizons.  Finally, avoid war zones with your pups.  If you have a herding dog, recognize that traffic may be over stimulating for them.  On the other hand, if you share your life with a retriever, getting upset that he is picking up everything that is within reach is just frustrating for both of you.  Choose carefully, expose to society with care, and avoid placing your dog in crises.

If you have a dog with serious behaviour issues, there are really three major sources of problems.  The genetics may be a problem.  He may not have had all the advantages of Miss Manner’s upbringing.  Or he may live in his equivalent of a war zone. Most likely though, there are elements of all three issues.



One morning this week, one of our puppy clients went to the park with their young dog. As per our directions, they sought out and found an area of the park where there were no other dogs where they could safely play with their puppy. A few minutes into their play, along came another car, which stopped and before they could catch their pup or even grab their leash to do so, the driver opened her door and two big dogs leapt out and immediately charged and grabbed the puppy. The puppy they waited for. The puppy they dreamed about. The puppy they are bringing to puppy class to help ensure he is going to grow up to be a behaviourally normal dog. The puppy they hoped would never have the behaviour problems they experienced with their previous two dogs. My clients watched in horror as their pup was picked up and shaken. Although there was no blood, after the owner of the attacking dogs left, they found their pup had sustained very serious wounds to his neck. Now they are facing the risk that their puppy won’t be as trusting of other dogs as he once was, or worse that he will be so afraid that he will be defensively aggressive towards dogs he doesn’t know. We have sent out a call to everyone we know through the school to help this youngster and we have a plan to address his trauma.

Before the attack, this was a completely behaviourally normal puppy.  The question we have now, is can we help him to return to this state?  We hope so!
Before the attack, this was a completely behaviourally normal puppy. The question we have now, is can we help him to return to this state? We hope so!

If this happened to your dog, or child or to you, would you know what to do? The first thing to do is to not panic. This is an emergency we hope never to have to deal with but the truth of the matter is that it happens from time to time and if you have a plan, you are in better shape than if you have to make up your response as you go along.
The next thing to do is to evaluate the situation. Many, many attacks are rude greeters who will not pick up and shake another dog. Some though are not that straightforward; if your dog is in the mouth of another dog, you must do whatever you can to stop the attack, but balance that off with protecting yourself. Citro-spray, canned air, an airhorn or mace can all break up fights if used well but how many of us actually carry that stuff and how many of us know how to use it effectively? You can also use your leash and put the handle around the waist of the attacking dog and drag him backwards, but again, this is not always a safe tactic. Screaming may attract help from by standers, but it may also ramp the dogs up. Having broken up two actual fights, I can tell you that even for the pros, this is a difficult feat and sometimes the only thing you can do is to wait it out until the fight is over. If at all possible at the very least, get the other owner to catch his or her dogs. Usually if you can contain the attacking dog, the other dog will back off and get out of harm’s way.

When there is a significant size difference, and the larger dog is showing signs like his tongue pulled all the way back into his mouth and whale eye, I know I am not looking at a dog who wants to play.  This is a risky situation and you bet I would do whatever I could to get my puppy out of this situation if I could.
When there is a significant size difference, and the larger dog is showing signs like his tongue pulled all the way back into his mouth and whale eye, I know I am not looking at a dog who wants to play. This is a risky situation and you bet I would do whatever I could to get my puppy out of this situation if I could.

Once the incident is over, offer your information and make sure you get the other owner’s information and let them know that you will need to see the other dog’s rabies certificate. While you are doing that begin your check over your dog’s neck and body for bite wounds. They may not bleed, so look very carefully especially if your dog has a thick coat. Black haired dogs sometimes have a lot of blood in their coats and you cannot see it against the dark fur, so wipe your hands through your dog’s coat.
In the event that the person who owns the other dog is unwilling to share their information, use your phone to get a picture of them so that you can go to the police and get help finding them. Let the person know that you are taking their picture; this may short change their reticence about sharing their information. If you do have to go to the police, get them to help you to get the rabies certificate information. Later on, if you want to pursue financial recourse to offset veterinary costs, then you will have the information you need to do that.
If there are injuries, seek veterinary attention sooner rather than later. Fresh injuries have the greatest chance for healing if they are attended to properly, so get medical care right away; don’t wait. This is one of the occasions where I am always glad that we keep muzzles in the truck; if my dog is badly injured, I may choose to muzzle him while I am examining him. Even the kindest and sweetest dog will bite if he is in pain; it is the only way he has to defend himself if what you are doing causes even more pain.


After he saw the vet, our young friend has been visiting other safe, quiet dogs to regain his confidence.  We will keep doing that.  Thanks to the vets who patched him up.  He had some pretty serious wounds!
After he saw the vet, our young friend has been visiting other safe, quiet dogs to regain his confidence. We will keep doing that. Thanks to the vets who patched him up. He had some pretty serious wounds!

Teaching a dog to wear a muzzle is an important skill and it is very easy. Take a coffee cup, yoghurt container or other long narrow container and smear something soft and tasty within it. Offer it to your dog to lick off the bottom. Keep practicing until when you offer the cup, your dog shoves his face right into the cup. At that point you can start to reward your dog after he puts his nose in. Transfer this skill to the muzzle and you are good to go.


D'fer cut his pad REALLY badly once.  Although he didn't snap at the vet, I didn't want to take any chances so I put on his muzzle so that the vet could do her job.  Although he didn't love wearing his muzzle or having his injury looked at, he stayed calm and accepting throughout the examination.  They had to anesthetize him to repair the injury.
D’fer cut his pad REALLY badly once. Although he didn’t snap at the vet, I didn’t want to take any chances so I put on his muzzle so that the vet could do her job. Although he didn’t love wearing his muzzle or having his injury looked at, he stayed calm and accepting throughout the examination. They had to anesthetize him to repair the injury.

Once the traumatic event is over, and veterinary care has been sought out, then it is time to start to think about the future. This is where you make sure that you have been taken care of as much as your dog has! Seek support from friends and family and don’t be surprised if you are upset for days or even weeks after an attack. If your own trauma goes on for an extended period of time, seek out professional help. You have observed something that is likely going to upset you. Get help if you need it.
As a final note after your dog has been examined by a veterinarian, you may have to help him to learn to trust other dogs again. For this pup, we have introduced him to a gentle adult lab who held a down stay while the puppy was permitted to sniff him all over. I sat at the lab’s head and fed the lab for tolerating such a long look by a young puppy in a cone. Everything went off without a hitch because we chose the right dog and I carefully supervised the dog all the way through the event. Then we brought the pup to puppy class and we sat on the floor with the puppy and allowed him to greet his friends over our arms. After he had a chance to greet his friends, he was taken home. This week we will be allowing him to visit every puppy class we run to do more of the same. When his physical wounds heal, we will start to carefully introduce him to selected well behaved dogs and re-introduce him to play with other dogs. It will be important in the coming weeks for him to have hundreds of great and safe experiences with other dogs and teach him that if he is scared he can rely upon his people to take care of problems for him.



Originally posted July 16, 2013


We have recently seen a spate of puppies who have been coming home at 13, 14, and 15 weeks of age.  People have a variety of reasons for holding off on getting their pups, and most often we hear that they don’t want to go through the early puppy training.  They wait a little longer in the hopes of getting a puppy who is less needy than a young pup or who might be toilet trained.  There are some issues though, including diminished socialization and substrate preference.


We know that the bulk of socialization for a puppy is finished by the time the puppy is 16 weeks.  We like our puppies to meet between 200 and 400 people and between 100 and 200 hundred dogs.  Is that overkill?  Yes, but If your puppy has trouble with meeting people, this will ensure that you have your bases covered.  The easiest way to do this is to count out 600 kibbles, and put 200 of them in one bagggie and four hundred in another.  Every time your puppy sees, interacts with or plays with another puppy or dog, feed him one kibble from the bag of 200.  When you have used up all your kibbles you know your pup has met enough dogs.  Do the same with people using the 400 kibble baggie and when you are finished that, you know you have connected with enough people to ensure that your puppy is well socialized.




The name of the game is to get rid of all your kibbles before your pup reaches 16 weeks.  If you get your puppy at 16 weeks, then you cannot do this preventive exercise because you have run out of time.  If you get your puppy when he is 15 weeks, then you have a week to get rid of all 600 kibbles.  That is a lot of work.  If you get your pup at 14 weeks, you have two weeks to get rid of 600 kibbles or 300 greetings in two weeks.  13 weeks translates to 200 hundred greetings a week, 12 weeks translates into 150 greetings a week, and 11 weeks translates into 125 greetings a week.  Ten weeks means 100 greetings a week, 9 weeks means about 75 greetings a week and 8 weeks means 50 greetings a week.  Fifty greetings a week, means about seven greetings a day.  7 greetings a day is a whole lot easier than 90 greetings a day which is how many you would need to do if you got your puppy at fifteen weeks.


Even though everyone likes a puppy, they are not going to all line up at your door step when you get your older pup home.  The closer to eight weeks that your puppy comes home, the more likely it is that you will be able to get all these friendly folks to come and gently visit your puppy!  Image credit: logoboom / 123RF Stock Photo



Aside from the number of people and pups your dog will need to meet, there is also all of the handling, grooming and veterinary procedures you will have to practice.  When the puppy is young, it is very easy to gently introduce handling to them.  You can work with them when they are tired and they will often accept handling readily.  By twelve weeks though, your pup will be a lot more active, and wiggly and may not accept handling and grooming very readily.  If the puppy hasn’t been handled much at the breeder’s, you may have your work cut out for you.  The more that the pups have been handled before 12 weeks the easier this will be, but we are seeing more and more pups who have never really been handled before going home and these puppies may be very difficult to restrain, groom, pat and take to the vet.  Ideally, puppies are handled daily at the breeder’s from the day they are born, and by an increasing number of people as the time to go home approaches, and then by as many people as you can get to handle the pup before he is 16 weeks.  Getting a cheap stethoscope and playing veterinarian with everyone the puppy meets can pay big dividends later on when you go to the vet.  If you are trying to squeeze that activity in between weeks 12 and 16 along with the dozens of people you need your pup to meet each day, you are going to have a tonne more work to do each day than you would if you were going to spread these tasks over more time.


Between 8 and 12 weeks pups do a lot of resting.  At about twelve weeks, puppies often “wake up” and become significantly more active.  This means that instead of a puppy who konks out after twenty or thirty minutes, you have a puppy who will regularly stay awake for two to four hours at a time.  The advantage to having a pup when they are younger is that you can set boundaries and rules while the puppy is awake, and then when he is naughty you can put him down for a nap and take a break.  Older pups are generally awake and active for longer periods of time, so they have more chance to make mistakes and then you have to have a plan to get them to do something else.


The final big thing that happens with older pups is that they are often sent home before they are toilet trained.  If your pup was at the breeder and not getting out to socialize with new people, or handled, the chances are pretty good he also didn’t get the advantage of early toilet training.  Toilet training in dogs is somewhat like toilet training in people.  If you have never seen a toilet before you are about three or four years of age, you may have difficulty using the standard equipment; not because you cannot, but because you have learned that something other than a standard toilet is the place to go.  Dogs are just like us, except they need to learn what is a toilet before they are twenty weeks.  If your puppy was in a kennel until he was 13 weeks, all of his experience will be on cement.  If he has been in a home, but hasn’t been taught to go outside, he is going to think that carpets, tile and hardwood is the right place to go.  You have time to fix this, but you will have to put in the work to get your dog to understand that outside is the right place to toilet.  Due to his age, he is going to be awake for longer periods of time, and have a longer digest tract to fill up and empty.  A longer digestive tract means that you can go outside with him and he may not go when you want him to.  If you are pressed for time and you bring him in, you may end up with a puppy who still needs to go but who doesn’t need to go urgently.  My general rule for older pups is that if they don’t perform outside, they get to go back to their crates and try again in a half hour until they go.  Once they have gone to the toilet where I want them to, THEN they get breakfast, to play in the house or to go on a walk.  If they haven’t gone in a timely manner, then they go back to their crate for a half hour and try again.  Every time your older puppy has an accident indoors, you are setting him up to think that toileting indoors is just fine.  If you have lots of mistakes, then by twenty weeks, your dog will happily toilet in the house whenever he needs to go.


Older pups should be at least on their way to being toilet trained.  If they are not, the breeder has not done their job.



There are reasons that a breeder might hold a puppy back.  To start with, the pup may be immature in some way or another.  If this is the case, then a good breeder will be doing everything that you would do with an 8 week old puppy.  The pup would get to go for car rides and to meet new people and would have supervised house time to learn what is permitted and what is not.  He would get toilet training and meet lots of people and other dogs in different contexts, with someone who is experienced enough to know when her pup is overwhelmed and needs more time or space.  Some breeders will keep several pups till they are 16 weeks old so they can get a better idea of which pups will be worth breeding before she sends her next breeding dog away.  Again, this breeder will be putting in the work to make sure that the pup gets everything he or she needs.  Sometimes not every pup in the litter gets sold in a timely manner.  The breeder should still be doing the work that will turn out an exemplary puppy.


A breeder may choose to keep a puppy back if she thinks he might grow up to be a good breeding prospect or if she thinks he might have potential in dog sport.  If she does this, and then at 12, 13, or 14 weeks, she should be selling a puppy who is well socialized, has had a good amount of handling, who may have been to a dog show or two, and who is already toilet trained.  If a breeder keeps a puppy back for any reason and he is coming home without the basics, you should be prepared for lots more work than it would have been had you purchased your puppy when he was eight weeks of age.  Image credit: reddogs / 123RF Stock Photo



If you are purchasing an older puppy, you need to know about what has been done with the puppy from birth to eight weeks ( see “How Much Is That Puppy In the Window?” at, and also what has been done between 8 weeks and when you got your puppy.  Raising a puppy properly takes time, effort and excellence, so if you want to skip that, you need to make sure that the older puppy you get has had everything you want them to have.  Your puppy deserves the very best, not just of what you can give him, but what the breeder gives him too.



Originally published June 1, 2013

Puppies change dramatically between 8 weeks when we get them, and 10 weeks when we start taking them into the wider world and 12 weeks when they are most like what people think a puppy will be like.


Puppies can come home at 7 weeks without serious behavioural consequences, but they are very young babies. Make sure they get lots of crib time in their crates, and make sure that they are warm enough and have the chance to eat moistened food four times a day.

We chose Friday just before he 8 week birthday and brought her home at 8 weeks. Here she is just after her puppy testing.


Ideally, puppies should come home within a day or two of their eight week birthday. Before your puppy comes home have a crate set up for him at home and another in the car you are travelling within. When you arrive home, put your puppy down on the ground to potty. Choose a word to tell him what to do and say it while he is going. Watch carefully; tiny little puppies can sometimes go when you don’t notice. Once he has gone to the toilet, carry him into the house and help him to explore the room his crate is going to be in. When he appears to be sleepy, put him down for a nap. Follow your pup’s nap/wake cycle as closely as you can until about an hour before your bedtime. Get your puppy up and out to pee and spend some time playing with him for the hour before you go to bed. Put him in his crate to go to bed for the night and then set an alarm for two hours after you go to sleep. Get up, take your puppy out and then put him right back to bed again.

Our recommended schedule for 8 week old puppies is as follows:

Evening: Keep your puppy busy for one to two hours before bed time. Take him out and put him in his crate for the night.

Bedtime: Set an alarm for 3 to 4 hours after you go to sleep, get your puppy up and take him out to toilet. Put him back to bed. If he wakes you in the night, take him out to toilet. If he goes, then he can sleep in his crate in your room. If he does not, move his crate to another room where he will not disturb anyone through the night so that you can get back to sleep.

Morning: When your alarm goes off, get your puppy out of his crate and carry him to his toilet area and cue him to pee. As soon as your puppy goes to the toilet, he can come in and have his breakfast and hang out with you. Watch him carefully though; you must be in the same room! If your puppy is doing something naughty, just say “that’s enough” and if he continues, say “too bad” and put him in his crate or a safe room for 30 seconds to 3 minutes. If he starts to look like he needs to go to the toilet, carry him out to your toilet area and ask him to go. If he goes he gets to spend more time out. If he does not, then put him in his crate for half an hour and try again. Puppies usually need to urinate or defecate every thirty minutes or so. Your puppy will need a long nap in the morning in his crate where he can rest without being disturbed after your puppy has had an early morning play.

Late Morning to Early Afternoon: Repeat your morning routine with your puppy.

Late Afternoon to Early Evening: Repeat your morning routine with your puppy.

You puppy might need to sleep as much as 20 hours a day when he first comes home. Allowing him to rest undisturbed with predictable activities of play and training in between will help him to grow a brain that is good at learning, that is good at bouncing back after being startled and that accepts new things. Sleep is important for young puppies. Exercise is not. If your puppy is zooming around like a maniac, he needs a nap, not a walk.

Short at home puppy visits are better than walks for 8 week old puppies. Notice that we have several important elements in the room; an adult to supervise, two crates to nap in or have time outs in, and lots of legal toys. Photo Credit: Sue Alexander


Now that you have a good sleep wake cycle established with your puppy, you can begin adding in extra time, making sure your pup gets out to pee every half an hour when he is awake. If he toilets right away, he can have more time out. Work with your puppy’s natural rhythms as much as possible. At ten weeks, your puppy is ready for some short off leash walks in a safe environment and puppy play dates on a daily basis. Your puppy should not be visiting the dog parks at this age as he could be bullied or harassed. At ten weeks you can stop setting your alarm for two hours after you go to sleep, and only get up if your puppy wakes you. Remember to use the rule that if he wakes you to toilet, and he actually toilets, he can continue to spend the night with you. If he wakes you to play, you can move his crate to another room so that you can get a good night’s sleep. If your puppy is having over night accidents, go back to waking up through the night and taking him out.

When your puppy is out of his crate, he must be in the same room as you for his own safety. You can give him about as much time unattended as a two year old child; this means that if you need to use the bathroom, you must take him with you, or put him in his crate for safety’s sake. Continue to use “that’s enough/too bad” to teach him what behaviours you want him to do when he is out of his crate and what behaviours you want him to not do.


By now, you should have a great schedule with your puppy, based on what you started above. Your puppy should begin to sleep through the night on a regular basis now. Your puppy should not need to sleep as much anymore and can spend more time out of his crate with the family. Anytime you cannot directly supervise, put him in his crate where he is safe from chewing on dangerous items such as electrical cords or getting into your plants or causing mayhem. Allow your puppy about as much unsupervised time as you would allow a three year old.

Your puppy can begin to have daily regular off leash exercise. 12 weeks is the ideal time to start teaching leash manners, but only work on this for five to ten minutes at a time, twice a day. Your puppy can now tolerate up to half an hour of off leash hiking with you. Please build up your puppy’s endurance slowly, working up to an hour off leash at about 8 months of age.

Off leash walks are a blast for people and dogs! Start at about 12 weeks of age and you can work up to longer hikes by the time your dog is 8 or nine months old. Photo Credit: John Alexander



Sitting on the couch in the lobby recently, I was caught a little bit unawares by the incoming class. First came an older, 40lb dog and she politely looked at me, sniffed and said hello. In came a younger happy looking dog who raced up, sniffed me and then went on to the classroom. And then in came an older dog who raced in, rushed at me barking and straining on the leash and tried to jump onto my lap. “He just loves people” said the dog’s person. “He just wants to greet everyone!”

Does he? Let’s put this into some perspective. If these were young children coming in past the principal of their school, the first child would be an older kid who made eye contact and moved on. The second kid would be a first grader who said “HI! I have a new baseball” and ran off to join his class. The third kid would be a fourth grader who charged at me screaming and tried to climb me. Describing behaviour in terms of how a child might behave often helps us to determine what is normal and what is not when it comes to a dog’s behaviour. I want to be clear-dogs don’t behave like humans, but we can draw parallels in social situations to help learn more about what they are doing. In this case, there is a strong disconnect between the dog’s behaviour and the person’s interpretation of that behaviour.

So just what does a normal dog to human greeting look like? Normal greetings may be enthusiastic but they should not be frantic. They should include lots of soft, curvy behaviour. They should reflect the behaviour that the dog gets in return; thus when greeting someone in a chair, the dog should approach calmly and quietly, and should reflect that the person is in a relaxed posture. Most dogs are not interested in sniffing hands to greet, but they will often sniff other parts of your body. The dog should be exhibiting at least a modicum of self control.

This dog has it all!  She is tolerant of hands over the head greeting, she is calm and relaxed and she is familiar with what to expect on meeting someone.  good breeding, early socialization and good training are what make good greeters!  Copyright: dash / 123RF Stock Photo
This dog has it all! She is tolerant of hands over the head greeting, she is calm and relaxed and she is familiar with what to expect on meeting someone. good breeding, early socialization and good training are what make good greeters! Copyright: dash / 123RF Stock Photo

It is not difficult to recognize greeters who aren’t actually friendly. There are a number of signs and many folks don’t recognize them. The first is the barking greeter. If a dog is barking or growling while approaching you, he is not behaving in a way that should attract you to greet him. In fact, if a dog is on leash and approaching you while barking and growling, ask the handler to stop and wait until he settles. You don’t need to put yourself at risk when a dog is behaving in a way that is potentially dangerous. Barking comes in a variety of flavours (one presenter I saw at a conference found that dogs bark in 35 distinct ways each corresponding with a different situation) but in general barking to greet is a bit like screaming as you approach someone; generally it is not a good sign.

Jumping up is a tactic often employed by dogs who want to get closer to your face so that they can greet you at eye level. Usually this sort of jumping up involves putting feet on the person and turning the head away from your face while snuggling into your body. There is another flavour of jumping out though; it is the rocket launcher method of greeting. These dogs don’t approach closely and then jump up while attending to where they are in relation to your body; they either race in closely and come straight up into your face or they launch themselves towards your face from a distance. In both cases the dogs skip several behaviours that show us that they are behaving in a friendly manner. Friendly greeting is preceded by soft and fluid motions in the dog. It is not friendly to tackle me when you meet me, regardless of if you are a human or a dog! Often these dogs who launch themselves accompany their facial interactions with rapid short licks to the face, which may in fact be inhibited bites. Finally these launchers have very stiff bodies that come in like a bolt out of a crossbow. In a medium to large breed dog, this is potentially very dangerous to the person being greeted.

This greeting is not necessarily safe!  Although the child is happy, the dog's face is very tense and his ears are pulled back.  You can even see the whites of his eye!  If I were to guess this dog may be inhibiting a facial bite instead of "kissing" the girl he is greeting.  Dogs don't kiss or hug, but we do and our expectation sometimes colours the way we think about greeting with dogs.  Copyright: teraberb / 123RF Stock Photo
This greeting is not necessarily safe! Although the child is happy, the dog’s face is very tense and his ears are pulled back. You can even see the whites of his eye! If I were to guess this dog may be inhibiting a facial bite instead of “kissing” the girl he is greeting. Dogs don’t kiss or hug, but we do and our expectation sometimes colours the way we think about greeting with dogs. Copyright: teraberb / 123RF Stock Photo

Another behaviour that is often misinterpreted as friendly is the dog who rushes in and throws himself on his back. This is a cut off signal; a signal dogs use to tell other dogs that they are not a threat, but also that they are not comfortable. Too often I see people confuse this fast, thrown to the ground roll over with the soft inviting “scratch my belly” behaviour that you see in a relaxed dog who wants to cuddle. The differences are usually easy to see. A dog who wants to have his belly scratched is usually already being touched. He melts himself into your hand, and slithers into the belly up posture. The dog who wants you to go away will usually throw himself to the ground and if you bend over him, he may launch himself into your face. In general, if you don’t know the dog, don’t rub his belly! If you know the dog really well and you are having touch time where you are both engaged and your dog leans into you and offers first his chest by lifting a front leg and then his belly by lifting his back leg, then you are dealing with an intimate and special invitation to cuddle. If your dog throws himself to the ground, he is not asking for cuddles; he is asking you to give him a little bit of space.

This dog's body is curved and his face is loose and relaxed.  If I were sitting beside him and he offered me his belly like this, I would likely scratch his chest and maybe his belly.  Everything about his posture tells me he is relaxed and comfortable with the person who is taking his picture.  Copyright: evdoha / 123RF Stock Photo
This dog’s body is curved and his face is loose and relaxed. If I were sitting beside him and he offered me his belly like this, I would likely scratch his chest and maybe his belly. Everything about his posture tells me he is relaxed and comfortable with the person who is taking his picture. Copyright: evdoha / 123RF Stock Photo




Compare this dog's tense body and tight facial features to the last dog.  This dog is using his body and face to ask for more space.  I have had a number of dogs throw themselves into this posture at my feet and I recognize that they are not asking for me to pay attention to them.  They may be compelled to close the distance between me and them, but they don't want my attention.  Copyright: yannp / 123RF Stock Photo
Compare this dog’s tense body and tight facial features to the last dog. This dog is using his body and face to ask for more space. I have had a number of dogs throw themselves into this posture at my feet and I recognize that they are not asking for me to pay attention to them. They may be compelled to close the distance between me and them, but they don’t want my attention. Copyright: yannp / 123RF Stock Photo


These three behaviours; vocalizing, rushing in and launching, or rushing in and throwing himself to the ground are all signals to me that the dog is uncomfortable with greeting so I just don’t greet. My response often results in a dog who takes a moment, composes himself and then settles down for a calmer greeting. Recognizing that you have a dog who is uncomfortable greeting is important though; if your dog is engaging in these behaviours, it is best to take a more structured and well thought out approach to greeting.

Greeting styles depend on a number of factors. The first of them is how the dog is wired. Some dogs are really, really social with people and think people are just fascinating. You can pick these dogs out by the way they behave towards people. Usually they are aware of what people are doing and like to be engaged with their people. I often said of one of my dogs that “nothing is done as well as it is done when helped by a German Shepherd”. It didn’t matter if I was digging a hole for a tree, or putting laundry in the dryer, Buddy’s head was right in the way, helping out. He might be lying beside me while I read a book. Or he could be trailing me on a hike, or even leading me out. He was always interested in what I was interested in, and if we met people, he was interested in what they were doing. I was a Scout leader when I had Buddy and he was fascinated by what the kids were doing; he would help to gather wood for fires, or set up tents or sometimes kill their soccer balls, but whatever we as a group were doing, he was interested. Buddy would approach nearly anyone and although he was invariably polite, keeping his paws to himself, he would circle around new people and bring them things that he found and stick his nose into things that the people were doing.

Some dogs are not at all interested in what people are doing. They are interested in other things in the world, but not in people or their activities. When turned loose in a crowd, they are often avoidant of new people and they are much more interested in things that are not being done by people. These dogs almost universally love their people, but not people in general. My friend Cooper the Welsh Terrier is a dog like this. He is always pleased to see me, and as well trained as he is, he is always polite when we meet. He is less enthusiastic about the students at the school; he is polite but obviously cool to them. He will approach if he is instructed to, but he doesn’t approach with the kind of enthusiasm that Buddy did. Even when his person, Seanna, came to pick him up after a long boarding, he was pleased to see her, but then wanted to get on with his plans for the day.

Buddy and Cooper are wired differently and although they were each taught to greet politely, they approach greeting related to their own styles of interacting with people. Buddy approached greeting as a whole body experience to be shared deeply with the person he was greeting all the while taking great care to remain soft and reflect what the person was doing. Cooper is more circumspect. He greets but he is less involved or engaged than Buddy was; he is happy to see people, but not so deeply enthusiastic that he devotes his whole being to it.

The next factor that impacts greeting is training. Whether we realize it or not, we are always training. If we habitually trip over the dog when we get up in the night, the dog will either learn to sleep elsewhere or you will learn to move more carefully in the dark. It is unlikely that interacting with your dog is not going to change either your behaviour or his or more often, both your behaviour and his. Many people don’t really have a good picture of how they want their dogs to greet when they are introduced to new people, and they leave the training to chance. The outcome of training is much more reliable if you know what you want the dog to do first.

The first thing I teach my dogs about greeting is that keeping four paws on the floor will result in more good things coming to puppies. When a young dog meets me and puts his paws on me I do nothing. I don’t knee him in the chest, or tell him what to do, I just wait. Standing on your hind legs is usually a short lived behaviour in dogs. Once the pup is back to having four feet on the floor, I then give him attention and sometimes a food treat. Unless you want to have a dog who keeps jumping up on you, telling him what to do to get a reward is only going to perpetuate the problem. It is much better for him to learn that keeping his paws to himself will result in attention. Later on, I add in sitting to the mix. When the dog and I approach, I wait until he is sitting to greet him. I also help him out by not greeting him with my hand over his head. He cannot see when you do that and many dogs will jump up to try and make eye contact with you. Gentle scratches under the chin can help dogs a lot because the dog has to stay down low to keep getting scratched and because you aren’t covering the dog’s eyes.

If you don’t know what you want when you are training your dog, it is hard to choose the right thing to do. If one week you pay attention to the dog while he is jumping and the next week you push him away, and the third week you send him to his crate when he approaches you, then you are going to have one mixed up pup by the end of the month. It is important to decide on the rules and then teach them to your dog systematically in order for him to be successful. If the dog doesn’t know the rules, then it is not a big surprise that he doesn’t know what to do.

Then there the dogs who have been well bred, but who may have missed important socialization milestones. These dogs often lack the impulse control necessary to be successful when they are meeting and greeting either dogs or people. These dogs may be able learn to greet nicely, but often they start out in the rude greeter category. If a pup leaves the litter too early or too late, if they don’t meet enough different people before they hit 16 weeks, or if they were a singleton in a litter, then they may have difficulty understanding social signals. These dogs grow up to have it really tough. They may in fact want to spend time with people, but they may just not know how to do that particularly well.

I often think that poor greeters are somewhat like strangers in a strange land. No matter why these dogs are greeting poorly, they are really struggling and their behaviour can make them really hard to be around. It is difficult for families to take these dogs down the street because people approaching means an uncomfortable dance to prevent the dog from getting overwhelmed and jumping or knocking people over. Approaching people may have reservations about the whirling jumping whirlwind that seems trapped in your dog’s body and they may say unpleasant things or cross the road to avoid you. It can be even more difficult for these dogs to cope with day to day in home activities such as guests and visitors.

I think that an awful lot of Fido's are at best ambivalent about greeting every person they meet.  If you don't have a reason to greet a dog, it is often best to approach greeting the way you would approach greeting strangers in an airport.  You might make eye contact, you might smile, but likely you wouldn't get touchy feely with a perfect stranger.  Your average dog in the street will likely appreciate your consideration!  Copyright: baz777 / 123RF Stock Photo
I think that an awful lot of Fido’s are at best ambivalent about greeting every person they meet. If you don’t have a reason to greet a dog, it is often best to approach greeting the way you would approach greeting strangers in an airport. You might make eye contact, you might smile, but likely you wouldn’t get touchy feely with a perfect stranger. Your average dog in the street will likely appreciate your consideration! Copyright: baz777 / 123RF Stock Photo

So how should you approach rude greeting? If the dog is not your dog, there is absolutely nothing wrong with stepping back and excusing yourself from greeting that dog. We don’t need to greet every dog we meet! Likewise, if you live with a poor greeter, he need not meet every person you encounter; giving him a break will help him in the long run to learn some self control. Sometimes just redirecting your rude greeter to some treats will make things easier for everyone. There is a nice side benefit to this tactic; you will classically pair the person approaching to the treats which will help the dog to achieve a calmer state of being as he approaches people, and that will allow him to think carefully about what he does when he is greeting. As a final note, if you have a rude greeter many trainers have tips and tricks to help you out, based on what is going on with your dog. Finding a trainer to help with rude greeting is often a really good way to proceed as they can often figure out what the best tactics are with your dog.



First Published September 19, 2013


I am starting a new section on the blog where I am going to feature people I know who breed dogs carefully and thoughtfully to help people to learn a little more about who breeders are.  Breeders often get a bad rap, but often they shouldn’t.   I would like to share with people some of the questions that I think are important to ask breeders and get some answers from the breeders themselves.  If you know a good breeder who consistently breeds nice dogs and who cares about where their dogs end up and what they dog throughout their lives, feel free to recommend a breeder to me.  I will consider breeders of both purebred or mixed breed dogs as long as the breeders are the kind of caring folks who produce nice dogs and carefully select the families they go to.  When families have options to get a nice dog and they keep that dog in their homes for the life of the dog, then we have a situation where dogs don’t get into shelters or rescues, and that is what I hope to achieve by helping people to better understand the process of breeding and raising great family dogs.

Dianne Mackie is a client who also breeds Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers.  We have had a half dozen of her puppies in our classes, and we always enjoy them.  They are delightful dogs who are great clowns and lovely pets.  Here in her own words are Dianne’s thoughts on her breed!
What breed do you breed, and what do you love about your breed?


I have been loved and owned by Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers since 1988.  After much research, I chose Wheatens because they are a medium-sized, active dog originating in Ireland (where I grew up) and a good natured, all round family pet. They were an all purpose farm dog; owned by the poor – not a dog for the Gentry. I can say I made the right choice for myself and my family. Exuberant and enthusiastic are two words used to describe Wheatens. Full of character and personality, Wheatens are sweet-natured, affectionate and very people oriented. They thrive in homes where they are part of the family and are included in daily family activities. They are renowned for their beautifully soft, non-shedding coat which is a warm wheaten color. Wheatens do require regular brushing and grooming. Most people would not choose another breed once they have been loved by a Wheaten.

Piper, Willow and flor outside 5

Three of Dianne’s dogs!  I have met these dogs and they are all friendly and easy going with people!



What is the biggest drawback to living with your breed?


I thought about this for a long time, and really could not come up with an answer. For me, there are no drawbacks but Wheatens are not a dog everyone, especially those who would like a little less enthusiasm and spirit!



What do you do with your own dogs?


I show my dogs in conformation. Flora, (aged 11), Will (9), and Maggie (5) are Canadian Champions. Shamrock, the youngest is ½ way to her championship. All our dogs have been to Puppy Socialization Classes followed by at least 2-3 levels of Obedience Training. My daughter enjoys taking Shamrock to Rally ‘O classes at our favourite training school -‘’Dogs In The Park’’ and she hopes to be ready to compete soon. My daughter and Shamrock love the weekly off leash walks also run by “Dogs In The Park”. The dogs get a long daily walk in the neighbourhood and take turns in accompanying us on trips and outings. Going to soccer games were one of the favourite evening activities when my kids were young. Flora always found a dog lover nearby who would pet her for the whole game, her head on their lap. When Maggie was 8 months, she travelled with us by car to PEI. She was a delight to travel with.


Here Dianne is showing one of her dogs in the sport of conformation.  This sport is intended to help breeders to compare their dogs to a known and agreed upon standard.  This is more than a beauty show though; the judge looks at the dogs and makes certain that they move normally compared to how the breed standard says they should move and does a preliminary health check.  Males who have retained testicles are disqualified for instance because that is a heritable trait that can lead to significant health issues in the offspring.  By eliminating those dogs who carry the gene for monorchidism (the veterinary term for a retained testicle), healthier dogs will be produced. Champions are dogs who have competed against a number of other dogs and earned points.  When they earn enough points, they earn their Championship.  In Canada the Canadian Kennel Club governs this, and in the United Stated the American Kennel Club governs this.  If you look at a pedigree and it says CAN AM Ch before the dog’s name, then the dog has earned a championship in both countries!



What do you hope your puppy owners will do with their dogs?


First of all, my new puppy owners will have their puppies signed up for Puppy Socialization Classes before the pups leave my home. I can’t stress enough how important these classes are for everyone to get off to a great start. I encourage at least 2 levels of basic obedience training and more. It is a great bonding activity and can help manage a problem early before it becomes more serious. I want the pups to be a cherished family member and join the family in their activities. If introduced early to water, Wheatens love to swim and have enjoyed riding in a canoe and even surfing. Wheatens are becoming more involved in herding activities as they did round up the cattle in Ireland. I hope puppy owners will join our national Wheaten Club: The Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier Association of Canada.  (I am the Regional Director for South Central Ontario). There’s lots of great information in the 4 times/year publication and is a great way to connect with other Wheaten owners and activities.

Proud Mother Maggie!

Puppies need lots of chances to explore and play and learn.  These pups are too young for puppy classes, but they will learn and explore even more in a good puppy socialization class!



If you could give any advice to people who are considering purchasing one of your puppies, what would it be?


Do your research on the breed. Go to dog shows. Talk with many breeders.


Find a breeder you like, respect and feel comfortable and who has time to spend with you. Ask lots of questions and you should expect the breeder will ask you about your family, lifestyle and how much time you have for a pup.


Then get on their waiting list. You may have to wait for your puppy but it will be worth it. A good breeder will be there for support and advice for the duration of your dog’s life.


Buying a puppy is not like buying a can of soup!  A good breeder often has a waiting list and will match the right pup to the right family.  A waiting list is one sign of a good breeder.  Find someone who can work with you over time.  If you are able to get to know the breeder ahead of time, then you will have a lasting relationship that will help you to be successful with your puppy throught his or her life.



What advice do you have for families with children who want one of your puppies?


First, I want to meet all the children to see the family dynamics, how they behave and interact with dogs. Parents need to have time and energy for the pup and the amount of work a small puppy involves. Having a puppy is almost as much work as having a new baby.


I want to make sure they understand that, though it may be Johnny’s puppy, the majority of responsibility needs be theirs. I want to know that the children will be involved in Puppy Socialization classes and the dog’s training classes if they are old enough. Children should sit down to hold a puppy. The puppy’s teeth are needle sharp. Just like children,  puppies put everything in their mouths. Children should hold a toy in their hands while playing so the puppy bites the toy, not fingers.  Look at your home from a puppy’s viewpoint to see what is safe and what dangers puppy could get into. Anything on the floor can be a hazard for the puppy. Puppy needs a safe place (crate) of his own where he can rest and not be disturbed.

Char and Maggie

Wheatens are family dogs!  Charlotte and Shamrock train in Rally O and are getting ready to compete.



Do you have any advice about living successfully with your breed?


Keep them stimulated physically and mentally. Have rules. Be firm but fair. Love and cherish their unique personalities. Lots of positive reinforcement and praise. They just want to be with you so do not leave them alone for long periods. Make provisions for them during the day if you are working outside the home. Small puppies should not be left alone for more than one period of 2-3 hours in a 24 hour period.



Understanding that each dog is an individual with unique likes and dislikes can help you to find interesting things to do with your dog.  This Wheaten loves the water and is playing in a pool in the yard.  Enjoy the clownishness of your dog and he will reward you with ever more creative activities.


Do you have any additional comments you would like to share with new puppy buyers?


If you want a good night’s sleep, then place the puppy’s crate in your bedroom at night. When the puppy hears your breathing and movement, it won’t feel alone and abandoned. This way, you will only be up once in the night when the puppy needs out vs.  listening to a lonely, distressed puppy crying all night in the kitchen.


Do you have a website?


No, but check out the website of our national club for the newly revised “Puppy Buyer’s Guide”.

It has lots of information for those looking for a puppy: