Want to be sure that Spot’s social behavior is spotless? Dr. Barbara Sherman, a specialist in animal behavior at North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine says the best way to prevent dog bites is to start training puppies in proper social behavior early on.
Some 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year, and one in five dog bites results in injuries that require medical attention. According to Dr. Sherman, here are the best ways to raise your puppies into well-mannered adult dogs:
- If selecting a puppy from a breeder, ask to see the parents and pass up puppies whose parents are aggressive. Don’t be swayed by phrases like "the mother is just guarding her puppies" or "the father is just being territorial" since the best predictor of a young puppy’s future behavior is the behavior of its parents. If you want your puppy to grow up to be a friendly family dog, select a puppy whose parents are friendly and a breeder who values good temperament.
- Puppies handled gently and exposed to many positive experiences during the critical "socialization period" (3-14 weeks) are less likely than unhandled puppies to show fear and aggression when they become adults.
- Puppies that are not well socialized are likely, as adult dogs, to be fearful of strangers and to display "keep away" aggression toward them.
- Children and puppies should be well supervised; it is important that puppies have positive and not fearful experiences with children.
- Puppies should be taught "bite inhibition." When your puppy uses its sharp teeth on your hand during play, yelp or say "ow," look away and withdraw from the interaction – no more play for a short time. The pup needs to learn that the fun stops when he uses his teeth on you. Then, give the puppy an appropriate toy and resume the interaction. Do not punish or frighten the puppy, since this can lead to defensive behavior. When the puppy behaves appropriately, praise him and resume play.
- See your veterinarian for suggestions about how to socialize and train your puppy.
Dr. Sherman can be reached at 919/513-6141 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.