Behavioral health is equally as important as physical health and conformation. A “pet-quality” puppy is not a failed conformation prospect, on the contrary, the title “pet” is the very best accolade that you could give to any animal, signifying that it has been raised, socialized and trained to enjoy living with people and taught how to live in people’s homes according to human rules. Many people suffer the misassumption that purebred puppies will automatically grow up to be perfect adult dogs. Not necessarily so. Obviously, breeders strive to breed for physical health, temperament and trainability but regardless of breed or breeding, puppies still need to be taught household rules and taught to continue to be confident and safe around people. Housetraining, chewtoy-training, settle-down-and-shush-training and home-alone-training do not just happen by magic. Similarly, without proactive socialization and handling during early puppyhood and intensive ongoing socialization throughout adolescence, adolescent dogs will naturally become wary and fearful and maybe aggressive towards unfamiliar people, especially children and men.

During the puppies first eight weeks of life, neonatal handling, safe socialization with people, errorless housetraining and chewtoy training are paramount. It is surprisingly easy to set up an autoshaping long-term confinement area for a litter so that housetraining and chewtoy training become automatic. Most of the puppy raising information is contained in two free eBooks available on and listed as Open Paw’s Minimal Mental Health Requirements.

Neonatal handling is an absolute must, especially for those notoriously hard-to-handle, reactive, or senistive breeds. As a rule of thumb, before they are eight weeks old, puppies need to meet and be handled and trained by least a hundred people — especially men and children. Socialization is quite safe indoors provided that outdoor shoes remain outside. (People may track parvovirus or distemper virus indoors after treading in dog feces or urine.)

Is there such a thing as too much socialization and training? Yes. I use the same formula that I learned from spending ten years researching puppy development — observing litters of puppies “doing their own thing” as they grow up. By the time they are eight-weeks old, puppies require three times the amount of downtime (usually sleeping) than they spend exploring, playing and socializing. Sufficient downtime is essential for the puppy’s brain to “solidify” experiences and learning. Puppies will tell you when they’ve had enough socialization, play and training — they simply collapse and fall asleep on the spot. But when they wake up, they are raring to go again.

Needless to say, during socialization, people should be patient, handling should be gentle and basic manners taught using food/toy lures and rewards, i.e., no grabbing, forcibly restraining, pushing, pulling, squishing and squashing. Training session should be frequent but very short — just a few minutes.


Benefits for Breeders?

Every litter reflects your passion for dogs. Aside from your sheer delight and satisfaction from trying your best to produce the very best dogs that are sound in both mind and body, early socialization and teaching household manners vastly improve the quality of life for dogs and owners. Well-mannered dogs are more likely to be allowed to enjoy the comforts of the house and garden and to be taken on regular walks, rather than being relegated to the backyard, or surrendered to a shelter. Confident and friendly dogs are more likely to be allowed to meet and greet people on walks and at home, rather than being left in the house and further confined whenever visitors arrive.

Additionally, I would imagine that owners would much rather pay a premium price for a companion puppy that has been housetrained, chewtoy-trained, manners trained and socialized — a puppy that has been raised to live with people, rather than a bargain price for a puppy that has been raised as livestock — one that hasn’t been housetrained, hasn’t been chewtoy-trained, doesn’t even know how to come, sit, lie down and roll over, and hasn’t been sufficiently socialized with people and so is already becoming shy or fearful.

And, of course, nurturing a puppy’s developing brain is the most important part of responsible breeding.

The Behavior Problems Crash Course. Free on Dunbar Academy