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How to Raise a Puppy in the City

This article is co-authored by professional dog trainers Ryan & Jen Tate from TATE Animal Training Enterprises, who have raised a number of dogs in Sydney. They have recently bought an acreage on the mid north coast that has given them further perspective on the task of raising a puppy in the city. 

According to the RSPCA, between 2016-2017 over 44,000 dogs were received (by the RSPCA alone). Behaviour was the most common reason for euthanasia. We believe that appropriate dog selection and better raising of puppies will reduce these statistics.

There are many factors these days that influence the behavioural outcome of your dog. Let’s start with the law. In most cities and busy suburbs, 
dogs MUST be contained to a backyard and MUST be kept on lead when walking around the streets for their own safety and everyone else in the community.

Although dogs
 have been domesticated for centuries, we can’t expect them to just cope with these restrictions without some form of training and conditioning early on. These two rules alone have an impact on the most common behaviour problems in adult dogs: separation anxiety and lead reactivity

Other factors that influence behaviour include: genetics, whelping conditions, experiences or lack of exposure in the ‘critical learning phase’, conflicting advice from professionals and more! Not to mention the internet and social media platforms provide us with an abundance of breed choice at our fingertips! If you want a Kelpie, a Mexican Hairless or Lagotto Romagnolo… just google!

So… amongst the chaos of busy life in the city, how can you successfully raise a happy, well-adjusted canine companion?Start at the VERY beginning, by ensuring you are choosing the most suitable dog for you.

Tip #1 

There are seven registered dog groups in Australia. Every dog belongs to one or a few of these groups, from Gun dogs to Toy dogs, all with different genetic purpose

Researching and understanding these individual groups could help you better determine a more suitable breed for your family. Dachshunds may appear compact, and fit for apartment life but they belong to the hound family (hunting dogs), and not so long ago, were bred to bark and chase badgers out of holes. Barking is in their genes! Food for thought if you live in an apartment block.

Tip #2 

Avoid choosing a breed based on looks, a movie or that one dog you’ve met at the park who is well behaved. Look at your lifestyle, your home environment and surroundings and choose a breed where their genetics are most likely going to fit your mould and thrive in that setting. There’s a reason you don’t see farmers choosing cavoodles to round up their sheep.

Tip #3 

IF you are purchasing a puppy from a breeder ask LOTS of questions. Ask to visit the property and meet the bitch and the litter. Most good breeders will ask you lots of question about your lifestyle and expectations. Take this as a good sign. If the breeder doesn’t allow you the opportunity to meet the parent dog in the flesh, RUN!

In the last 6 months, we have experienced 4 people cancel their spot in puppy school because their beloved puppy never arrived at the airport terminal. Despite receiving copious amounts of photos, videos, information and paying for it, they got scammed!

Tip #4 

Our Malinois Porthos is Type C & sister Aramis is Type A
Regardless of where you get the puppy from (rescue, breeder, accidental litter etc) the personality of each puppy MAY vary within the litter and certainly across the breed

The puppy’s personality early on, can give us some insight into the future.
We put them into 3 rough categories:

  • A – Bold, pushy, fearless, driven pups 
  • B – Happy, cuddly, friendly, silly pups 
  • C – Quiet, reserved, reclusive, shy pups 

Type A puppies are the ones we want for work. They will be wild lunatics at first but harnessing their drive into a job makes them a very content dog. The average family may struggle to keep them stimulated but a dog sport enthusiast will love this kind of dog.

Type B puppies are generally your ideal family dog. Yes they might get stuck into some shoes and make mistakes, but they will be more resilient to changes, children and chaos.

Type C puppies are the ones that worry dog trainers. These dogs require quality early conditioning and extra emotional support to prevent them from ending up fearful which can lead to aggression or an unhappy dog in the wrong household.

Tip #5 

Research a local qualified and reputable puppy trainer and contact them SOONER rather than later to expand on the points below and more. Ideally, training would take place when your puppy is 8-10 weeks.

What to do once your puppy is home

The most impressionable period of a dog’s ENTIRE LIFE is roughly between 3-16 weeks of age. This is known as the ‘Critical Learning Phase’. During this time, everything good, bad and ugly about the world is being absorbed, processed and filed in their memory bank as pleasant or scary. 

On the other hand, if the puppy doesn’t have a pleasant experience with something in this period, how they may respond to it as an adult is unknown: e.g. when someone acquires an older rescue dog that displays fearful behaviour when a tall, dark and handsome man enters the same room, people immediately think the dog has been abused by a male in the past. Whilst this is possible, it’s also just as likely that the dog was never around burly men in the critical phase. 

During the first few months of life, puppies need to be comfortably desensitised to everything that you are going to expect them to cope with as an adult.

Once your pup has settled in, what are the top areas to focus on?

1) Socialisation & Environmental Conditioning

Puppy socialisation and environmental conditioning involves exposing your puppy to short, enjoyable experiences with everything in the environment that you don’t want your puppy to be fearful, nervous or even over excited around as an adult. 

In cities and busy suburbs this includes:
✔️ people of all shapes, sizes and ages
✔️ animals (livestock, other pets, wildlife) 
✔️ household items, things with wheels (car, motorbikes, wheelie bins, scooters)
✔️ different surfaces
✔️ loud unpredictable noises like storms and fireworks, to name a few. 
All your puppy needs to experience during these interactions is something pleasant. 

9 times out of 10 a delicious treat is enough for them to ‘file’ that interaction as a good one. For some puppies, being approached, picked up and cuddled by a stranger can be too overwhelming.
  • Start at a distance where they are able to observe unusual stimulus like bikes or kids playing basketball and build on their comfort levels. 
  • Avoid picking them up but allow your puppy the option to move away from something if it’s uncomfortable or overwhelmed - especially when they are on lead. 
  • Learn to read your dog’s body language. Lip licking, body shakes, scratching, yawning, constantly rolling onto their back and ducking their head can all be subtle ways your puppy is communicating that they may not be coping. 

2) Building Independence

With the critical phase in mind, taking appropriate time off during your puppy’s first weeks home, can be an investment towards your dog’s mental health long term. Dedicate serious time and effort towards building up your pup’s confidence and contentment being left alone, rather than throwing them in the deep end. 

  • Crate train them at night with a family member sleeping nearby for the first few nights. 
  • Allow the puppy to experience ‘alone time’ while the family is home. This can be achieved in a puppy pen close by during meal prep or home work time & bridges the gap between having access to you whenever you’re home and
    all of a sudden feeling deserted when you leave. 
  • Dis the dog bowl and routine meal times! Place their food in enrichment items and give it to your puppy when they are experiencing being alone. 
  • Keep your emotions neutral when you leave and when you come home so your puppy doesn’t feed off them. Give them a few minutes to settle down when anyone enters the house. 
  • Just as you would at a café, practise tie up exercises in the comfort of your home next to you while yourself and the family are engaged in quieter activities. 

3) Lead

A dog’s primary defense mechanism is to remove itself from an uncomfortable or threatening situation. Once we attach a lead to a dog, that dog can no longer respond to situations naturally. From the very beginning, we need to help the puppy feel comfortable and gain confidence when on lead and ultimately enjoy the experience.

  • Start straight away in your home, clip the lead on during meal times or while you are training them a new skill. 
  • DO NOT pull or yank them at all! Let them explore the world on lead and use a treat or your voice to lure them away from something if you need to, rather than pulling. 
  • Go on short walks outside your front door around the quiet parts of your neighbourhood and build to the busier streets. Take treats and end each walk with the puppy wanting more rather than the puppy sitting. 
Refer back to the points under Socialisation.

4) Training and Outlets 

When people consider a dog they generally ask themselves: ‘Do I have enough time to physically exercise this animal?’ Rarely do we hear people say… ‘What am I going to do to mentally challenge my dog today?’. This is a fundamental part of preventing problem behaviours and creating a content and fulfilled adult dog. 

A Border Collie is bred to round up sheep non-stop for hours under instructions from a farmer. In many cases, if a B.C. doesn’t have mental outlets in suburbia, she will naturally find her own ‘job’ to do... Bark at birds, property guard, lunge and bark at moving objects out on walks. Consider training your working dog to do your job for eight hours a day while you relax at home. You’d have one very content pooch on your hands. 

Here are some suggestions below: 

Behavioural Enrichment – Use a variety of boredom busters e.g. Kongs, snuffle mats, scatter feeds, frozen stock on hot days. Cognitive challenging puzzles allow your dog opportunities to problem solve, exercising their brain. 

Tug-o-War – All puppies want to bite things! A responsible game of tug gives them something they are allowed to bite and teaches them valuable lessons around impulse control. 

Training – Don’t stop at sit, drop, stay and come.. Teach your puppy a new behaviour each month or join obedience or trick training classes in your local area.

Agility – Great for highly active dogs or Herding  - great for working breeds.

Fetch – Throw some known behaviours into a game of fetch to break up the non-stop ball chasing which helps them to think when aroused.

Nose Works / Scent Detection – A dog’s nose is their biggest asset, especially hound and gun dog breeds. Utilise it!! Teach them to find your keys or phone or something perhaps more beneficial like money or gold.

* We don’t believe busy dog parks are a suitable mental outlet for young dogs. They can be a wonderful exercise option down the track once your dog has excellent obedience and a strong bond with you but whilst they are still impressionable, overcrowded dog parks can be a feeding ground for unruly behaviour.

5) Handling & Grooming

Being handled is a part of life, whether it be a trip to the vets or groomers or simply needing to pull a bindi / grass seeds out of their paw. It’s also something dogs aren’t naturally used to or in some cases don’t enjoy. Doing short, positive handling sessions, sometimes with treats, can build a pleasant association. Good breeders will start this process for you and it should be progressed at home and during puppy pre-school.

6) Focus on what you want, prevent what you don't want! 

Puppies can be destructive, teething, peeing, pooing machines. But this ‘naughty behaviour’ is not due to bad intentions or their strong will to ‘dominate’ you. They’re being guided by instincts and their inquisitive nature and lack of training can get them in to mischief. Remember the following:

- Rehearsal is reinforcement! Prevent them from practicing undesirable behaviours by utilising that puppy pen when you are unable to supervise. This way, they simply don’t have the option to dig holes, chew shoes or urinate on expensive rugs.

- Consciously train your puppy desired behaviours before they decide it’s more fun to do the opposite and get randomly reinforced for it. Dogs naturally want to jump and lick to greet you, or pull on lead to sniff every exciting smell on walks. So teach them to ‘sit’ instead of jump, walk calmly instead of pull, ‘go to bed’ instead of bark at visitors knocking on the front door.

We would surely see a significant reduction in dogs being surrendered if everyone took the time to research and plan PRIOR to bringing a puppy home and continued training after puppy school. We are dealing with highly intelligent creatures that require a serious amount of time, effort, money and training, especially in that first year, to ensure they blossom into behaviourally sound, happy and healthy hounds.

written by Jen and Ryan Tate, November 2018 (all rights reserved)

Husband and Wife duo Ryan and Jen from TATE Animal Training Enterprises, run a diverse animal behaviour business, covering everything from puppy school, film and television animals through to conservation detection dogs. 

Between the two of them, they have worked with a myriad of species from Zebra Finches to Leopard Seals however today their focus and passion lies with dogs. 

Ryan helped produce and present a two-part special for Catalyst on ‘Making Dogs Happy’. Ryan and Jen have also appeared recently on ABC, Channel 9 & TEN promoting responsible pet ownership and welfare.

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