Raising a People Friendly Dog
Updated: Apr 6, 2020
There’s a short time in a dog's life where they have a vital developmental window. This is when they’re extremely sensitive to their environment and the number of positive encounters they have with other people and dogs during this time can dramatically influence how friendly they are as adults. The window lasts from being just a few weeks old to three or four months of age. So if you’re getting a puppy, look for one who’s been raised around people. Once you get your pup or dog, regardless of the age, introduce him to lots of different people.
Owners of young pups are in a bit of a catch-22. During that developmental window when you should be introducing your puppy to all sorts of people, they’re too young to walk around in public places, since they’re still vulnerable to catching dog diseases and need their vaccinations. The solution for this is to bring the people to them, and throw lots of puppy parties.
You should invite all types of people. Begin with the mellow ones who know how to behave around dogs. Then start includings men and children on your party guest list - two types of people that often scare dogs who aren’t used to them. This is important even if you don’t have kids. Sooner or later your pup is going to encounter children, and you want to make sure he knows how to act - most dog bite victims are children.
Change it up regularly - inviting over the same group of friends week after week won’t do it. If your puppy is going to learn how to behave around strangers, then they need to meet unfamiliar people. So use this as an excuse to give your social life a boost: invite friends, relatives, neighbors, and coworkers.
You can even incorporate these events into your puppies training. Turn it into a learning experience by having your guests, including the children, hand feed your puppy and practice some basic commands like teaching your pup to sit, lay down etc. Give lots of affection with pets and cuddles to get your pup used to being handled. This will make future vets and groomers thankful! If your guests reward him with a treat or piece of kibble after each exercise, your pup will probably conclude that humans are a pretty nice bunch.
The ideal scenario would be to throw a puppy party every day from the day you bring your pup home until he’s three or four months old, but unless you’re a professional socialite, you may find that a bit daunting. A good goal is three times a week. And even once a week is better than nothing. Just invite your friends or family round if your social network isn’t large.
Take your pup out and about. Even if your pup is too young to be on the ground in public places, you can still take him out in a carrier–to a café, to work, to the park, for a stroll around the neighborhood. Any exposure he gets to people will help, so long as it’s positive.
Other dogs do most of the work here. When puppies play-fight, they teach each other not to bear down with their jaws when they bite. If a puppy bites too hard in play, the bitten one will yelp and take time out from the game to lick his wounds. The biter soon learns that if he wants the game to keep going, he needs to mouth gently, not bite. Trainers call this bite inhibition.
Reinforce bite inhibition when you’re playing with your puppy. When your young pup mouths you, respond with a yelp or “Ouch!” Then stop playing and ignore your pup for a minute or two. When you’re ready to start playing again, ask your pup to sit to reassert your control, then continue the game, doing this repeatedly will enforce the good behaviour.
Learn to give time-outs. If your pup ever ignores your yelp of protest and keeps gnawing on you, give him a time out. Stand up, walk out of the room, and leave him alone for a few minutes. You’re teaching him the same thing his puppy playmates do: If he bites, the fun ends. We’ve got a whole article on how to begin and implement timeouts. Give it a read if this interests you!
Make sure your children know how to react to biting and mouthing–and watch to make sure they really do end the game when the puppy starts chewing on them. You want to be sure your puppy knows that kids are people too, and he needs to treat them gently.