Puppies need boundaries that are reasonable and clearly defined.
We raise our human children to ask for permission, say please and thank you, share, and wait their turn. Parents want their children to grow up into confident and responsible adults. So parents teach their children that when they respect social boundaries they will be rewarded with more freedom. But ignoring boundaries often results in a loss of their freedom.
Puppy parents often overlook the importance of creating reasonable and clearly defined boundaries. It’s natural for puppies to explore and experiment so that they can learn about their world and the people in it. If puppies get too much freedom too early, their curiosity can have some undesirable results. They deserve the opportunity to earn their freedom so that they will respect it.
What does too much freedom for a puppy look like?
- No limit on space. The puppy can go anywhere he wants in the house.
- The puppy doesn’t understand impulse control. Until he learns self-control he will jump on people and not come when he’s called if he’s distracted.
- Resisting confinement. As a result, he dashes out of open doors, climbs over gates, and fusses unmercifully when confined in a crate.
- All objects are his possessions. When he takes your things, you call it “stealing”. So, he takes your clothing, your food, other personal belongings, and whatever seems interesting and chewable.
- Walking on a leash is more like a tug-of-war than a pleasant outing.
- Handling him for routine grooming or just petting him means dodging sharp puppy teeth or struggling to restrain him.
Puppies are happy if they understand that by following the rules they can earn what they want.
A good balance between quiet confinement, outdoor exercise, and indoor supervised free play goes a long way toward establishing healthy social boundaries. It’s absolutely necessary for a puppy to understand that it’s okay to be alone for a little while. Confinement is not punishment, as many dog owners mistakenly assume. But if a puppy is only confined when his owners are absent, then the puppy may resist confinement because it predicts separation. Using a crate or a small gated area for quiet confinement when people are present ought to be a part of a puppy’s daily routine.
Walking properly on a leash without pulling is a skill that must be taught early. No matter how large or how small he is, a dog that pulls on his leash is a risk to himself and to people. You’ll find a free lesson that covers this at the bottom of this page.
Bite inhibition means that a puppy has learned through experience how to discriminate between what is acceptable to bite and what is not acceptable. Biting is normal for young puppies. Learning to control or inhibit their bite begins when puppies are still with their littermates. Siblings bite each other in play. They explore their world by putting things in their mouths. Biting is hardwired as a part of their prey chasing instincts. For that reason, anything that is in motion, whether it’s a ball, a squirrel, or your hands can trigger chasing and biting. Unacceptable biting must always be redirected to a chew toy. Prey behavior can highly arousing, so a puppy that is aroused over his threshold should be given a brief time out to calm down.
Puppy parents need to be diligent about setting up reasonable and clear boundaries right from the start. Too much permissiveness with a puppy leads to an undisciplined adult dog and robs everyone, including the dog, of the best parts of having each other’s companionship.
For personal guidance about raising your puppy, check out my online coaching program Puppy Baby Steps.