An Early Start

As with humans, a dog’s early learning experience is very important to their development and their future behaviour. It is therefore critical that puppies are provided with constructive learning experiences during the crucial early period of their lives. Most people don’t acquire a puppy until the dog is roughly eight weeks of age, and in some cases later — here is my list of key do’s and don’ts new dog owners should think about right away.

Do carefully look at the parents of a puppy if possible. Breed predispositions aside, the behaviour of a puppy’s parents is the best predictor as to his or her future temperament. If you are getting your puppy from a breeder and they do not offer to let you interact with both parents (if they are on site), find out why.

Don’t agree to meet your new puppy in a parking lot, dog park or other similar venue, as you may be dealing with a so called puppy broker with ties to a puppy mill. A responsible breeder will invite you to come and see the environment where the puppy was born. You would be surprised how many times people have told me they were not permitted by a seller to do this, which should raise a red flag

Do ask for a puppy’s veterinary records. Depending on the age of the puppy, it should have already received initial vaccinations against several conditions. Ask your own veterinarian about what vaccinations are necessary and follow up on boosters if recommended. Also important is the deworming process, as worms are often transmitted to them internally from their mother. If not completely eradicated, these parasites can have a negative effect on a puppy’s behaviour and future health. And, do take your puppy for a veterinary exam at the earliest opportunity.

Don’t just take the word of a seller that a puppy is in good health.

Do start socializing your new puppy as soon as you can. The initial weeks and months of a dog’s life is a crucial period for this. Introduce him/her to new sights and sounds in a controlled environment, making sure that these are positive experiences; otherwise, your puppy could become anxious or fearful later in life when encountering new things. When puppies learn at an early age that the world is not to be feared, they are more likely to become well-adjusted adults.

Don’t put the puppy at risk in any way when doing early socialization. For example, they shouldn’t be taken to dog parks or allowed to interact with unknown dogs until vaccinations are completed. After you have the green light to do this, I would recommend that all introductions to unknown dogs be done with both dogs on a leash until you can be sure they will react to each other in a non-aggressive manner. In any case, don’t encourage overly rough play, as this can escalate quickly into negative consequences, especially if a puppy is engaging with an older, larger dog.

Do start behaviour training at an early age. Formal classes are valuable for socialization, and I recommend them for first-time dog owners; experienced owners can certainly begin training on their own at home. Remember that dog training is a completely unregulated field, so if you obtain the services of a trainer, make certain that they utilize current methodology where the focus is on reinforcing the desired behaviour using positive means, and not trying to shape behaviour through negative consequences.

Don’t use force or old-school punishmentbased training methods; one very counterproductive example that comes to mind is rubbing a puppy’s nose in a mess it has made during housetraining. Recent studies have shown that physical punishment can actually contribute to the development of fearful or aggressive behaviour. It’s more desirable that your puppy obeys your commands because it wants to please you, as opposed to obeying your commands because it is afraid of what will happen if it doesn’t.

Do always be consistent when teaching a puppy appropriate and expected behaviour. Make sure that all family members use the same approach and react in the same way in similar circumstances. When puppies, and dogs in general, know what to expect they are less likely to become anxious, due to the predictable results of their actions. Anxietybased behaviour is one of the main problems reported by dog owners to behaviourists.

Don’t leave young puppies unsupervised for any length of time, unless they are in a confined, safe area. Puppies are continually learning during their waking hours, and if left to their own devices they can easily pick up bad or destructive habits, such as chewing or digging. As much as possible, puppy-proof the environment by removing potentially harmful things that puppy can get into and swallow, and providing acceptable and safe items to chew on during the teething process

Deciding to get a puppy is a major commitment in terms of time, energy and effort. Make certain that you and other family members who will be involved are prepared to make such a commitment.

On a personal note, I acquired a Mastiff puppy a little over a year ago, so I have some recent experience with many of the things I have written about in this article. I will be honest and say that there have been times when I could have put more effort into following my own advice about continually supervising a puppy. For example, Henry (pictured) has developed a bad habit of climbing onto recliners in our living room. Now, if I don’t place the foot rest for the recliners on them when not in use, Henry will plop down on top of them. While you may think that isn’t a big deal, in the picture Henry is about a year old, and is already too big for the recliners. As Mastiffs are not full grown until around two years of age, he’s still just a puppy, albeit a really big one. Fortunately, he is overall an obedient dog with few other behavioural issues and a calm, confident demeanor. Practice makes perfect, or at least nearly so.


Kerry Vinson, founder of Animal Behaviour Consultants, has a BA in psychology, has previously taught social science courses at the college level in Ontario, and has extensively studied animal learning and behaviour modification. In addition to having conducted seminars on canine behaviour, and assessing dogs with behavioural problems, he has been designated by the Province of Ontario as an expert witness in the areas of general canine behaviour, canine aggression and it’s retraining. As such he has testified in a provincial Inquest as well as numerous other dog-related court cases between 1999 and 2018. For more information he can be reached at (705) 295-3920, (905) 352-3353, or visit:



I n some quarters, the public perception of rescue dogs is that they are in a shelter or foster home due to some problem related to their behaviour. As a behavioural expert, I can assert that this is certainly not the case, as many dogs are in rescue situations due to no fault of their own. While there are no doubt some dogs who are given up by their owners due to behaviour issues, there are numerous other reasons that dogs find themselves in need of a home.
The sad reality is that there are many more dogs needing a home than there are homes for them.
That being said, let’s look at some reasons why it might be preferable to consider rescuing an adult dog, as opposed to obtaining a puppy from a breeder. As I don’t want to incur the wrath of any responsible dog breeders, let me say that there’s nothing cuter than a puppy, and I don’t think that will ever change if you are a dog lover. On the other hand, if you’ve never had a puppy, it’s difficult to imagine the amount of time and effort required to raise one properly. Initially, it’s pretty much a full-time job if you’re going to do it right — that cute little puppy can quickly become a major imposition if you aren’t able to make the necessary commitment.
Compared with a very young puppy, a more mature dog has likely already gone through teething and, as a result, is not as likely to destroy any number of things around the house during this process (including the house itself). Score one for a rescue! Consider housetraining as well — an older dog is more likely to have already learned this important behaviour. Score a big number two for a rescue (figuratively speaking). Finally, the personality of an older dog is more evident, so you will have a better idea of what you’re going to be getting in the long term.
Now, I do know that there are numerous so-called temperament tests that are routinely given to puppies to reveal what they will be like as adults. I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but to my knowledge there is no accurate predictor as to what a very young puppy’s personality and behaviour will be like as an adult. This is just another one of those things in the dog world that has been accepted as valid over time, even though it is not supported by any legitimate studies.
Over the years, I have had many dogs, both puppies and rescues. One of the best dogs I have ever had was a very large German Shepherd who was found in a ditch, likely having been hit by a car. He was nursed back to health by the owner of an animal sanctuary just north of Toronto called Haven of the Heart. Because he was already an old dog (estimated at around 10 years of age) he wasn’t adopted for the longest time, as most people don’t want a dog that old. The owner of the sanctuary talked me into taking him, and he turned out to be an extremely wonderful dog. He was so well behaved that he even made a live appearance with me on Canada AM. When he finally passed away I was very sad, but at least I knew I had been able to give him three years of a very good life.
In terms of dogs that are currently living with me, among them are two Mastiffs (pictured above) — Lily on the left and Henry on the right. I got Lily through the Canadian Mastiff Rescue Club in Ontario when she was just under two years old; Henry was obtained from a breeder at the age of eight weeks. Lily was quite well behaved and fairly calm when she came here, whereas Henry was a typical young puppy, requiring constant supervision. He is eight months of age in the picture and had already grown to the same size as Lily, and by the time this magazine is published he is projected to be well over 150 pounds and still growing. While Henry certainly has a delightful personality, his nickname — the Monster Truck — will give you an idea as to what it’s like having an eightmonth-old puppy of that size around the house. I think there’s a conclusion to be drawn here about the virtues of adopting an adult rescue dog.
If you aren’t convinced yet, the other two photos are of Molly Moldovan and her two rescued standard poodles. Molly is a visual artist who resides in the Kawartha Lakes area of Ontario, and is a lifetime dog lover. This past winter she obtained Roscoe (pictured with her when he first came to her home) from Standard Poodles In Need, a.k.a. SPIN. As she already has a poodle from SPIN that has worked out well, she wanted to rescue another one. The second photo, taken this spring on her dock, shows Roscoe (four years old) with her other poodle Kanya (10 years old). Molly tells me that they get along well and she is very pleased with her decision to get two dogs from SPIN.
If you are thinking about getting a dog, I hope this article will at least get you to consider adopting a res

cue dog. There are so many wonderful dogs in shelters, and if they could talk, I suspect that pretty much all of them would say how much they wish they could have a real home.
If you are interested in this topic, I am conducting an evening seminar at St. Lawrence College in Kingston on October 25, 2017, from 7pm to 10pm entitled Behaviours Exhibited by Rescue Dogs. Registration information can be found at
Kerry Vinson, founder of Animal Behaviour Consultants, has a BA in Psychology and has extensively studied animal learning and behaviour modification. In addition to conducting seminars on canine behaviour and assessing dogs with behavioural problems, he has been designated by the Province of Ontario as an expert witness in the areas of general canine behaviour, canine aggression and re-training. For more information he can be reached at (705) 295-3920, (905) 352-3353, or visit: