Raising a puppy to become a confident adult

If you could fast forward, from the moment you bring home your puppy to five years down the road, what do you picture? A dog whose separation anxiety sends you on the search to find sedatives when you need to leave them alone? A dog who salivates gallons when they need to be crated in an emergency situation? A dog that you cannot bath at home because you cannot get them into a bathtub? A dog that has to be muzzled at the vet because they freak out? A dog that causes you stress to take out in public because they are threatening to people or other dogs?

None of us picture that when we bring home that cute little bundle at 8 weeks old, but the sad reality is that it happens all too often.

Confident, stress-free dogs are not usually just happen chance. It starts with selecting only dogs with stable temperaments to be bred, but then it takes a whole lot of work in raising those puppies to make it happen. With some dogs, you could do everything “wrong” in raising them and they would still be amazing. Others, you could do everything “right” and still face struggles. But, most dogs fall somewhere in between and require our help in molding them into the best version possible.

We do not know what the future will bring but if our dogs are adaptable, we alleviate so much potential future stress from their lives – and ours too!


Did you know a puppy’s critical socialization window is ages 3-12 weeks? Take them everywhere you can. Right away. Yes, there is concern about communicable diseases, like parvo, but we need to balance that risk with the risk of a lack of exposure. That lack of exposure can negatively impact them and set the stage for lifelong struggles. Avoid high dog traffic areas until they are a bit older, but take them somewhere new at least twice a week.

Socializing is not all about meeting and playing with dogs or people; it is about getting your puppy out and about. Seeing, smelling, hearing new things. Walking on different surfaces. Meeting people and other dogs are part of that, but your dog does not need to interact with every dog or person they see. In fact, it is good for them to learn that not everyone is there to interact with them.

Getting them out and about also gets them used to car rides. Throw in some longer rides of over an hour, too. If all the trips are short, many dogs learn to stay “up” the whole ride. If you mix in some longer rides, they will learn a car ride is a good time to catch a nap. Much better than watching your dog standing and panting for a longer drive.

Socialize at the vet clinic! Take them to the vet for social visits, where only happy, non-scary things happen. You can drop in for weigh-ins, treats, and socializing at most vet clinics (call ahead). This is a great way to teach your dog that vets aren’t scary places. Your vet & vet techs will thank you later. And, during times of stress and sickness, you won’t have to subject your dog to added stress, as they know the vet isn’t a scary place.

Also, get your dog used to checking their teeth and ears. These are things your vet will have to check and if the dog is used to you looking at their teeth, ears, and feet, they will be much less stressed – and much more cooperative – when at the vet’s.

Teach your dog to stand still for short periods as well. Add this to your training time. Just keeping their four feet still on the floor for a moment gets a treat.

Visit the groomer

This is especially true if your dog has a coat this will require regular grooming. Do not wait until your dog is full grown. Start right away with trips to the groomer. This will reduce the stress on your dog when they are grown and need to visit the groomer. Your groomer will also thank you, as they don’t have to wrestle your full grown dog who is freaked out by a brand new experience when they are a year old. 

Teach them to be alone

This is a hard one, but so important. We love our new puppies and want to spend every moment with them! We find it endearing they want to be with us. But, this is for their own good and absolutely critical to avoid separation anxiety when they are older.

Even if you think you will always be a homebody, is it really realistic to think you will never need to leave your dog alone? What if something tragic happens to you and your dog needs to be rehomed? Have you set them up for success?

A good way to do this is to crate train. Even if you don’t need to put your puppy in a crate throughout the day, do it anyway. Crate them away from you for at least a period of the day, mimicking what it might be like if you were not home. If possible, you can also move their crate around occasionally. Put it in different rooms.

Another good way to help with this is by teaching the world does not revolve around you. (Wait. What?!) Have your puppy do a sleepover for a night or two at a trusted friend’s house. Your puppy will safely be exposed to life without you and learn that it can be fun, too. This will not cause them to love you any less (I promise!), but it will play a big role in them becoming a well adjusted adult.

If you have a multi-dog household, crate your puppy away from other dogs at times, too. If you are raising two puppies at the same time, crate them in different rooms. It is very important the puppies learn that they can be apart from each other. (If you’re thinking about getting two puppies at once, Google “littermate syndrome” first!)

Teach them to potty on command

When you are potty training a puppy, you need to go outside with them anyway, to verify they are doing what they are supposed to be doing and to praise them when they do. Add one more thing – a command right before they look like they will go. I use “go potty” and “hurry up”. This simply ties a verbal command to the action and will help speed up potty breaks in the future, since your dog will know what you want them to do.

For house training, plan to take the puppy outside about every 30 minutes while they are awake and playing. Plus, as soon as they wake up and immediately after eating.

House training tip: Never “rub their nose” in an accident or scold them for going inside. This just teaches your puppy to avoid going potty around you, which can make house training more difficult. If you catch them starting to go potty inside, try your best to scoop them up and get them outside to finish. If you miss it, you miss it. Just clean up and move on. Always go outside with them, use your potty command, and reward them with praise and/or a small treat.

Teach them to potty on leash

This is another one of those “you never know what the future will bring”. For travel, exercise restrictions (post surgeries, injuries, etc.), emergencies, and more, there is a good chance at some point your dog will need to potty while on leash. Routinely doing your puppy’s potty breaks on leash will get over those hurdles. It is easy to teach a youngster to potty while on leash because they are not going to hold it as long as an adult dog. Simply take the puppy out on leash when they are likely going to need to go and walk around. Praise like mad when they do. Do this frequently while they are young; also allow them to potty off leash (if possible).

ALWAYS pick up after your dog if you are not on your own property.

Teach them to potty in the rain

The first time you have a heavy rain with a youngster, they are likely going to put on the brakes when it comes to going outside. Grab your raincoat and/or umbrella and a leash and take them outside until they go pee. This might mean five minutes or thirty minutes. It’s worth it. Most of my dogs only require one time.

Crate Train

In an emergency situation, let’s say your house burns down, your dog will often need to be safely contained somewhere potentially unfamiliar. If the dog is already used to a crate, they will feel comfortable and secure – and they will be safe. Vet clinics obviously need to utilize crates as they cannot let dogs just roam around. There are lots of unforeseen circumstances that might warrant the need for your dog to be crated in the future.

It can be their home away from home, no matter where.

Dogs who are crate trained typically love their crates and have no problem going into them on their own accord and taking a nap.

Note about young puppies and crates: Keep in mind that puppies need outside fairly frequently. An 8 week old puppy should not be left in their crate, without a potty break, for more than 3-4 hours. Nighttime is an exception, since the pup will be mostly sleeping. But don’t be surprised if your pup needs a break at some time during the night to go outside.

For a puppy, a crate should only be big enough for them to go in, turn around, and lay down. If they have too much room, they will potty in one corner and simply move away from it. Do not force your puppy to learn to go potty in their crate. Accidents will sometimes happen, but be proactive in getting them outside frequently. If they are taught eliminating in their crate is their only option, they can get used to laying in their own filth, which makes house training so much more difficult. You can give a dog more space in their crates once fully house trained.

For those still interviewing breeders, know that how the puppy is raised those first 8 weeks greatly influence their ease in house training. Puppies kept in clean environments are much easier to house train.

Do their nails every 5 days

This benefits you and your puppy in two ways. One, it will get your puppy used to having their feet handled and their nails trimmed. Two, it will keep their nails at a beautifully short length. I use a Dremel (see how) and my dogs get used to it from a young age, so it is not a battle when they are grown.

Teach them to get into a bathtub

Don’t wait until your dog is a year old before attempting to get them into a bathtub. Make it a fun practice game as a puppy – climb into the empty tub and get a treat. Build up to sometimes running water. When your dog is an adult, you should be able to point at the tub and say “get in” and have them climb in on their own.

If you don’t have a bathtub, take them to a place that allows you to groom your own dog and practice there. If you have a breed that requires any grooming, start that right away. They need to learn as puppies that baths and grooming tables are cool and how to behave.

Don’t coddle!

This is a big one. When we rush to “reassure” our dogs in a new or potentially scary situation, we actually create an issue. We are rewarding the behavior and communicating to them that they are right, there is something scary here! Instead, if your pup is nervous, hands off and no baby talk. Reward any inquisitive/brave behavior. Use an upbeat, happy voice. Investigate the item yourself and get really happy about it (“ohh! an umbrella! How cool!”). Act confident.

Don’t pick up your dog to remove it from a situation unless you absolutely have to do so. Give the puppy time to figure things out.

Let the dog navigate some stress on their own. 

Teach them to walk on all sorts of different surfaces

This goes back to getting them out for socializing trips. Practice walking on stairs, gravel, sand, etc. This will help teach them that the world is not a big scary place.

Control the other dogs your puppy meets

Set up playdates with known dogs who are dog friendly. Find other puppies of a similar age and play style. If you have a timid puppy, an overly rambunctious playmate might be a bit too much for them.

Do not let your dog just meet any old dog while out and about. Do NOT go to the dog park. Getting attacked by another dog can create a reactive dog, plus your pup’s immature immune system is at risk there. Dog parks in general can be risky, at any age, with any dog.

If you are in a situation where a questionable dog is approaching you and your puppy, intervene. It is your job to keep your puppy safe. If the dog is accompanied by a human, request they not approach. Unfortunately many people cannot read canine body language and allow dogs to meet when they should not. (If you want a fantastic, easy to read, book about canine body language, check out “On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals” by Turid Rugaas.)

If you are being approached by a loose dog, step between the dogs and speak sternly and loudly. I yell at loose dogs, “GO HOME! GET AWAY! NO!” in my meanest, sternest voice. Most dogs will actually listen and my yelling often brings an owner scurrying out of a house to get their dog.

Take them to a puppy class

Please! Take them to a puppy class! You will learn how to train your dog, you will get to work your dog in the perfect distracted environment, and your dog will get to safely interact with other puppies. Win-win-win!

Even if you’ve trained many dogs in the past, the distracted environment and feedback from a good instructor is so valuable. 

I recommend at least one puppy class and at least 1-2 basic obedience classes. You will not regret the investment.

Keep in mind, not all trainers are created equal. Read reviews and try to do reputation checks on any classes you are considering. Contact your AKC training club (https://webapps.akc.org/obedience-training-club/#/) and ask for referrals if they don’t offer classes near you.

Obedience Training

To build the best relationship, keep your training positive and fun. You want your puppy to enjoy learning and working with you. That does not mean your puppy will never need a correction, but never hit, spank, or swat your dog. This does not build a trusting relationship. Puppies need a lot of guidance. 

Spend at least 5-10 minutes daily working on some simple commands. This serves to help reinforce those commands, but also helps build the working relationship and teaches your dog to listen to you.

Scheduled Meals

While there is nothing inherently wrong with free feeding most dogs, scheduled feedings makes it easier to control picky eaters, easier to administer medicine which requires food, easier to potty train, and easier for travel.

Feed them in different locations

You do not need to do this every day, but a few times while they are little, feed them in different rooms of your house. If you ever need to travel, this just helps break up a specific routine in their mind.

Plenty of off leash exercise

A tired dog is a good dog! Walking your dog on leash is great for some training and a bit of exercise, but dogs really need time to play, run, and explore somewhere safely off leash. Allowing a dog to sniff and explore is fantastic mental stimulation for them.

When your older puppy has days s/he is driving you crazy, it is very likely they simply need more exercise.

Puppies teach you to be a good housekeeper

Really, just a general puppy raising piece of advice. If your puppy chews up something they shouldn’t, you are mostly to blame. Do not provide access to things you don’t want chewed. Puppies require a lot of supervision. If you cannot supervise, crate them, which keeps them and your household safe. Make sure to provide good chew toys as puppies do have the need to chew.


Expose your puppy to lots of experiences. Introduce them to things they will need to do as an adult dog. Puppies are a lot of work their first year, but the investment pays off for their entire life.

If you have an adult dog that missed these things, it is never too late to start working with a good trainer and seeing improvements! It certainly won’t be as easy as starting with a puppy, but it’s still worth the effort.

Enjoy your dog and all the training opportunities!

Article may be reproduced as long as it is in its entirety and credit is given to the author, Bev Klingensmith.