Puppy and dog behaviour

Puppy and dog behaviour

The secrets of socialisation in their first few weeks, the best way to train them – and keeping their tails wagging with toys and regular exercise.

In this section we’ll look at:
  • Puppy socialisation
  • Training
  • Toys
  • Exercise
  • Research
Puppy socialisation

Puppy socialisation

Socialisation is one of the most important things you can do for your puppy as it helps them become friendly and outgoing. It’s all about getting them to meet people and other animals – and experience lots of everyday sights and sounds, especially in the first few weeks of life.

Socialisation has a big influence on your puppy. It will affect their behaviour and temperament for the rest of their life. A well-socialised puppy is more likely to grow up to be a friendly and outgoing dog. If it’s not done properly, then it leads to problems as adults. They are more likely to have anxiety and fear, have behaviour problems, be aggressive – which can result in them being given away to rehoming centres or even being put to sleep. Tragically, this happens to thousands of dogs every year. But it can be simply avoided...

Puppies need to be socialised when they are young because of the way their brains develop. Between 3 and 8 weeks, a puppy wants to explore everything that’s new. But, after about 8 weeks, their brain changes. They are more likely to be nervous of new things and back away. 

So what should you do to help their behaviour before 8 weeks? 
Get them meeting people and animals, exploring different places, enjoying new experiences. The earlier you start socialisation, the better. It starts the moment they are born. You should get a puppy from a place where it has been amongst everyday sights and sounds, like the vacuum cleaner, TV, hi-fi and washing machine. 

Is socialisation important after 8 weeks? 
Yes. Their brains are still developing, but they will be naturally wary of new people and situations. So the way you handle their encounters is very important to make sure they stay relaxed and unafraid.

Do puppies need their vaccinations before they can meet other animals?
Yes. This is important to help protect them from diseases before they start meeting other animals. Puppies should be with their mother until 8 weeks of age and then go to their new home. You should then contact your vet to find out when they can be vaccinated. Some puppies will need their first vaccination – and then a second one a couple of weeks later, depending on your vet’s advice. Others will have already had one vaccination, arranged by the breeder – and will be due for a second. 

What are the golden rules to socialise my puppy?

  • The experiences must be good.
    If your puppy seems anxious or afraid when they’re doing or seeing something new, just calmly end what they’re doing. Don’t try to comfort or reassure your puppy as this will make them think there was something to be scared about. Just be positive and upbeat and do something different. This is very important because otherwise your puppy can develop fears and phobias. 
  • Build up new experiences gradually.
    E.G. Go to a local row of shops before a shopping precinct; a quiet road before a busy road etc. When your puppy is calm and relaxed, give them occasional praise and healthy treats so that they enjoy the experience.
  • Don’t introduce too many new experiences in one day.
    Three a day is a sensible number, Repeat them as often as possible once your puppy is happy with them.
  • Supervise play with other dogs carefully. 
    Don’t let their play get too boisterous. 

Puppy socialisation schedule

Puppy socialisation schedule

This socialisation schedule can be used for guidance on when to start getting your puppy used to different things.

0 weeks
  • Puppies will be with their mother and littermates. They should be allowed to smell people (both men and women as well as children) from an early age.

3 weeks
  • The breeder should let the puppy see and hear everyday household sights and sounds, such as the TV, vacuum cleaner, washing machine etc. The puppy should also continue to meet a variety of people.
  • Start grooming and gently examining eyes, ears, paws and so on, every day.
  • Ask your vet when your puppy can be vaccinated.

6 weeks
  • Ask whether your vet practice runs puppy socialisation groups (also called ‘puppy parties’) and, if not, ask where the nearest one is.
  • Some puppies will be vaccinated at 6 weeks of age. When the first vaccination has been given, ask how you can safely let your puppy socialise before the second vaccination. If the disease risk is low, your vet may suggest carrying your puppy in your arms outside in order to begin to see the world.
  • Let your puppy meet everyone in the family, including children and other people’s children. Don’t allow them to pester, or treat your puppy as a toy, but let your puppy enjoy playing and interacting with them. Arrange for visitors of different builds and from different ethnic backgrounds to visit the house.
  • Let your puppy meet other family pets as well as babies, but supervise contact so that they meet each other safely. If you have an older dog, keep them both on a lead if you’re not sure how they’ll react. Don’ let your puppy pester a cat because the puppy’s likely to get scratched.
  • Let your puppy get used to being in the car, just while it’s stationary with the doors open at first, then start with some short journeys. Offer a small treat when your puppy is calm and relaxed.
  • It’s important that your puppy gets used to being without you. Leave your puppy for a few minutes at first, for example, for the time it takes you to make a drink. Then gradually increase the time that they’re on their own so that eventually they’re happy for you to leave the house for longer periods without them.
  • Socialisation CDs are a great way to get your puppy used to noises that they will hear during their life. Lots of dogs, for example, are terrified of fireworks because they never heard them during their socialisation period. By using a CD you can get your puppy used to noises like this so that they’re not scared later. Ask your veterinary practice about these.
  • Start reward-based training, for example, toilet training and coming when called.

8 weeks
  • Puppies are usually transferred to their new owner at eight weeks. Get your puppy from a breeder where they have been among everyday sights and sounds.

9 weeks
  • Get your puppy used to wearing a collar and lead in your garden.

10 weeks
  • You may be able to take your puppy for their second vaccination. Ask your vet when your puppy will be safe to start being socialised outside, away from your home.

12 weeks
  • If you vet says it’s safe for your puppy to go out and about, gradually build up the range of experiences away from your home, for example by visiting the local railway station and local shopping areas, seeing farm animals etc. Remember to stop if your puppy seems scared and not to overwhelm your puppy with too many experiences at a time or with experiences that are too intense.

15 weeks onwards
  • Carry on like this until your puppy’s at least a year old, as your puppy’s learning will continue during this time. The benefits of good socialisation will stay with your puppy for life.

Puppy classes

Puppy classes

Once your puppy is fully vaccinated, a puppy class is a great way of strengthening your bond with your puppy and socialising with other puppies and people. It’s a good idea to go and see a class in action before booking just to make sure it’s right for you and your puppy.

Kind and effective methods should be used in the class, and the instructor should be calm, caring and approachable. There should be sufficient number of assistants to keep an eye on all of the puppies and ensure that play is gentle and doesn’t become too boisterous. 

Training (Basic)

Training (Basic)

Training is a great way to keep your dog’s mind active. It also helps you bond and understand each other, especially when you are out together. 

Without training, the world can be a pretty confusing place for your dog. We all expect dogs to behave in set ways and follow certain rules. But just as with a child, it’s not instinct. Rules need to be taught properly. Sadly, it’s not uncommon to see people shouting angrily at their dog. This isn’t fair. What’s really needed is some effective dog training. 

It’s easier to learn when it’s fun. The kindest and most effective method is called “reward-based training” – also called “positive reinforcement”. It’s easy and something we can all do. 

How does reward-based training work?
By rewarding your dog with a treat when they do what you want, they will want to behave that way again. 

Repeat this several times. So if you want them to sit, give the command and give the treat either during the good behaviour or immediately afterwards. Your dog will eventually respond to your command without needing the reward. 

Using reward-based training, almost any animal can be trained to understand commands, from dogs and dolphins to ferrets and fish.

How can I train my dog using rewards?
First, you need to grasp these golden rules:

  • Know what makes your dog tick!
    The reward has to be something that your dog really likes, so that they’re prepared to work for it. Some dogs like food treats, others prefer praise or a favourite toy.
  • Timing is everything.
    Help the dog link the behaviour with the reward: give the reward during the behaviour or within half a second after they’ve done it.
  • Keep it short.
    Don’t make training sessions too long, or your dog will lose interest or get frustrated. Always end on a high, after a success. 
  • One by one.
    Focus on training one command at a time. When your dog has learnt one, then you can move on to the next.
  • Clear commands.
    Use short commands. Avoid confusion by only using the command for the behaviour you want.
  • Keep going.
    Keep rewarding when your dog does what you want. It may take lots of repetition but, with patience, your dog will eventually understand the command and what you want. It’s a great moment when, suddenly, the penny drops and your dog gets it!
  • Ignore mistakes.
    Every dog makes mistakes sometimes. It’s not their fault – it just means they haven’t learnt the task yet. Ignore the mistake and give the reward next time they get it right.
  • Never use punishment. 
    Shouting, smacking, hitting, using gadgets like water pistols, or using rattle cans and choke chains are all forms of punishment. They cause anxiety and fear; which are proven to make animals learn slower. It’s unkind and doesn’t create lasting results. It teaches your dog that people can’t be trusted and this can lead to behavioural problems later in life. Instead, use positive, fun, reward-based training – it’s kind and effective.
  • Get everyone on board.
    Everyone in contact with your dog should praise the right behaviour, use the same commands and ignore mistakes. So your dog gets the same message from everyone, rather than gets confused by different messages.
  • Get them to eat the right treats.
    Dog obesity causes health problems. Try using healthy food as rewards, e.g. a very small slice of carrot. If your dog is only interested in less healthy food, such as small pieces of sausage, reduce the size of their main meal so they don’t get too much food on training days.
When can I start training my dog?
The sooner you start the better: basic reward-based training can start at 6 weeks of age. But it’s never too late at any age.

Do I need to be the pack leader in my dog’s eyes?
No. It’s a myth that some dogs always want to be the dominant one and that you need to be the leader of the pack in order to control them. Your dog doesn’t need to view you as more dominant than them, but they do need to learn to trust you and understand your commands. 

How can I find a good dog training class?

Choose a class that uses reward-based training. Avoid any class which use water pistols, rattle cans or similar training gadgets. Avoid any class which bases their training on the idea that dogs need to be dominant. Members of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers only use reward-based methods – visit their website to find a trainer in your area

Training (House)

Training (House)

House training
House training is one of the first things you’ll need to learn with your puppy. It takes time and patience, but can be achieved quickly if you’re able to invest the time. 

Daily routine
Take your puppy out first thing in the morning for a toilet break and encourage them to urinate and defaecate. It can help to have your puppy on a lead at first to avoid any chance of them running around exploring and not focusing on the fact that a toilet break is due. It’s also helpful to use a word that your puppy can associate with elimination.

Throughout the day, repeat this process. Your puppy should be taken out every 2-3 hours when you first take them home. The length of time between toilet breaks can be extended as your puppy gets older. As a general guide, a 3-month old puppy can hold their urine for approximately up to 4 hours.

In addition to this, always take your puppy out shortly after each meal. Another key time to take your puppy out is during a break in any activity – for example, after waking up from a nap, or when they’ve just finished a bout of puppy play.

Rewarding your puppy
It’s really important that when your puppy does go to the toilet outside they’re rewarded for this. You need to let your puppy know how happy you are with them using positive reinforcement techniques. Praise them, give them lots of fuss, or give them a healthy treat – this will make them want to repeat the behaviour again and again.

What to do if your puppy has an accident in the house
The main thing to remember, as with all behaviours, is to never punish your puppy for having an accident inside the house. It’s not the puppy’s fault: they simply haven’t been given enough opportunity to go to the toilet outside. Clean the area thoroughly and use it as a valuable learning experience! It’s a good idea to learn the signs your puppy may show before going to the toilet, for example, circling and sniffing the floor. This is your cue to take them outside and, if they go to the toilet, remember to heap them with praise!

Training (Recall)

Training (Recall)

Teaching recall
Recall can be taught using the same techniques as for basic training i.e. positive reinforcement or reward-based training. When you’re teaching recall, the main thing to keep in mind is that you need to convince your dog that you’re more fun and appealing than anything else.

  • Start off somewhere quiet, where there’ s very little that can distract your dog (for example, in your living room or garden). Call your dog, then back away from them. Kneel down, hold your arms out and call them to you – remember to make sure you keep your voice light and cheerful – your dog won’t want to come if you sound serious. 
  • When your dog comes to you, remember to reward them with lots of praise and a small healthy treat straight away. Eventually, as your dog gets better at recall, you can reward intermittently rather than every time.
  • Keep repeating this process but increase the distance between you and your dog. When you feel your dog is doing well, go out to a local park and work on recall in a busier environment. 

Training (Separation)

Training (Separation)

Socialisation plays a key role in training your puppy, as a well socialised puppy that is used to a variety of people won’t be too dependent on one person alone. 

As with all training, time and patience is needed when teaching your puppy to be calm and relaxed when left alone. Start by walking just a short distance away from your puppy. If they remain calm and settled, walk back to them and reward them, this way they learn that you’re happy with this behaviour. Repeat this process, but this time leaving the room briefly. Walk back in and if your puppy is still calm and quiet, reward again. This process can keep being repeated, and gradually increase the amount of time you are away from your puppy. When you’re successful at doing this inside, try leaving the house, putting your jacket on etc. Always ensure that when you return your puppy is rewarded.

It’s important to remember that when you leave the house and when you return, you do so calmly and quietly. When leaving your puppy, it’s also a good idea to give them an interactive toy to keep them entertained – one that is safe to leave them with but can provide stimulation and reward is ideal. 



A mentally stimulated dog is a happy dog. So play with your dog regularly, using appropriate dog toys. Here are some top tips from our vets about choosing the right toy for your dog:

  • This might sound obvious, but make sure the toy is made specifically for pets. Toys designed for children are less likely to stand up to the rough and tumble of pet playtime.

  • Dog toys should be non-toxic, and not have any parts that can be easily bitten off, chewed or swallowed. 

  • Toys with any damage should be replaced as they may cause issues if your dog swallows any pieces.

  • Check that the toy is the right size for your dog – make sure it can’t be easily swallowed whole. Our vets regularly see dogs who have swallowed small objects. These items can become lodged in their stomachs and intestines and can be life-threatening. Often major surgery is needed to remove them. Vets advise that the toy is too small if it can be carried easily in your dog’s mouth.

  • Throwing toys for dogs to fetch can keep them fit – and they love it. There are lots of manufactured toys, such as Frisbees, that replace the traditional stick, which can cause terrible injuries, so are best to be avoided.

  • Some of the safest toys will have been designed for your dog to carry without being able to get the whole thing into his mouth. Rubber rings and big squashy balls are good but check they are puncture-proof from canine teeth. 

  • Always keep a close eye on your dog when playing with toys, unless you’re completely satisfied that the toy is durable enough that your dog can’t destroy it.

  • Taking your time when choosing a new toy for your pet pal ensures you are both more likely to get hours of safe fun and entertainment from it

  • Variety is the spice of life – our dogs may get bored looking at the same toys week-in week-out, so do change them around to keep things interesting.


The amount of exercise your dog needs depends on its age, breed and health. For example, a small dog may need less exercise than a particularly active one, such as a Border Collie.

As dogs get older, many may need less exercise. But owners can still make sure their dog's life is enjoyable, perhaps by replacing with gentle play for mental stimulation.

Always take veterinary advice into account. For example, a dog will need to be rested after surgery.
Your vet is the best person to advise on how much exercise your dog should be getting, as they know your dog and can take everything into consideration.

  • When out exercising, keep dogs on a lead when exercising in built-up areas. Only release them when you are absolutely sure it is safe. This ensures your dog isn’t a nuisance to others and protects it from traffic, litter and other hazards. 
  • If he weather is hot, walk your dog in the cooler early morning or in the evening.
  • Avoid throwing sticks for your dog, as vets see many dogs where sticks have been swallowed or become stuck in their mouth.



The PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report

Since 2011, we’ve surveyed over  53,000 pet owners, veterinary professionals and children, giving us a huge insight into the wellbeing of pets in the UK. Here are the findings for dogs and their behaviour:

You can read our full PAW Report here.


Improving behaviour is a key area to tackle in dogs. Aggression and destructive behaviour can have serious consequences. Other types of problem behaviour can also have a real impact on both the owner and the pet. As 27% of owners got their dog from a rescue or rehoming centre, many don’t know how much socialisation or early training their dog has had. Owning a happy, well-behaved dog is a very rewarding experience, despite the hard work that may be needed to achieve it.

Key findings from our most recent report:

BEHAVIOUR MELTDOWN – 186,000 dogs show aggression towards people every week:

  • 5% ( 465,000) show aggression towards other pets. 7% (over 650,000) behave poorly by growling or snarling. This aggressive behaviour is a significant concern for both people and pets as the consequences can be serious and sometimes fatal.
  • 80% of dog owners indicate that their pet has at least one fear. With no significant change over the years and with many fears developing as a result of inadequate socialisation, this is an important area to focus on.
  • 60% of dogs – around 5.5 million - never went to training classes during their first six months of life
  • 64% of pet owners have been frightened or concerned by another dog’s behaviour.
  • 63% of veterinary professionals have seen an increase in dog-on-dog attacks in the past two years
  • 89% of veterinary professionals have seen an increase in dog euthanasia due to behavioural issues in the past two years