Raising Puppies to Be Brave: The Top 10 Ways to Create Confident Dogs

by | Dog Breeding

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Breeders and owners can do many things to raise puppies to be confident, stable adult dogs.

Confidence, self-assurance and composure are characteristics all of us want in our dogs. Confident dogs handle the craziness of daily life with aplomb and are often called stable or bomb proof. They trust their owners, as well as the people, things and environments around them. Because of their temperament, they are less aggressive, more healthy and longer lived than more timid and fearful dogs. These are all great things so how do we make more of these dogs? Well, here are ten things breeders and owners can do to improve the confidence of every puppy.

1. Pick Self-Confident Parents.

Breeding stock selection is essential to producing confident dogs. Fearful dogs, both fathers and mothers, may pass their fears on to their offspring (and grandpups) while stable parents tend to produce more confident puppies. However, confident dogs are as much made as born so read on for nine more things you can do to help your puppies become stable, confident dogs.

2. Pick Good Mothers.

Nurture also plays a big role, starting with mothering. There is strong evidence that attentive, doting mothers raise more confident offspring, even if those babies’ natural mothers were timid. A January 2016 study in Nature showed that doting dog mothers produce more outgoing pups that readily explore the world around them and are less aggressive. The reverse is also true. Poor moms that ignore or worse yet, correct their pups too harshly can reduce the confidence of inherently bold puppies.

3. Handle Your Puppies.

Touching and holding puppies from very early in the pups’ lives, particularly in the first three weeks, improves their ability to handle stress, learn and problem solve as adults. You can do this in formal ways, like Early Neurologic Stimulation and Early Scent Introduction, or you can just cuddle with each puppy every day. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it!

4. Send Pups Home at 8 Weeks or Later.

Sending puppies home too early, say at 6 or 7 weeks rather than 8, increases the chance that they will be fearful and reactive as adults. This holds true even if the litter has been taken away from their mother. Simply staying with their littermates helps build self-confident dogs.

For some reason, many performance breeders and owners still think puppies should go home at 49 days. This misinterpretation of John Paul Scott and John Fuller’s research has been refuted regularly by behaviorists. I think Dr. Ed Bailey gave the best explanation for why the 49-Day Rule is a myth not a rule in “Producing Behaviorally Sound Dogs,” Gun Dog Magazine.

5. Present Pups with Appropriate Challenges.

Some folks believe that baby puppies should be shielded from any fright or challenge that might stress them. We believe the opposite, although we obviously do not allow our puppies to get injured or terrified. However, we know that to gain confidence, puppies must do things that are hard for them, that take them out of their comfort zone.

Puppy equipment that is too easy for the puppies after 4 or 5 weeks of age is cute but not developmental. Watching a 7-week old Lab puppy on a 1” high teeter or a German shepherd puppy on 4” dog walk may be fun but it isn’t doing anything for the pups because there is no challenge.

By six weeks of age, puppies need situations that are physically and mentally difficult and a little bit stressful. Pups need to struggle to gain confidence, whether getting on a platform, sliding down a slide, or wading in a stream. A pup may have to try a dozen times, perhaps over several days, to climb up on a platform. He may whine, cry and even howl. He may give up or fail, over and over. Yes, he will get stressed and it will be hard on him (and you) but if we allow the puppy to solve the problem himself, he will become more coordinated and confident. If we make it too easy or if we rescue him, he will not. Independent success and achievement create confident puppies.

The Avidog Adventure Box is an example of such a challenge. We don’t hang stuffed animals from our boxes. Instead, we have clanging paint cans and large plastic cups that bop puppies as they go by. We intersperse soft paint brushes with heavy chains so as the pups bite the brushes, the chains hit them. It is made to be noisy and slightly stressful while still being very, very safe.


The Avidog Adventure Box is the real deal! Make your own Adventure Box to introduce your pups to sights, sounds, texture and touch to increase their confidence over their lifetime.

6. Change Things Regularly.

Because of the way puppies’ brains develop, challenges need to change regularly. Puppies quickly habituate to things and when they do, development stops. So change up your puppy pen, moving items around and rotating things in and out. When you walk your pups, go in different directions each day. If your pups are doing everything with ease, make them a little more difficult.

7. Take Your Pups On Adventure Walks.

Taking your pup or puppies out for off-leash walks over moderate terrain not only helps them develop confidence and proprioception, it significantly reduces the risk of hip dysplasia in adulthood. If you can, get off the path and go cross country with your pups so they meet and overcome challenges like ditches, hills, fallen trees, stone walls and more.

All breeds can do Adventure Walks; you’ll simply make the challenges smaller for toy breeds. Make sure it’s not too hot or too cold, and that your Adventures are free of other dogs. Use your yard, your friend’s yards, or those hidden wild places. Where not to go? Never a dog park or the local dog hangout.

8. Recognize That Wariness is Normal in Puppies.

There seems to be a new philosophy that if pups are afraid of something, people should get involved to help them. The vast majority of the time, nothing could be further from the truth! In all but emergencies, our involvement reduces the puppies’ self-efficacy and changes them from independent problem solvers to dependent ones. If producing confident dogs is our goal, we want to give puppies the opportunity to deal with their own concerns while still keeping them safe.

Starting at 5 weeks of age, it is natural for pups to be wary of new objects, people and places. However, wariness is not fear! Wariness is being cautious about possible dangers or problems. Puppies go from being completely unaware that things can hurt them at 3 and 4 weeks of age to recognizing that there are dangers in the world. Between 5 and 9 weeks of age, pups become hyperaware of novel items because they now have the mental ability to assess whether a situation is safe or not.

Pups at this age develop at different rates so you may see some pups showing caution earlier than others. That’s just because their brains and nervous systems are maturing at different times. What appears to be a slow or even fearful puppy may just be a pup whose brain needs to finish up myelination, a key step that enables learning.

When these puppies come upon a new thing, they might move to a safer distance to observe and smell the item. They might circle it to see what happens and then approach cautiously to touch and sniff the new thing. All of this is not only normal, it is SMART!

9. Avoid Labeling Young Puppies.

If we label a 6-week old (or worse yet, younger) puppy as “fearful” or “manipulative” simply because it is wary around a new object, we have made a serious error. What the puppy is doing is normal for its age. The difference between it and others in its litter might be due to physiology rather than temperament. Like people, dogs develop at different rates. Since we are talking about puppies that haven’t even been alive for two months yet, giving them the benefit of the doubt seems appropriate.

Psychologists have long known that labeling children affects how others treat them. Once we label puppies, we look for evidence to support that label, even if it isn’t there. We may think we are unbiased but once we have labeled a puppy, we are no longer. We watch “stars” and ooh and ah over the great things they do, overlooking their moments of tentativeness. No matter how hard we try, we treat a “weanie” or “scaredy-cat” differently.

10. Allow Pups to Solve Their Own Problems.

We compound our error if we then step in to “fix” the fearful puppy by interfering with the natural process by which puppies learn about themselves and their world. Instead, we should quietly and unobtrusively support ALL puppies in the 6- to 13-week period. We should give all of them as much time and experience they need to become comfortable with the strange things they find in the world around them. We should set up or repeat experiences our pups find bothersome until they gain confidence. About all, we must be trustworthy, never allowing the pup to be hurt or terrified during this process.

So what should we do if our puppy is afraid? We should wait quietly, giving the puppy time to complete its evaluation and make a decision regarding the novel item. Often, we just put the item in the pen with a pup so it has all the time it needs to resolve its concern. If the pup is still with it’s litter, this allows it to watch its littermates or mother interact with the item.

If we can’t put the object in the pen, we stay quietly out of the way while ensuring the puppy is safe. We might support the puppy by sitting or standing nearby but we do not take control of the situation. This is between the puppy and its world! If we encourage the puppy, we are putting pressure on it, increasing the stress it is feeling. If we push, pull or physically place the puppy near the item, we may cause it to panic. If we start training, we teach the puppy that we are in charge in strange situations rather than him. We are making him dependent and needy. Remember, our job is to do nothing but ensure the puppy is safe and offer him the comfort of our presence!

If the puppy is still concerned about the item after 15 minutes, we will plan a return trip, perhaps with a confident older dog. Puppies learn a lot by observing older dogs so we use them to help puppies gain confidence. For this reason, we also never allow puppies to walk with fearful adult dogs since the older dog’s concern may rub off on the pup.

In all walks of life, confident dogs do best. Raising confident dogs must be a goal for all breeders and owners. Use these ten steps to get started and then do your homework!

Your homework: What baby step can you take to help your puppies become more confident? Woods walks? Adventure Boxes? Problem solving games? Share your ideas in the comments below.

Alter, Adam. 2010. Why It’s Dangerous to Label People: Why labeling a person “black,” “rich,” or “smart” makes it so. Alternative Truths>. Accessed at https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/alternative-truths/201005/why-its-dangerous-label-people.

Bailey, Ed. 2010. Why Not Seven Weeks–-The Forty-Ninth Day Revisited. Gun Dog. September 23rd, 2010. Reprinted above with permission from Gun Dogand Dr Bailey.

Foyer, P. et al. Levels of maternal care in dogs affect adult offspring temperament. Sci. Rep. 6, 19253; doi: 10.1038/srep19253 (2016).

Francis, D, J. Diorio, et al. Nongenomic Transmission Across Generations of Maternal Behavior and Stress Responses in the Rat. Science, New Series, Vol. 286, No. 5442 (Nov. 5, 1999), pp. 1155-1158.

Krontveit RI, Nødtvedt A,et al. 2010. A prospective study on canine hip dysplasia and growth in a cohort of four large breeds in Norway (1998-2001). Preventive Veterinary Medicine, Dec 1;97(3-4):252-63.

Murphree, OD, RA Dykman, JE Peters. Genetically-determined abnormal behavior in dogs: Results of behavioral tests. Conditional Reflex, July–September 1967,Volume 2, Issue 3, pp 199-205.

Pierantoni, L, Albertini M, Pirrone F. Prevalence of owner-reported behaviours in dogs separated from the litter at two different ages. Veterinary Record 2011;169:18468


  1. noreen

    Hi 🙂 Just wondering on the statement about taking walks with puppies significantly reduces hip dysplasia. Is there an article with more info on that ? thanks 🙂 Love this article by the way.

    • Gayle Watkins


      I’m so glad you enjoyed my blog post. Here is the citation for the study that showed that off-leash exercise over moderate terrain before 3 months of age halved the risk of dogs’ developing hip dysplasia. The study claims th Off-leash exercise in park terrain more than halved the risk.

      A prospective study on canine hip dysplasia and growth in a cohort of four large breeds in Norway (1998-2001).
      Krontveit RI1, Nødtvedt A, Sævik BK, Ropstad E, Skogmo HK, Trangerud C. Prev Vet Med. 2010 Dec 1;97(3-4):252-63.

      Hope this helps!


  2. Linda MacDonald

    I was impressed with the woods walk and the confidence of the pups. My pup came home already house broke and slept all night. What a great program you have.

  3. Sue

    Would you do the same thing for older puppies?
    How would you help the older puppies to be self confident and not scared in their world?

    • Gayle Watkins


      Some folks will tell you that you use the same procedures for older puppies but that hasn’t worked for pups older than 16 weeks in our experience. For example, if you haven’t done woods walks earlier, you must be sure your over-16-week old pup has a very strong recall before turning him loose in the woods!! But on leash walks in the woods are wonderful for stimulation and problem solving. Look for challenges, like logs or rocks, and go over them with your pup.

      The bigger issue is usually people, places and things in our busy world. We use the saying “time and space” to capture how we approach these with older puppies. We give them space by not moving nearer to a scary thing until the pup tells us he is no longer worried at that distance. We also give them space by not talking, pushing, commanding, etc while they are trying to acclimate to a person, place or thing. If you take charge, you will always be in charge. If you give your pup the space to figure things out safely, he will be in charge.

      Time means that you have to be willing to wait and let the dog’s timeline dictate how long it takes to approach a scary person, place or thing. Plan for 15 minutes. Bring a chair or book or your iPhone. Be calm and relaxed and let your pup just hang out. One of the worst things we can do is force a dog near something they are wary of. Now natural wariness becomes fear and you have a problem.

      Still struggling? Consider taking a course at Fenzi Sports Academy on working with fearful dogs. These are GREAT online courses and they really work! Check them out at http://www.fenzidogsportsacademy.com/index.php/courses/dog-behavior-courses.

  4. Mary Horne

    Wonderful, informative article. Thank you so much for sharing these pearls of wisdom to the benefit of puppies … and their people!

    • Gayle Watkins

      Thanks so much, Mary!

  5. Karen Cox

    I love your blog on creating confident puppies, dogs. I need to have confident dog as I will be training for SD/AD work. Your article is very informative. Thanks

  6. Diane Blackman, CPDT-KA, CTDI

    I have taught “smell it” in my Puppy K class for years — but after all the information Gayle has provided, I will be changing it immediately! My favorite sentence was “This is between the puppy and its world!” Thanks Gayle for all your wisdom!

    • Gayle Watkins

      You are welcome, Diane! With older dogs, I think a “say hello” or “look” command that encourages them to at least look at a scary thing isn’t a bad idea but with pups under a year, you still have time to make them more confident! Then you have to use your commands less in adulthood.

    • Dot

      I agree……such a wonderful article….
      Would you be able to recommend a great online puppy confidence course for breeders please?

      • Marcy Burke

        We are in the process of creating one now, but unfortunately it won’t be ready for quite some time. I don’t know where else to recommend. If you have not downloaded our free e-book “97 Ways to Create Great Puppies!” yet, that will be a great place to start. https://www.avidog.com/products/item/97-ways-to-create-great-puppies/

        Good luck with your new puppy!

  7. Brenda M. Negri

    Kudos to you for a great article, and good points! I live on a ranch in N. Nevada and raise many breeds of Livestock Guardian Dogs. For years I have discovered that pack rearing of pups by adult dogs can give you the same results: confident, stable minded pups who are ready to ‘take on the world’ when they leave here at appropriate ages. You hit on great points: you don’t get great pups out of junk parents. Its important for people to buy from established, reputable breeders who have a track record of success with their dogs, who keep healthy dogs from good bloodlines, and who practice hands on rearing of pups and lots of supervision. I’ve written articles about the advantages of pack rearing pups, and share much of my experiences and knowledge on my website. I have a library of articles I encourage anyone to access here: http://www.lgdnevada.com/lgd-library.html. Thanks for posting this. More good info like this needs to be shared and I’ll be sharing your post here on a Facebook LGD group!

    • Gayle Watkins


      Thank you for reaching out. I looked through your library…what fascinating articles! An hour from Manhattan, I don’t know of any working LGDs but was familiar with them from my California days. I loved reading about the issues facing these dogs and your insights.

      We also pack-rear our pups to some degree. Every dog has 24/7 access to the puppies and they run together on our woods walks. Puppies quickly learn personalities and have their favorites, which I think helps them understand that all dogs are not like mama!

      Stay in touch and share your ideas with us anytime!


  8. Andrea

    At what age should you start woods walks. I have 6 week old puppies and have been trying to introduce different things often would love to get my Havanese out and about. What shots are required before beginning this excercise?
    Don’t want my litter put at risk
    Really enjoy your page and all the information.

    • Gayle Watkins


      This is a great time to start. Your pups’ instinct to follow their mom started between 5 and 6 weeks. Put their mom on leash and go for a walk. Take a friend along for extra hands.

      If you are going on your own or a friend’s property, you don’t have to worry about vaccinations. Stray dogs are the biggest risk so avoid places and times that you might run into loose dogs. Ask around to see if someone has a little property you can use since your babies won’t need to go too far.

      Good luck and let us know how it goes! Send photos!!


      • Jamie

        Hi Gayle, my home property is all woods and ponds which all my puppies get to explore on puppy walks. I have a camp and bush lot down the road and have thought of taking my young litter there as well. I’m thinking it has the same risk as my home in regards to wild animals but less risk of loose dogs but I am still fearful that I would be foolish to do so.

        • Gayle Watkins

          Jamie, It sounds like you have a wonderful set up for developing puppies. Taking puppies into the woods, fields or bush around ponds and streams provides so many benefits to them that is nearly impossible to get elsewhere. Natural sights, scents and sounds just can’t be fully captured in puppy pens, even with the best products. The physical and mental challenges pups face in nature develop their bodies, brains and problem-solving skills. So, go for it!

          But you are right, we must do it safely! Wild animals and loose dogs do present risks so how do we get around those? As you get started with “woods walks,” start small with help. Take only as many puppies as you and the people you are with can scoop up into your arms. Depending upon the size of your pups, that might be one or two pups per person. In a pinch, maybe three. So if you are going out alone, just take one pup at a time. If you have additional people to walk with you, add puppies.

          We also always walk with adult dogs. The vast majority of wildlife will not approach adult dogs. Wolves are the exception to that caveat but they are usually very cautious of people so you are likely scare them off. We have bear, coyote, raccoons and fox on our property, in addition to vast quantities of deer, squirrels and other assorted critters. We put bells on our adult dogs if its bear season but don’t worry much about the other animals. The only one to give us a hard time in 15 years was a curious fox that the adult dogs didn’t see. We waited him out and eventually he wandered off and we went on our way.

          Other useful tools are walking sticks, cell phones and really delicious treats that will enable you to gather your puppies to you quickly. We’ve been investigating the mini-GPS products for tracking cell phones and car keys that we can hang on pups’ collars but haven’t used them yet.

          I hope you will give woods walks a try and let us know how it goes.

  9. Res

    One thing I learned when I did search and rescue was that for puppies up to about 6mos of age — you never EVER tell them they ‘cannot’ do something. You celebrate everything they accomplish and then take steps to (discretely) keep them from doing the things you don’t want them to do again. At about 6mos of age, you can start teaching pups ‘should not’ instead of ‘cannot’, but before that, you should be very careful what you teach pups they ‘cannot’ do because they do not know the difference between ‘should not’ and ‘cannot’ and ‘cannot’ will stick around in their minds for forever as ‘physically impossible’.

    For example: your puppy figures out how to climb up onto the table. You say “YAY! Look at what an amazing puppy you are!! Here, let me help you down so we can do more fun things!!” and not “OMG, NO, GET OFF THAT TABLE!”

    If you say “YAY!” your puppy will keep trying similar things and will go into life with a ‘can-do’ attitude, even when they are old enough to learn ‘I can do that, but I SHOULD NOT’. Whereas, if you land on them with a ‘YOU CAN’T DO THAT!’ they may end up thinking for the rest of their lives that they CANNOT do ‘that’ or anything similar…like pause tables in agility, rubble for search and rescue, etc, etc, etc.

    • Marcy Burke

      What a great way to describe letting puppies explore their world! So much of puppy training is managing their environment. I have actually experienced the puppy on the table – she thought she was brilliant…and actually she was! In a very happy up voice I said to her “Well, aren’t you clever?” Then I set things up so she could not do it again. I want my puppies to try as many things as possible, and my job is to keep her safe. I made the mistake with one of my first dogs of being a helicopter mom – she always looked to me to solve her problems, and rarely tried anything on her own. What a lesson she taught me!!!!!

  10. Jeannelove Ferguson Palmetto Paws

    I own a retail store where I sell Premium Pet Products (food, beds, toys, treats, collars, leashes, etc) and I see such a large variety of customers who come in asking for information about where to get their next puppy or have already purchased/adopted their puppies from a variety of backgrounds ( rescues, reputable breeders, back yard breeders, puppy mills, etc) and one of the things I stress to them on a regular basis is the importance of recognizing one of the hallmarks of a GOOD reputable breeder is that the puppy is not available to be taken home until it is 8 or 9 weeks old. And there are FAR too many “breeders” out there letting puppies go at 5 or 6 weeks old. By the time the person is in my store with the puppy at this age it is too late to correct this part of the equation ( and most likely they have not come from a good solid stable foundation) HOWEVER, I do think that your article allows me to make some suggestions to hopefully help their pup develop into a confident stable dog who is not fearful or insecure. THANKS for your article and I definitely plan on sharing it (over and over and over) to those looking to have a confident stable puppy!!

    • Marcy Burke

      Obviously staying with mama and littermates is best, but there are things you can tell people to do with their very young pups once they have them.

      1 – Find a puppy class that is NOT focused on obedience training (sit, down, come, etc) but more on letting puppies play with one another under supervision! 5- and 6-week old pups already in homes don’t know how to speak dog yet. Giving them the opportunity to learn to play with other puppies and safe adults is crucial!

      2 – Find vaccinated adult dogs outside of class that LOVE puppies and give them some play time.

      3 – Be sure to keep pups away from dogs that do not like puppies. Since the young pups don’t know the language, they may be corrected (perhaps severely) for not responding to a signal it does not understand. You want to be sure to protect your puppy from that happening.

      4 – Woods Walks – at 5-5.5 weeks the following switch goes on. Take as many woods walks (or other areas safe for the puppy to navigate through terrain that will help with proprioception and allow them to make choices between following you without being called or sniffing all the wonderful scent around them.

      5 – Patience!!!! 5- to 6-week old pups are BABIES!!! At 5 weeks their nerves have likely only been myelinated for a week. Expose them to as many things as you can safely, keeping in mind if they cannot do something on one day, give it a day or two and try again.

      Their biggest challenge will be going against the many vets who will tell owners that their puppies must be isolated until they have had their last shots. In whatever social/developmental challenges owners choose to give their puppies, they must take be sure to keep them safe. Classes should be in places that require proof of vaccination. Oh, and dog parks are OUT!

      Hope this helps a bit.

  11. Jill

    Can anyone tell me how to stop my 3 month pup to stop biting? He doesn’t just do puppy bites he actually launches himself at you and bites. I’ve tried standing still with my hands in my pockets but he keeps going, biting my legs or jumping and tearing my sleeves. Any advise would be appreciated.

    • Gayle Watkins


      Baby puppies like yours put everything in their mouths as they learn about the world. What you need to teach him is that people are very fragile so he has to be very careful. Standing still or turning your back works on very few puppies in our experience. So, we use and recommend a tool called a tagline. Here is a blog about it https://www.avidog.com/what-is-avidogs-tag-line/. You can make one from an inexpensive 1/4″ leash with the handle cut off. Let him drag the tagline all the time when he isn’t in the crate or ex-pen. When he bites you, calmly take the tagline, pull gently upward until you control his head and extend your arm so you move him away from you. Hold the pressure steady until you see him calm himself down. The upward pressure will encourage his body to sit, using the natural opposition reflex. Say nothing this entire time but once he has calmed down, quietly tell him he is good and release the pressure. He might go right back to biting so just repeat the above. You will need to do this hundreds of times but it will be worth it in the end.

      Good luck and let us know how it goes!


  12. Kat Carter

    What a wonderful article! I’ll be sharing this with other trainers, breeders and as many owners as I can!

    I do have a question that you may be able to help me with, if you would. I am a companion dog trainer. I have 2 personal dogs currently, a feral female who was never handled until i got her at 5+ months of age (she’s now a year old) and a confident (if pushy) older female. The feral has made major improvements, but she is still very fearful of new people, new objects, etc. She probably always will be, to a certain extent.

    Here is my concern: I am considering getting a puppy to train for competitive obedience. I want to start with a young pup so I can socialize it appropriately and start training early. I’ve done this with several dogs over the years, but never with a fearful, nervous feral in the home! How can i keep the new puppy from modeling after the feral? Are there ways to ensure that it doesn’t become fearful or reactive from watching her? Any advice would be appreciated!

    • Gayle Watkins


      Your concern is well placed since puppies learn so much from adult dogs. You are lucky that you have one very stable dog for the pup to learn from. From our experience, all puppies but especially competition pups do best if they are not simply turned loose with the adult dogs 24/7. You want the pup to build its strongest relationship with you so plan to limit it’s time with the adult dogs. Crates, ex-pens, tethering, individual walks are all great ways to do that. If your feral dog reactive barks, try to keep the pup from hearing that until after 16 weeks. After that, try rewarding everyone with treats when folks visit…the pup in his ex-pen and the adult dogs elsewhere.

      In general, plan to not have them in public together for at least the first year, if not a little later depending upon the breed and how quickly they grow up. The periods you want to be cautious are 6-16 weeks, again at 6 months and again around 12 months when dogs go through key develomental periods that can cause fear imprinting.

      Hope that is helpful!


  13. Marta Wajngarten

    Spot on! Very nicely written and you make some excellent points about challenging pups to help them grow. When I raised a litter of pups in the city I used to take them on field trips in big box complex parking lots. Your woods walks reminded me of that. We would go in the middle of the night and the pups got exposure to steps, shopping carts, large construction equipment, metal stairs, you name it! I would load every one up in the truck. They would come out one at a time and I took them through a preset course so I could track and compare their reactions. Once every pup had their turn individually, I would take a few out together and go for a fun pack run through the perfectly lit, urban jungle, mostly closed course.

    • Gayle Watkins

      What a great idea, Marta! I’ll bet they were urban cowboys!

  14. Kelly

    Very good points and I follow most of these. Last year I had a litter with a puppy that would just shut down any time his environment was changed. He was usually at his best outside in the yard but as soon as I would bring all the puppies in the house for their evening play time before bed, he would lay down in a corner or up against something and would not move. Ever. If we moved him, he would immediately move back to a wall and lay back down. All the other puppies would be playing in their adventure box and he would be laying somewhere and would never get up and play or run around and explore. He was even afraid of me and my husband and he had seen us every day his whole little life. I ended up keeping him until he was 8 months old because I worried about his temper. While he stayed shy and wary, he did improve some and I did find a home that he is doing well in. Any suggestions as to what to do in a situation like that if it ever happens again?

    • Gayle Watkins


      Your pup is a good example of the natural variation that occurs in canine families. Even confident parents and great rearing methods may still produce shy puppies because there is a survival benefit to shyness in the wild, so the genes pop up. It sounds like you took a responsible approach to the pup! Good job!!

      A few additional thoughts. This is a situation where we would use Adaptil, collar, spray or both. This can often reduce anxiety in dogs. This pup sounds like a negative stressor…when under stress, he moves less. Although we usually give pups the time and space to deal with things on their own, that would not have worked in this case. You probably already thought of these but I’d have stepped in with both classical and operant conditioning. Classical conditioning would have entailed feeding the puppy in that room every meal. First up against the wall then gradually further and further into the room. Once he could eat in that room, we’d start on another room. Operant conditioning would be used when he shuts down. I would reward ANY movement…a head movement, ear twitch, etc. Over and over, I’d reward movement not staying put, which is inherently reinforcing to dogs like this.

      Kudos for doing such a great job with him. Hope these are some more ideas if you ever see a pup like this again. You might consider an Adaptil collar now for him, since they work throughout a dog’s life.

      • Jacque Reynolds

        Hi, Gayle,

        First, thank you for this outstanding resource! You have wonderful insight and skill and I appreciate you sharing your knowledge with us!

        I hope that you don’t mind if I add something to consider with a puppy behaving like this…perhaps the puppy is in pain or not feeling well.

        Dogs try not to interact with others and seek isolation if they are ill or hurting. This is natural behavior that keeps them from becoming easy prey in the wild where it is dangerous to outwardly display weakness.

        I would get the puppy evaluated for any physical injury or illness. The breeder might consider a thyroid test for unsocial or aggressive behavior. Something unnoticed such as swallowing a foreign object or eating fluff from a toy might be the culprit.

        Once the breeder is confident that the puppy is well, then certainly bring the focus onto behavior issues.

        • Gayle Watkins


          Absolutely we should ensure that pups are well when we see unusual behavior. However, we need to remember that wariness is NORMAL not unusual behavior. Many dog lovers, even veterinarians, don’t realize that and label intelligently cautious 8-week old puppies as shy or fearful. That label can cause lifetime problems for the pup.

          If a breeder sees a puppy that dramatically changes its behavior, is not keeping up with its littermates after several days or a week, or just never seems to resolve its concerns, I agree that a vet visit is in order. Often, a fever or a stomach ache can account for these situations. Unfortunately, very little is known about more complex issues like early onset hypothyroidism in very young pups (those under 10 weeks) so most vets will be able to do a basic exam but perhaps not identify rare and unusual conditions. However, as you said, more common issues are more likely.

          Good luck with your pups and let us know how your first woods walk goes!


  15. Jacque Reynolds

    Wow! This is really great information! Thank you!

    My question is how do I deal with MY fear of the dangers to puppies in an uncontrolled environment? I worry about birds of prey grabbing my small puppies, snake or spider bites, and even how to deal with the many “stickers” that will end up in puppies’ coats. Surely if you have a litter of puppies out there, some will quickly find, and eat, dangerous plants or poop from wild animals, and the like.

    We breed long-coated dogs and their coats are like Velcro for more dangerous weeds like foxtails and burrs. Clearly, I can pick them off of their coats when we return but sometimes they are literally covered in tiny burrs and foxtails can be very dangerous if they are found in ears, eyes, even their tiny “private parts”.

    I understand that the best option, given my fears, would be the outings in big box stores but I love the idea of nature walks and we live in the foothills of the most beautiful mountains and I’d really like safely exposing our puppies to this beautiful world.

    I appreciate your comments about inviting people to come along, that helps with the dangers of birds of prey and other wild animals, but I am still concerned… help! (Maybe the answer for me is to take a chill pill! LOL)

    • Gayle Watkins


      I think the best way to get over your fears is to try a walk with friends and your dam. Have one person for every pup so if you only have one person to join you, just take one or two pups. Get a feel for what young puppies do. For the most part, it isn’t a dangerous as you might think. With people and adult dogs around, birds of prey are going to risk trying to get a puppy, especially when the pups are near you and their mom. Start small so YOU gain confidence. I also recommend wine :-). Gayle

  16. Joann

    Sine we don’t usually do shots until 9 weeks how are you taking them out walking,especially in the woods….

    • Gayle Watkins

      Joann, We use the dam’s titers to determine when puppies are at risk for distemper and parvo. That enables us to pinpoint when they are vulnerable, which is usually only two weeks, and when they can respond to a vaccine. Dr Ron Schultz’s Laboratory at the University of WI runs those nomographs for breeders and titers for puppies. It’s inexpensive and easy! As the American Society of Veterinary Behaviorists state “it should be the standard
      of care for puppies to receive such socialization before they are fully vaccinated.” We do this carefully and sensibly. Check with Dr Schultz for nomographs on your dogs! http://avsabonline.org/uploads/position_statements/Puppy_Socialization_Position_download_-_10-4-14.pdf

  17. Melinda

    Thank you for a great article with lots more practical advice than other websites I have come across! My 15 week old Dobe is growing up fast but seems to have literally attached herself to our 11 year old male dog. She refuses to walk without him and will cry and howl whenever she is separated from him for any longer than a couple of minutes. We have tried the “control crying” where her distress is ignored but it gets to the point where it comes distressing for us as well! She raises hell without him and of course we can’t keep them separated forever. When they are together, she will happily meet other dogs, take long walks, go cross country in more remote locations etc. We have been doing confidence building exercises in the backyard (ie placing treats around a sudden new object she hasn’t seen before and watching to see if/how she approaches it). But it’s taking time and I’m worried the longer it takes, the more reinforced her behaviours will become. Any suggestions would be very welcomed!

    • Marcy Burke


      It seems to me that you already understand the importance of getting your Dobe puppy to live comfortably without the presence of your older dog. The most obvious reason is that dogs don’t live forever and the devastation your Dobe will feel when your 11yo dies will truly be traumatic. It is extremely hard on us when we lose a dog, but dogs who rely on other dogs and then lose them without any comprehension of why have a really, really hard time. For that reason alone it is wonderful that you are trying to solve this problem.

      So here are some questions and thoughts:

      – When she is crying and howling after a few minutes separated from him, is she also separated from you? If she is in a crate/x-pen on her own, she may not be protesting being away from him, but rather being confined. If you are trying to engage with her when the other dog is not in the room and she is just crying for the older dog, then you should ONLY allow her to be with the older dog after she engages with you. You will ask for longer and longer periods of engagement before allowing her to be with him.

      – Does she have toys she loves or games that she loves to play? Favorite foods or treats? Those would come out or be happening ONLY when the older dog is not around. If she is a good eater, her meals would all be give outside the presence of the older dog and in the crate if you are trying to build a love for the crate.

      – As hard as it may be right now, you NEED to be sure that most of the things you do with her are done without him. If possible arrange to set up scenarios where you take her alone for a hike and if she is doing well, prearrange to have someone meet you somewhere on the hike with the other dog so that her doing well without him makes him appear.

      – When you say she won’t go for a walk without him, I don’t know what that looks like so it is hard to comment. If she digs her heels in, so to speak, my approach would be “I am not asking you to come with me, I am telling you.” If she is allowed to say I won’t go without him, then she will continue to say that in her behavior. Yes, it will require some force to tell her she must, but she must. Then think about this – how cool would it be if someone were down the street with your older dog and she did not know it? You insist she come with you on this walk and who do they run into? Your older dog. She will learn that by listening to you she gets to be with your older dog too.

      – With respect to your doing the confidence exercises, the timing of the appearance of the treat will determine whether it is a reward or a bribe. If you place a treat near something you think she will be afraid of and see if she will approach to get the treat, then you are bribing her to do it. Not only that, if the fear is strong enough you can poison the treat. Use her favorite food and you can create an aversion to it with this method. Instead, if she is afraid of, say, the fire hydrant, and you know that she is afraid because when she sees it she freezes, when she freezes just wait. Continue to wait. Do not try to pull her toward it. You can stand closed to the hydrant thatn she is. Continue to wait until she relaxes and as soon as she does move away from the hydrant. If you want you can give her a treat, but if she was really stressed she likely won’t eat it. The real reward was moving away from the thing she was concerned about. We humans have this belief that if we can just get our dogs to touch something they won’t be afraid of it. In our efforts to make that happen we often push them beyond threshold. Just let her relax at first – move away. Next time while you are standing near the hydrant see if she will take a step toward you and when she does, turn and move away from the hydrant. You can use this with any object your dog is concerned about. As she get more comfortable, you can present a treat when she moves toward you/the object and then move way.

      – Get your puppy into a class or set up play dates with other puppies! She NEEDS to be socialized with as many other safe older dogs and like sized puppies as you can find. Your older dog cannot be part of this. Let her see that she can have fun without him. So many people tell us they don’t need to socialize their puppy with other dogs because they have another dog. Nothing could be further from the truth. You want to get your puppy out and about – take her everywhere whether there are other dogs around or not. Go to town, to the bank, Home Depot, Lowes, Bass Pro Shop type places, (check the store policies) Let her see that being with you is fun!!!

      – Lastly, if your Dobe puppy is not having issues in the crate, then you can just ignore all the following:

      Having raised many puppies and helped hundreds of people raise theirs, I know how hard it is to ignore the crying/howling. How we respond to it is either going to reinforce or reduce it. I do not know if the crying is happening when she is confined or just loose in the room with you. If it is when confined, how you respond is extremely important. People often do not understand how they inadvertently build behaviors they do not want. As an example if you let her howl for 10 minutes and then you cannot stand it any more so you either yell at her (yes, this is reinforcement) look at her (again she got what she wanted, so it’s reinforcement) or let her out (the ultimate reward), she has now learned that it takes AT LEAST 10 minutes to get the result she wants. Next time you vow to ignore her until she stops crying. This time you are able to last for 30 minutes before finally giving in. Now your pup has learned that it now takes 30 minutes to get what it wants. I have seen this scenario play out where dogs will bark/cry/whine nonstop for 6-8 hours.

      Our first go-to in crate training is covering the crate with a blanket that they cannot see through, without saying a word, when they make noise. It teaches dogs that their behavior drives the consequences. Before we put them in the crate we are sure to prime it with treats, healthy chews to keep them busy (see our store to see what we recommend) and toys. We want the crate to be a place they love to be!!! We have the crate covered with the door area exposed to start. Once a pup is in the crate, the instant it starts to make noise we drop the cover over the door area of the crate. We uncover the door area when they are quiet. If they stay quiet, we toss in some treats. Still quiet? We let them out. We start out looking only for short duration and build the time by seconds if necessary. If they start to make noise again, just drop the blanket over the door area again. We start all our puppies this way, while also making their crates places they LOVE to be because all the fun they have starts by coming out of a crate (like going outside, playing with us, etc) and there is tons of good stuff in the crate.

      That said, we also have had puppies that are so determined to get out that they throw a hissy-fit SCREAMING AT THE TOP OF THEIR LUNGS. If after trying the cover/uncover with no success we move on to using a consequence they really do not like and that is the earthquake. The timing of this has to be spot-on or you will create a real problem with the crate. We only use this method when the other method, after much time, has failed. While the pup is screaming with the crate covered so they cannot see us, we rock the crate from side to side so it feels like an earthquake. It is not a gentle rock, it is intended to really catch the pup off guard. You have to have great timing with this method because the pup has to know that its noise caused the crate to rock. I have not had to use this method often, but when we have needed it, it worked and worked well. Just a note: Some people who only use positive methods in training will think this is a terrible thing to do to a dog, but we strongly believe in all quadrants of operant conditioning and have learned well from Bob Bailey – one of the greatest proponents and teachers of OC – if you are going to use positive punishment, make it severe enough to change the behavior!!! So the earthquake is not a gentle rock of the crate, it is an 8 on the Richter scale.

      If you are having crate training issues, check out our course Puppy Potty Training Solution – although the title is about potty training, crate training is thoroughly covered since it is a part of potty training. We have weekly group calls to talk about individual problems as well as email office hours. You can read more about it here: https://www.avidog.com/puppy-college/puppy-courses/puppy-potty-training-solution/

      Sorry this is long and I hope this helps!

  18. Del

    Hi Gayle, In search of training material for my up coming new puppy, I came across your article on raising. healrhy, confident, stable pups. Very informative & love the additional links for even greater clarity.

    Your site is excellent very well put together. I will have it readily available to use as a reference once I bring my new puppy home (I haven’t had a pet canine since childhood only felines). I Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge & experience with us.

    With that said, can you recommend a site or material to read for my sister who has a 2 yr old or so Yorkipoo? She got him from a rescue shelter and I assume was handled gruffly since he’s always been very nervous & scare easily. Sis never believes in taking Harry to formal training classes nor herself; she is adamant about giving him away bec he marks the house with urine, will do things he’s not suppose to like chew cords, shoes & plants, barks alot & ‘bothers’ company when she doesn’t lock him away! I try to get her tp walk him more often which she does ocassionally, maybe 1ce or 2ce a week – 15 to 20 mins but she doesn’t make the time to do it more often & doesn’t trust the neighborhood enough to allow her 16 yr old son to walk him.

    Poor little guy, I know he just needs better training but she only yells, scolds & spanks him with newspaper when he does bad things. She usually keeps him locked in the bathroom or in his crate in the dark basement when no one is home or has company. This can be for many hrs.

    Please please please recommend some site & other info to help poor little Harry. Unless you know of any one wanting a cute little black Yorkipoo. Thank You in advance.

    • Marcy Burke

      Thanks for your comments about Avidog and what we have to offer! We hope you journey with your new puppy is a wonderful one! Since it has been a while, if you need help with housebreaking, our potty training course has been incredibly helpful to a lot of people!

      As far as your sister’s yorkipoo, I would recommend reading anything from Patricia McConnell (http://www.patriciamcconnell.com) and Ian Dunbar (http://www.dunbaracademy.com). After reading what you wrote about the pup’s life, perhaps the best thing would be if someone could find him a different home. If your sister is not open to training and won’t set the house up in a way to manage the pup’s problems they will not improve. Then the pup is destined to live a life locked in the bathroom or crate in the basement. Do your best to get her to look at Dr. McConnell and Dr. Dunbar’s things and see if she is then motivated to make the necessary changes, which will actually be in her behavior, not the pup’s.
      Wishing you the best of luck with your new pup and will be sending positive vibes to your sister. – Marcy Burke

  19. Jim

    Much of this article seems to point people to breeders. There are many great dogs and puppies in high kills shelters. Once they are held and know that they have a permanent home, they are great dogs.

    • Marcy Burke

      We agree that there are many great dogs in shelters. We also know that many people want a particular breed of dog. They may choose to try to find one in a shelter, through a rescue group or go to a breeder. Our hope is if they choose a breeder it will be one who raises their puppies well and matches them with appropriate families, since they will have a higher likelihood of having their puppies’ first homes be their forever homes. And for some reason should the match not work, a responsible breeder will take any of their dogs back for life.

  20. Shirley M Lambert

    I can find no article on any website ,nor in any book, that states it is okay to take a 7 week old puppy (no matter what the breed) on a 45 minute walk. The average walking time for a 7 week old puppy is 10 minutes – this may vary by 5 minutes either way depending on the breed. This is very detrimental to the joint, bone, etc health of your adult (and senior) dog. The damage will show up later, but it will show up.

    • Marcy Burke

      Although at the moment I cannot put my hands on a study showing that off leash woods walks improve hips, I can tell you since we have been doing these woods walks with our litters over the past 20 plus years we have not only almost completely eliminated hip dysplasia in our lines, we have greatly increased the number of excellent OFA ratings our dogs receive. Since we have data on over 90% of the dogs we have bred (not just those we breed) and many of those dogs have lived well into their teens with a tremendous quality of life, we will continue to stand by our protocol. We are currently working with a world-renown veterinarian in the area of canine sports medicine to create an easy-to-follow fitness program for puppies.

  21. Sarah

    I have to say taking 7 week old puppies out in public areas where there is a potential of coming into contact with fecal matter from unknown dogs is extremely dangerous. 7 week old puppies aren’t yet fully protected against catching such deadly diseases as Parvo.

    • Gayle Watkins

      How risky it is to take your pups outside at 7 weeks depends upon a few things: how many dogs have access to the area the pups will visit, the health status of those dogs, and how high the pups’ maternal protection is. Each of us has to assess not only our puppies’ risk but also our tolerance for risk. We’ve taken hundreds and hundreds of pups out for Adventure Walks on private land over the last 20 years without any illness. We know we are lucky to have private land available but if you can find private land owners that will share their land, in areas where few dogs roam at will, you may also be able to do this.

      In addition, because we run vaccine titer nomographs on our dams, we know when our pups can be protected against parvovirus and when they cannot. Our last three litters have been fully protected against parvo with a vaccine at 6 weeks of age because their dams had relatively low parvo titers. All of those pups will have longterm coverage, if not lifetime, from that single vaccination. For more on nomographs, download our ebook or visit the University of Wisconsin’s CAVIDs lab homepage. https://www.avidog.com/canine-nomographs-ebook/

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