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Puppy socialization: Part I

Puppy Socialization: What It Is, Why It's Essential, and How To Do It

From 8 to 12 weeks of age, puppies go through a fear imprinting stage. During this time, it is crucial to carefully introduce a pup to a variety of stimuli every day, and to ensure that the experiences are positive. This is also a good time to start training the pup in basic behaviors.

These socialization efforts make the difference in the dog's outlook on life. Instead of reacting fearfully to new experiences, the dog is comfortable when encountering new things, animals and people. This helps the dog and everyone else, since the most common cause of unprovoked dog aggression is lack of proper socialization.

What is socialization? Introducing and familiarizing a canine to new experiences - including people, places, objects, other animals - in ways that help the dog learn how to respond to and interact with these experiences appropriately and without fear.

The list of things to socialize a pup, or dog, to include umbrellas, canes, wheelchairs, bikes, keys, men with beards, people in hats, young children, passing trucks, odd sounds and sudden, loud noises and other animals.

The puppy brain is most inclined to accept new experiences between 4 and 12 weeks of age. Missing the window after 14 weeks of age can socially handicap the pup. Of course, the dog can still learn, but it is harder, mostly due to the need for to help the pup unlearn unproductive and inappropriate responses. Prevention is far better than rehabilitation, so if you can work within a puppy's critical learning window, you and the pup have an immense advantage.

Socialization Principles:

Introduce the pup to new people, places, objects and situations ONLY when you can control the experience.

It's your job to protect the dog from situations that frighten him. Something as simple as letting someone get too close too soon can cause a setback in socialization, causing the dog to hide behind you or adopt a fear-aggressive posture and growl at the offending person. If this does happen, correct the human, not the dog. Tell the person to back away, which will show the dog you can protect the pack and that he does not have to.

When working on socializing your pup or dog, do not impose on other people. First ask for their help. Most people will oblige.

Taking a pup on walks on leash offers effective opportunities for socialization. However, avoid dog parks and other areas where there's higher risk of exposure to disease. Do not let your dog sniff feces or to play with any dogs who might be unhealthy or aggressive.

Introduce a puppy into a large group only after having socialized him to smaller groups.

Use treats, praise, touch, even play to reward, and thus reinforce, your dog for displaying positive responses.

Reward the behaviors that you want repeated and ignore or give a signal to the behaviors you do not like. The signal could be "uh uh" or "too bad". If the signal does not discourage the undesired behavior, try a time out - a brief separation period from the fun interactive environment.

Be aware of the signals you send. Make it obvious to your dog that you enjoy encountering other people, animals and things. Even puppies observe and sense their handlers' reactions.

You must think of what you are teaching your dog in every situation. Your dog is aware of your actions and reactions, your attention or lack of attention, even if you don't realize it.

Understand when and why your dog shows fear, but do not reinforce it. Cooing, coddling and cuddling a pup or dog when she is showing fear will not help the animal lose that fear. Infact, by doing these things you show the puppy there IS something to be worried about. Help your canine realize that you have control of the situation and that the dog does not have to be afraid, or take matters into his own paws (or jaws). You are the alpha, and you want your dog to trust that you will protect him.

It is not fair to put any dog in a situation in which he might feel threatened or prompted to use his teeth. This is why you must educate not only your dog but the people in your home. For example, it is essential to teach family members never to bother dogs when eating, playing with a favorite toy, or resting.

Be careful about the people you choose to help care for your dog. Be it your spouse, roommate, children or petsitter, you need to explain that you are trying to socialize your pup, and that it is necessary for them to reinforce good behaviors in the same way you do in order for the pup to learn. If you are not sure an individual will abide by this, limit that person's contact with your dog during the socialization and training stages. Otherwise, the person can undermine and undo the progress you make with your dog.

One reason that puppies should not be separated from their mother and littermates before 8 weeks of age is that they learn core behaviors from mother dog and siblings. These include proper social play and bite inhibition.

Socialization does not end at puppyhood. While the foundation for good behavior is laid during the first few months, good owners encourage and reinforce social skills and responsiveness to commands throughout the dog's life.

Steps to Socializing Your Pup or Dog

Interaction is key to socialization:

As pack animals and social beings, dogs need interaction with their owners, other people and other animals. The more you isolate the dog, and the less you interact with the dog, the more likely she will develop negative behaviors.

Companionship is vital to a dog's emotional well-being. Integrate the pup into your family from the start. Place your pup's crate or play pen in a room in which your family spends considerable time each day.

Raise a dog in an environment that doesn't allow him to be teased, tormented or attacked by other dogs. Tying a dog up or fencing in a location where other dogs can agitate him leads to dog aggression. People who want their dogs to live outside should not get dogs.

Part of interacting with a dog of any age involves consistently rewarding all desirable behaviors - thus increasing the likelihood the dog will repeat those behaviors - and to take steps to prevent the development of undesirable behavior.

The latter is usually accomplished by redirecting the dog's energy into a positive behavior for which you can reward her, and when she does something "bad", to ignore the undesired behavior. This is based on the principle that dogs typically engage in behaviors to get attention and/or obtain something they desire such as a treat, toy, special privilege or higher status.

And this is why pushing off a jumping dog usually will not stop the jumping behavior; even though pushing the dog away seems like a negative reaction, to the dog seeking attention, any interaction she achieves seems better than none. Therefore, it is far better to get your dog to "sit" before she tries to jump. That way, you can reward her with the attention she wants, while reinforcing only good behavior. It is important to think about why your dog is engaging in a particular behavior.

Socializing with other dogs:

Exposing a puppy or new dog to other friendly dogs is the best way to teach essential social skills. (This is why canine behavior experts warn not to bring a second dog into your family until the resident dog has been taught good behavior and social skills.) Writes Pat Miller in "Plays Well With Others," (Whole Dog Journal, March 2000), playtime with other puppies and non-aggressive adult dogs enables a dog to learn how to talk and read "dog-ese" through appropriate interactions with and responses to other dogs' body language. If this doesn't happen during the pup's critical learning period, well before the age of six months, you may end up with a canine nerd whose inept use of physical and postural language gets him into trouble. Either he sends inappropriate messages or fails to respond appropriately to another dog's message.

Playtime in a controlled situation is a great way to socialize your pup to other people and dogs. Find friends who have healthy puppies and gentle adult dogs, and invite them over to play.

If one dog starts bullying another, intervene. The old saw about "dogs will work it out themselves" does not apply here. Your impressionable pup can develop defensive aggression if frightened by the dominant or intense nature of another pup or dog. Firmly but calmly interrupt undesired behavior the moment it occurs using brief time-outs. Do not yell at, smack or otherwise punish the roughhousing dog; just separate him from the interaction. Also watch for good behavior. To encourage good behavior, you want to take all opportunities to praise and reward with small treats when the dog is playing well with others.

Vigorous play is OK as long as both dogs are having fun. Be ready to intervene if the one appears scared or things start to get out of hand.

Be aware that when a male pup starts sexually maturing, he exudes testosterone, which can lead to dominance issues and disrupt relationships with other canines. This is one of the many good reasons for neutering dogs at a young age, before sexual maturity. If a male dog is intact (not neutered), that increases the potential for conflicts and fights.

Out in public:

Taking a dog out in public to meet other people and dogs is an essential part of socialization.

When dogs meet on-leash, keep the leash loose as much as possible. Restraining the leash tightly telegraphs your tension to the dog. A dog will be more relaxed if he thinks his owner is not anxious and that he has some room to maneuver.

Dogs in neighboring yards might be territorial. Carefully introduce pets on neutral ground. Keep your pup on a leash and never approach another dog until you have asked the owner if it is OK.

If you see a dog off-leash, watch for body language. For example, a wagging tail and relaxed posture are more welcoming signs than raised hackles, erect tails and staring. If you sense any tension, change your walking route or pick up your young pup and prevent the animals from having eye contact.

It does a disservice to all to let a dog off-leash in public, since dogs can rarely figure out on their own how human society expects them to behave. As for the attitude, "my dog just wants to say hi!" - in many cases, the objects of the dog's interest don't want to say hi back ... and in some cases, the dog himself actually wants to do more than say hi, possibly leading to an aggressive encounter. Even the assumption that an off-leash dog approaching another canine just wants to play is often wrong. The approaching dog may be more interesting in establishing him- or herself as alpha or declaring "this is my territory." Some dogs may work it out without owner intervention, but most often, they need human intervention and control.

Contrary to popular belief, it's not normal for adult dogs to instantly come together, bond with one another and play. It's not even normal for humans; watch children and you'll notice that kids are typically selective about who they wish to fraternize and play with. Forcing a dog into a social situation for which the owner has not thoroughly prepared him for can be a plan for disaster.

Puppy kindergarten and dog obedience classes:

Enroll in puppy kindergarten and training class. This provides a great opportunity for puppies to socialize with other dogs ... for puppies to get introduced to obedience concepts in a playful environment with distractions ... and for owners to learn how to communicate with their pups. In the past, some experts recommended that puppies be kept from social interaction until they received all of their shots. However, more recent evidence indicates that it is better for pups to be given social activities and taken out in the human world at younger ages (for example, between 8 and 10 weeks of age).

Observe a class or two before signing up, since you want to make sure that the trainer carefully supervises and controls the environment and does not allow more dominant dogs to bully others.

Obedience training and agility training are excellent ways to help a dog feel more comfortable and confident in public and with other dogs and people. Just as it works with people, learning new skills improves the dog's outlook on life as well as self-confidence. For many dogs, as with people, problems result when brains and energy are underutilized.


Instruct children to greet and pet the pup gently, and without picking the puppy up.

Explain to and remind children that puppies are not toys and that they need to be treated with care.

Teach children never to bother a pup or dog when eating, chewing on a toy, resting or with when a mother dog is near her puppies.

Do not expect a pup or dog to accept rough handling, tail and ear pulling, poking, prodding, teasing, taunting, yelling, screaming, chasing or jerky movements that can seem threatening. Many if not most dog bites in the home are provoked - and they can be prevented if the owners act with greater responsibility.

ALWAYS supervise children and dogs of any age to avoid adding to the statistics of children, puppies and dogs injured by one another.

Preparing to meet new people:

Invite people you trust into your home starting soon after you being your new dog home so that she learns that visitors are welcome.

You can circumvent a lot of common problems by making the effort to introduce your pup or new dog to postal carriers, delivery workers and utility employees early one. First, of course, ask the person's permission to introduce the dog. A smart move that will hasten the dog's acceptance: give the worker some treats for using in rewarding your dog for good behavior. Frequent visits with positive outcomes will likely reduce the pup's excitability.

Being a leader to your dog:

Dogs depend on their owners to be leaders, to teach them proper behavior, and to manage situations - not just when the dogs are puppies, but throughout their lives. In addition, dogs depend on pack order for a sense of security. The owner should be the Alpha - meaning leader, not bully.

Keep in mind that if a dog can't count on his owner for leadership, he is not likely to listen when the owner does try to command his attention.

Routine and consistency result in happier, calmer and better socially integrated dogs. Be consistent; "no" should always mean no. And be fair; you can't expect your dog to understand you unless you take the time to train and educate him. Dog folks help their dogs and themselves by polishing their canine parenting skills.

When a dog is confident in his owner, and when a dog is well-socialized, he can stay calm in potentially threatening situations in public and in the home.

Encouraging good habits in puppies:

Take and make opportunities to praise your dog.

Condition your pup to accept gentle touching and petting. When your pup is in a calm state, practice examining him from head to toe, gently and patiently. This exercise will pay off later when you need to check your dog for ticks, clip his nails, or when the pup goes to the vet or groomer. It is also a good idea to use touch techniques (such as T-Touch) to relax your dog and help alleviate some behavioral problems.

Teach your dog his name. And that his name means "pay attention and look at me."

Begin teaching your pup to come by calling him to you enthusiastically and rewarding the come with a petting stroke, a "good dog," and a tasty treat.

Never use your dog's name in an angry tone, to call him for a reprimand, or for anything he finds unpleasant. You want the pup to associate his name as well as coming to you with good things.

Get your pup used to a leash early on by using it every time you take him outside for potty breaks and walks.

You can keep your puppy from developing the habit of jumping up on people. Do not let anyone pet the puppy when he is standing on hind legs. Put the puppy back on the ground before he gets attention and petting every single time.

Avoid chasing your pup. Instead, encourage the pup to follow you.

When the pup mouths you, make a "yip" sound to let the pup know "stop it, that hurts!" Stop playtime when the pup nips, since play will reinforce the unwanted behavior. Dogs who aren't stopped from teething on and nipping people will likely continue that behavior.

When playing with your puppy, use chew toys to redirect his sharp teeth from your hands, clothing and furniture. Encourage gentle play instead of roughhousing, play-fighting and teasing that all can lead to problems. Remember, little puppies grow into strong, active dogs.

Proactively condition your dog NOT to protect his food and toys. Remove his food dish at least once during feeding. Put an extra treat in the bowl before setting it down gives your pup a positive association with someone removing his bowl. With toys, gently take the toy away and say, "out" or "drop it." Reward the pup with a "good dog" and a treat, then give the toy back.

For effective housetraining, avoid leaving pups under 4 months old alone more than a couple of hours at a time. You want to be there when the pup shows any signs of having to go potty, so that you can take him out and have the opportunity to praise him for going in an acceptable spot. Crate training can be very useful.

Some people are fortunate to be able to take their young pup and his crate, water bowl and toys to work and to friends' homes so that they can keep on a good housetraining schedule and speed up the process. If you can't take your pup to work, come home for lunch or hire a dogwalker during the housetraining period, which if done correctly will last just 2 or 3 weeks. As an additional benefit, outtings to work, to friends' homes and regular walks provide opportunities for socialization.

If you use a crate for your dog, never use the crate as a place for correction or punishment. The crate should have only positive associations.

Training your dog:

One of the most important steps you should take as a pet owner is to properly and humanely train your dog. Training benefits your dog's disposition, improve the dog's socialization skills and enhances your relationship.

Multiple pups and pets:

If you currently have other pets, let them get used to the smell and sound of the new pup from across a door or through a create. Closely supervise the initial interactions and don't leave the new pup alone with other pets at least until you are sure they are safe together.

Help reassure resident pets that the new arrival is not a threat to their position in the family by maintaining the same feeding, playing and walking routines. Make sure the resident pets are getting as much attention as before. Be sensitive to elderly pets who may feel harassed by the younger newcomer's rambunctious playing. Use the crate to give the puppy a rest and the other pets a break.

And remember:

If you want a well-adjusted dog, actively seek new experiences and arrange for pleasant encounters throughout your pet's puppy hood. This is how dogs learn to respond to situations in life without fear. Socialization is the most important process in a puppy's life, ranking right up with proper feeding, shelter and medical care. Socialized canines are typically happy, friendly, predictable and able to handle stress. Under-socialized pups often become fearful, shy, unconfident, anxious, unhappy, unstable and sometimes even fear-aggressive. Such dogs are hard to live with, and the person responsible is the owner. Make time to socialize your pup or adult dog.

What Every Puppy Should Learn

by Pam Young

* to be comfortable in a crate, both when owners are home as well as when owners are gone

* to eliminate outside (on command would be nice!)

* to respect human hands and skin (no nipping or mouthing!)

* to not jump up on humans or countertops

* to respect their owners as the leader of the pack

* to release or relinquish food, toys or inappropriate objects when told

* to come when called

* to be tolerant of handling (nail trims, cleaning ears, kids grabbing fur, taking things out of mouth, drops in eyes, giving pills, bathing, brushing/grooming...)

* to "leave it" when told

* no chasing bicycles, children, squirrels, rabbits, cars, balls....

* to walk without pulling

* to sit, down, stay, wait on command

* to be comfortable and under control in new or uncomfortable places such as the veterinary hospital, groomer, boarding kennel, training class, pet store, other people's homes

* to be comfortable when separated from other dogs, pets or people in their family - able to stay alone without destruction, barking or nervousness

* to play, chew or relax without constant contact or interaction from owner

* to be tolerant of and possibly sociable with other dogs

* to not be protective of food, bowl, crate, toys or bed

* to quiet barking when told

* to greet friends and strangers without jumping or shying away

* to not rush through doorways or down stairs ahead of owner

* to move off furniture, bed or other location without delay when directed

Puppy Socialization Part II

Socialization is most critical for young dogs from 4 weeks to 4 months. However, maintaining your dog’s socialization is a life-long process. Your dog needs to be exposed to all sorts of people, environments, and different looking dogs. Socialization is accomplished by gradually allowing your dog to investigate different looking people, children, environments, objects, and dogs. It is critical that the dog is exposed to new stimuli on a voluntary basis and not forced to interact with beings or objects s/he is afraid of.

4 week-16 weeks = Socialization

• During this period, puppies need opportunities to meet other dogs and people.

• By four to six weeks they’re most influenced by their littermates and are learning about being a dog.

• From four to 12 weeks they’re most influenced by their littermates and people. They’re also learning to play, including social skills, inhibited bite, social structure/ranking and physical coordination.

• By three to five weeks they’re becoming aware of their surroundings, companions (dogs and

people) and relationships, including play.

• By five to seven weeks they’re developing curiosity and exploring new experiences. They need

positive "people" experiences during this time.

• By seven to nine weeks they’re refining they’re physical skills/coordination (including housetraining)and full use of senses.

• By eight to ten weeks they experience real fear -- when puppies can be alarmed by normal objects and experiences and need positive training.

• By nine to 12 weeks they’re refining reactions, social skills (appropriate interactions) with littermates and are exploring the environment, spaces and objects. Beginning to focus on people. This is a good time to begin training.

• Most influenced by "littermates" (playmates now include those of other species).

• Beginning to see and use ranking (dominant and submissive) within the pack, including humans.

• Teething (and associated chewing).

• At four months they experience another fear stage.

It is possible to accidentally force socialization on a dog. One way to do this is to cue a dog to touch something they are afraid of, or to use food to force them to go close to the being or object they fear.

Proper socialization is force free and completely voluntary on the dog’s part.

Many of us make the mistake of giving strangers food and basically forcing our dogs into a vulnerable position. Just wait, patience is a virtue. Let the puppy /dog figure this out for itself. Stand and talk to a friend sit on the ground let the puppy just experience this in its own time. If it’s a footing problem you can certainly toss food around on top of the floor but don’t force the puppy to “Get IT”.

Socialization is much more than just exposing your dog to your family and dogs and maybe a few kids in your neighborhood, this is a good start but not nearly enough for most dogs/puppies.

Socialization is taking the dog/ puppy everywhere you go exposing the dog/puppy to hundreds of people young and old alike and all kinds of dogs. You want your dog/puppy to meet many unfamiliar adults, young old in wheel chairs using crutches real life events school yards with lots of yelling and screaming kids, and dogs of all different sizes and colors. This socialization will need to continue throughout most of the dog’s life. An under-socialized dog is more likely to bite and or become stressed in unfamiliar environments and situations. Here is a schedule to follow:

The Puppy’s Rule of Socialization

Make sure all experiences are safe and positive for the puppy. Each encounter should include treats and lots of praise. Slow down and add distance if your puppy is scared!

By the time a puppy is 12 weeks old, it should have:

· Experienced many daily different surfaces: wood, woodchips, carpet, tile, cement, linoleum, grass, wet grass, dirt, mud, puddles, deep pea gravel, grates, uneven surfaces, on a table, on a chair, etc......

· Played with many different objects: fuzzy toys, big & small balls, hard toys, funny sounding toys, wooden items, paper or cardboard items, milk jugs, metal items, car keys, etc.......

· Experienced many different locations: front yard (daily), other people’s homes, school yard, lake, pond, river, boat, basement, elevator, car, moving car, garage, laundry room, kennel, veterinarian hospital (just to say hi & visit, lots of cookies, no vaccinations), grooming salon (just to say hi), etc....

· Met and played with many new people (outside of family): include children, adults (mostly men), elderly adults, people in wheelchairs, walkers, people with canes, crutches, hats, sunglasses, etc….

· Exposed to many different noises (ALWAYS keep positive and watch puppy’s comfort level – we don’t want the puppy scared): garage door opening, doorbell, children playing, babies screaming, big trucks, Harley motorcycles, skateboards, washing machine, shopping carts rolling, power boat, clapping, loud singing, pan dropping, horses neighing, vacuums, lawnmowers, birthday party, etc…

· Exposed to many fast moving objects (don’t allow to chase): skateboards, roller-skates, bicycles, motorcycles, cars, people running, cats running, scooters, vacuums, children running, children playing soccer, squirrels, cats, horses running, cows running, etc…

· Experienced many different challenges: climb on, in, off and around a box, go through a cardboard tunnel, climb up and down steps, climb over obstacles, play hide & seek, go in and out a doorway with a step up or down, exposed to an electric sliding door, umbrella, balloons, walk on a wobbly table (plank of wood with a small rock underneath), jump over a broom, climb over a log, bathtub (and bath) etc....

· Handled by owner (& family) many times a week: hold under arm (like a football), hold to chest, hold on floor near owner, hold in-between owner’s legs, hold head, look in ears, mouth, in-between toes, hold and take temperature (ask veterinarian), hold like a baby, trim toe nails, hold in lap, etc…

· Eaten from many different shaped containers: wobbly bowl, metal, cardboard box, paper, coffee cup, china, pie plate, plastic, frying pan,™Kong, Treatball, ™Bustercube, spoon fed, paper bag, etc......

· Eaten in many different locations: back yard, front yard, crate, kitchen, basement, laundry room, bathroom, friend’s house, car, school yard, bathtub, up high (on work bench), under umbrella, etc....

· Played with many different puppies (or safe adult dogs) as much as possible.

· Left alone safely, away from family & other animals (5-45 minutes) many times a week.

· Experienced a leash and collar many different times in lots different locations.

We call this technique the "Rule of Many."

From the age of 4 weeks until 2yrs, a puppy should meet many new people every day. Everyone he/she meets should give the puppy treats, or play with its favorite toy and as much variety as possible in terms of size, age, color, and personality type should be represented. The puppy should also go 7 new places every 7 weeks (or at least one new place a week), and the places should be as different from each other as possible, such as a lake, a park, a shopping mall parking lot, the vet’s office, a pet store, etc. And don’t stop there!

These recommendations are minimums – the more people and places your puppy/dog experiences, the more well-adjusted she’ll be as an adult. Keeping track of the people your puppy meets and the places she goes can be fun for young children and will ensure that you meet your goals. Be sure the puppy is put on her own four feet for these introductions and visits; holding her in your arms can send her the wrong signals and prevent her from experiencing the world on her own.

The wonderful end result is that, by seven months of age, a puppy whose owners have followed the Rule of Sevens has met and received treats, pets and praise from at least 196 new people and has gone to at least 28 new places! This lucky puppy will feel relaxed and happy around all types of people and at home almost anywhere. Best of all, whenever she meets someone new or goes to a strange place from now on, she’ll tend to assume the best, rather than the worst. For the next 12-15 years, she’ll truly be a companion to her family.

Short story:

Why is socialization so very important...

When Daisy was adopted at 8 weeks of age from a private party (a friend), she was a sweet puppy - a little shy, but friendly and bright. She approached her new owners readily enough at the friends’ house and bonded with them quickly. Almost at once, they considered Daisy a beloved family member. Two years later, Daisy was a large, powerful dog who had snapped at, even broken the skin several times. She was wary and defensive towards everyone outside her family, and often growled or bit if she thought strangers might approach her or her owners. Reaching out to pet her; moving through the living room; reaching over her fence; handing her treats: Daisy had come to view all these seemingly innocent activities as threats. What happened? Well, the simple answer is nothing. Daisy’s owners didn’t abuse her; in fact, they were exemplary owners in nearly every way. But between the ages of 7weeks and 1yr, Daisy just didn’t meet very many new people. It’s hard to imagine that this alone could cause serious aggression, but trainers see similar scenarios every day. The problem is that many puppies just never develop an extended view of their family "pack". Working owners may be too tired when they come home to take the dog to the park or to have guests over. Families with small children may be too busy. But the end result is that since the puppy doesn’t meet many people outside the family, she begins to distrust anyone not in her magic inner circle. This is normal for wild canids, such as wolves, who live in small, tight-knit family groups and reject outsiders. But it’s a sure failure for domestic dogs, whose behavior can signal their fates. The kindest thing we can do for dogs is to help them extend their concept of "family" to encompass any and all friendly people they meet. Even working people can do this by dealing with socialization proactively.

And what about Daisy? Since no effort was made when she was a puppy to ensure that she experienced as many new people as possible, Daisy ended up with a first class case of defensive aggression. Fortunately, she isn’t a lost cause, and she’s come a long way with behavior modification. Every new person she meets plays ball with her which is her favorite game. But as her owners now realize, what happened to Daisy could have been prevented if they had known about and followed the Rule of “many” right from the start. They’ll definitely be following it next time around. This is a fictional story based on 100’s of dogs I have worked with (this is a common occurrence of the many, many dogs and puppies that I have seen come into the shelter over the past 6 yrs..).

Whether socializing, play training, or just hanging out around the house, being consistent with your dog will make a big difference in helping you achieve your goals with your dog.

By: Dee Ganley CPDT

Bite Inhibition-an Essential Part of Socialization

Dogs must learn to use teeth properly as part of behavior development. By helping dogs learn bite inhibition early on you can help avoid bite incidents involving other dogs as well as people. This tipsheet contains information adapted from articles by Dr. Ian Dunbar in the November 1999 "Whole Dog Journal" and by September Morn in the April 2003 "DogFancy."

Dogs normally learn bite inhibition by 4 and a half months of age. Dunbar believes it's the single most important thing that dogs learn. So try to teach your dogs bite inhibition by age three months and reinforce throughout their lives.

Bite inhibition is a learned response in which the dog consciously inhibits the full force of his biting ability. Most dogs display bite inhibition when they are playing together, and even when engaging in a fight with another dog. If a dog does not have bite inhibition, he could injure and possibly even kill another dog.

Puppies which are properly socialized learn bite inhibition while nursing and playing. When pups bite while nursing, the mother dog will train them by standing up and walking away. When pups bite too hard during play with siblings, the bitten pup will yelp and stop playing with the rough pup. Or the bitten sibling might leap up and knock the rough-housing pup over with a loud bark or growl. This teaches a puppy that playtime ends if he bites too hard.

This is one reason puppies should go to puppy kindergarten or socialization class, where they can play and mouth while carefully supervised. They will learn that while gentle bites might be tolerated, hard bites will stop the play session.

People can use the same idea to teach their puppies bite inhibition.

* Sit down with the pup to play, bringing his attention to your hands. When the pup tries to bite your hand too hard, yelp or say 'Oww' firmly and stop interaction. In addition to stopping interaction, some canine specialists advise to pull your hands back and freeze, and to avert your eyes or look to the side, away from the pup.

* Do not make your response sound like wincing or whining, or the pup may think it's part of the game. The pup needs to learn that fun stops when he bites.

* Give the pup a toy to chomp on instead of your hands or clothing. If he does not take the toy and instead nips again, stop interacting. Turn away, cross your arms, do not look can even walk away.

* After time has passed, face your pup again and offer your hand. If he tries to bite, repeat the process.

* When your pup is gentle, pet and praise him calmly and resume play.

* If he bites again, say "Oww" as you did previously, and give him a 10-minute time-out. Leave the room, or better yet, place your pup in a time-out area. This area can be a separate room with no people or animal occupants, or in his crate. But avoid making this action seem like punishment -- you do not want the pup to learn to fear the crate or associate it with punishment. Time out is not the same as punishment. It is a suspension of playtime and fun.

* As you practice, the pup will use less and less pressure as he comes in contact with your hand.

* Keep in mind that the first goal is to teach the dog to actively inhibit the force of his bite, and THEN reduce the frequency. If you never let the pup put his jaws on you at all, when it does happen (say, an accident during which the dog's paw gets stepped on), the dog will probably react with an over-strong bite.

* Do not tap or smack the dog's nose as punishment for nipping -- instead of discouraging nipping, this tends to trigger instinctive biting in self-defense.

* Do not tease a pup or dog by flashing hands around his face or tapping his face. This can scare or startle the dog and trigger biting behavior, whether in play or self-defense.

* However, as the bite inhibition training progresses, you can gradually begin to incorporate some sudden movements into your play with the dog so he learns to be less spooked by human movement. If a dog is afraid of objects, you can help desensitize him by slowly incorporating hand-held objects into play.

* Daily grooming helps a dog get used to human touch. Teach your pup early on to allow you to touch his face and open his mouth. This will prepare him for activities like vet exams and tooth brushing. Start by gently raise the dog's lip and praise. You can also give a treat. Gradually lift the rest of his lip and examine the inside of his month.

Dunbar explains that no matter how hard you try to socialize a dog to people or other dogs, there may be times when it is not sufficient. For example, someone shuts the dog's tail in a door, or your dog is attacked by another dog. In these cases, your dog will instinctively respond by biting, whether it's out of provocation or self-defense. Whether or not your dog does damage depends on the level of bite inhibition that was established, usually before he reached age four and a half months.

Puppy Rules of 12...

Puppy’s Rule of Twelve: By the time your puppy is 20 weeks old, it should have:

  • Experienced 12 different surfaces: wood, woodchips, dirt, mud, puddles, deep pea gravel, grates, uneven surfaces, a table (ie. Vet.) etc.
  • Introduced to 12 different objects: toys, big and small balls, hard toys, funny sounding toys, metal items, statues, balloons, etc.
  • Experienced 12 different locations: front yard (daily), other peoples homes, school yard, shopping plazas, lakes, pond, river, boat, basement, elevator, car, moving car, garage, laundry room, kennel, etc.
  • Met and played with 12 new people (outside of the family): include children, adults, elderly adults, people in wheelchairs, walkers, people with canes, crutches, hats,sunglasses, etc.
  • Exposed to 12 different noises (ALWAYS keep fun and watch puppy’s comfort level-don’t want it to be scared): garage door opening, doorbell, children playing, babies screaming, big trucks, Harley motorcycles, skateboards, washing machine, power boat, clapping, loud singing, pan dropping, horses neighing, vacuums, lawnmowers, birthday party, etc.
  • Exposed to 12 fast moving objects (don’t allow to chase): skateboards, roller skates, bicycles, motorcycles, cars, people running, cats running, scooters, vacuums not on, children running, children playing soccer, squirrels, cats, horses running, cows running, shopping carts rolling, etc.
  • Experienced 12 different challenges: climb on, in, off and around a box, go through a cardboard tunnel, climb up and down steps, climb over obstacles, play hide and seek, go in and out of a doorway with a step up or down, exposed to an electric sliding door, jump over a broom, climb over a log, bathtub (and bath), etc.
  • Handled by owner (& family) 12 times a week: hold under arm (like a football), hold to chest, hold on floor near owner, hold in-between owner’s legs, hold head, look in ears, mouth, in-between toes, hold and take temperature, hold like a baby, trim toe nails, hold in lap
  • Formal GEB Body Massage done in 12 different locations
  • Eaten from twelve different shaped containers: wobbly bowl, metal, paper, plastic, Kong, paper bag, from your hand, etc.
  • Eaten in 12 different locations: back yard, front yard, crate, kitchen basement, laundry room, bathroom, friend’s house, car, school yard, bathtub, up high (on a cardboard solid box no more than 1 foot off the ground) etc.
  • Played with 12 different puppies (or safe adult dogs) under supervision.
  • Left alone safely (in crate) away from family and other animals (5-45 minutes) 12 times a week.
  • Left alone safely (in crate) near family members (5-45 minutes) 12 times a week.

Housebreaking & Crate Training


Providing your puppy or dog with an indoor kennel crate can satisfy many dogs' need for a den-like enclosure. Besides being an effective housebreaking tool (because it takes advantage of the dog's natural reluctance to soil its sleeping place), it can also help to reduce separation anxiety, to prevent destructive behavior (such as chewing furniture), to keep a puppy away from potentially dangerous household items (i.e., poisons, electrical wires, etc.), and to serve as a mobile indoor dog house which can be moved from room to room whenever necessary.

A kennel crate also serves as a travel cabin for your dog when traveling by car or plane. Additionally, most hotels which accept dogs on their premises require them to be crated while in the room to prevent damage to hotel furniture and rugs.

Most dogs which have been introduced to the kennel crate while still young grow up to prefer their crate to rest in or "hang-out" in. Therefore a crate (or any other area of confinement) should NEVER be used for the purpose of punishment.

We recommend that you provide a kennel crate throughout your dog's lifetime. Some crates allow for the removal of the door once it is no longer necessary for the purpose of training. The crate can be placed under a table, or a table top can be put on top of it to make it both unobtrusive and useful.

Preparing the Crate

Tie the crate door back so that it stays open without moving or shutting closed. If the crate comes with a floor pan, place a piece of cardboard or a towel between the floor (or crate bottom) and the floor pan in order to keep it from rattling.

Furnishing Your Puppy's Crate

Toys and Treats: Place your puppy's favorite toys and dog treats at the far end opposite the door opening. These toys may include the "Tuffy", "Billy", "Kong", "Nylabone" or a ball. Toys and bails should always be inedible and large enough to prevent their being swallowed. Any fragmented toys should be removed to prevent choking and internal obstruction.

Bedding: Place a towel or blanket inside the crate to create a soft, comfortable bed for the puppy. If the puppy chews the towel, remove it to prevent the pup from swallowing or choking on the pieces. Although most puppies prefer lying on soft bedding, some may prefer to rest on a hard, flat surface, and may push the towel to one end of the crate to avoid it. If the puppy urinates on the towel, remove bedding until the pup no longer eliminates in the crate.

Location of Crate

Whenever possible, place the crate near or next to you when you are home. This will encourage the pup to go inside it without his feeling lonely or isolated when you go out. A central room in the apartment (i.e.: living room or kitchen) or a large hallway near the entrance is a good place to crate your puppy.

Introducing the Crate to Your Puppy

In order that your puppy associate his/her kennel crate with comfort, security and enjoyment, please follow these guidelines:

  • Occasionally throughout the day, drop small pieces of kibble or dog biscuits in the crate. While investigating his new crate, the pup will discover edible treasures, thereby reinforcing his positive associations with the crate. You may also feed him in the crate to create the same effect. If the dog hesitates, it often works to feed him in front of the crate, then right inside the doorway and then, finally, in the back of the crate.
  • In the beginning, praise and pet your pup when he enters. Do not try to push, pull or force the puppy into the crate. At this early stage of introduction only inductive methods are suggested. Overnight exception: You may need to place your pup in his crate and shut the door upon retiring. (In most cases, the crate should be placed next to your bed overnight. If this is not possible, the crate can be placed in the kitchen, bathroom or living room.)
  • You may also play this enjoyable and educational game with your pup or dog: without alerting your puppy, drop a small dog biscuit into the crate. Then call your puppy and say to him, "Where's the biscuit? It's in your room." Using only a friendly, encouraging voice, direct your pup toward his crate. When the puppy discovers the treat, give enthusiastic praise. The biscuit will automatically serve as a primary reward. Your pup should be free to leave its crate at all times during this game. Later on, your puppy's toy or ball can be substituted for the treat.
  • It is advisable first to crate your pup for short periods of time while you are home with him. In fact, crate training is best accomplished while you are in the room with your dog. Getting him used to your absence from the room in which he is crated is a good first step. This prevents an association being made with the crate and your leaving him/her alone.
  • A Note About Crating Puppies
  • Puppies under 4 months of age have little bladder or sphincter control. Puppies under 3 months have even less. Very young puppies under 9 weeks should not be crated, as they need to eliminate very frequently (usually 8-12 times or more daily).
  • Be certain that your puppy has fully eliminated shortly before being crated. Be sure that the crate you are using is not too large to discourage your pup from eliminating in it. Rarely does a pup or dog eliminate in the crate if it is properly sized and the dog is an appropriate age to be crated a given amount of time. If your pup/dog continues to eliminate in the crate, the following may be the causes:
  • The pup is too young to have much control.
  • The pup has a poor or rich diet, or very large meals.
  • The pup did not eliminate prior to being confined.
  • The pup has worms.
  • The pup has gaseous or loose stools.
  • The pup drank large amounts of water prior to being crated.
  • The pup/dog is suffering from a health condition or illness (i.e., bladder infection, prostate problem, etc.)
  • The puppy or dog is experiencing severe separation anxiety when left alone.

Accidents In The Crate

If your puppy messes in his crate while you are out, do not punish him upon your return. Simply wash out the crate using a pet odor neutralizer (such as Nature's Miracle). Do not use ammonia-based products, as their odor resembles urine and may draw your dog back to urinate in the same spot again.

Crating Duration Guidelines


*NOTE: Except for overnight, neither puppies nor dogs should be crated for more than 5 hours at a time. (6 hours maximum!)

The Crate As Punishment

NEVER use the crate as a form of punishment or reprimand for your puppy or dog. This simply causes the dog to fear and resent the crate. If correctly introduced to his crate, your puppy should be happy to go into his crate at any time. You may however use the crate as a brief time-out for your puppy as a way of discouraging nipping or excessive rowdiness.

[NOTE: Sufficient daily exercise is important for healthy puppies and dogs. Regular daily walks should be offered as soon as a puppy is fully immunized. Backyard exercise is not enough!]

Children And The Crate

Do not allow children to play in your dog's crate or to handle your dog while he/she is in the crate. The crate is your dog's private sanctuary. His/her rights to privacy should always be respected.

Barking in the Crate

In most cases a pup who cries incessantly in his crate has either been crated too soon (without taking the proper steps as outlined above) or is suffering from separation anxiety and is anxious about being left alone. Some pups may simply under exercised. Others may not have enough attention paid them. Some breeds of dog may be particularly vocal (e.g., Miniature Pinchers, Mini Schnauzers, and other frisky terrier types). These dogs may need the "Alternate Method of Confining Your Dog", along with increasing the amount of exercise and play your dog receives daily.

Crate Size:

For Doberman Pinschers we recommend either the XL Mid-West crate (48” long) or the Colossal crate by Mid-West (60” long).

The Cost of A Crate

Crates can cost between $50 and $350 depending on the size and the type of crate and the source. Most petstores sell crates, they can also be bought online through Amazon or Ebay. Sometimes you can also find them on Craigslist. Be very careful about pre-used crates though, there are some diseases (like Parvo) that can be transmitted through used dog items.

The Cost of Not Buying a Crate

The cost of not using a crate:

  • your shoes
  • books
  • table legs;
  • chairs and sofas;
  • throw rugs and carpet, and
  • electric, telephone and computer wires.
  • The loss of your Doberman (AKA DoberGoat) due on an obstruction or blockage you didn’t know about until too late.

The real cost, however, is your dog's safety and your peace of mind. A crate is like a crib for a child, it keeps them in a safe place when you cannot watch them, for whatever reason.

The Key To Successful Housetraining

Is Prevention, Not Punishment

Veterinary Exam & Urine/Fecal Check

Your puppy's state of health will affect his ability to be successfully housetrained (housebroken). Make sure your puppy is seen by a vet within 48 hours of his coming home from the breeder or animal shelter. If your puppy does not receive a "clean bill of health", it is important that any physical conditions that can impede successful housetraining (such as cystitis, bladder infection, etc.) be properly treated. A fecal check will determine whether worms or internal parasites are present. (There are several types of worms that are not visible except under a microscope. Also, fleas can cause tapeworm.)

Feed Your Puppy A High-Quality Puppy Food

A consistent diet of a high-quality premium brand dry (kibble) puppy food is recommended. Avoid feeding your puppy table scraps or changing brands unnecessarily. If you should need to change your puppy's food for any reason, do it gradually over a period of 4 to 7 days (by overlapping both the old and the new puppy food together, until the old food is phased out completely). [Note: Feeding your puppy lots of canned dog food can loosen his stool, making it harder to housebreak him.]

Close Supervision Is Essential

Close supervision is essential any time your puppy is not crated indoors. It only takes a few seconds for your puppy to have an accident, so watch for signs that your puppy may need to eliminate, such as sniffing the floor, circling, or running out of sight suddenly.

Confinement When Puppy Can't Be Supervised

Crate training or area confinement are recommended for puppies and most adolescent dogs when left unsupervised alone in the house. If properly introduced and used appropriately, crate training is an efficient and humane way to prevent house-training accidents as well keep your puppy safe when you cannot watch him (or when you leave the house/apartment without him). The crate should not be used for excessive periods of time and should not be used as a punishment (although brief "time outs" in the crate are fine). Sufficient daily companionship, interactive playtime and exercise are very important to all puppies and dogs.

[Note: Crate training and other forms of confinement must be balanced with sufficient exercise and companionship. Excessive periods of isolation can be very detrimental to your puppy, and can contribute to numerous behavioral problems including hyperactivity, destructive behavior, digging, self-mutilation, and excessive barking.]

Determine Puppy's Safety Zone, Grey Zone & Danger Zone

Keep a diary of your puppy's urinating and defecating times for several days or more. Determine the minimum interval between elimination. Subtract 15-30 minutes from this period of time and that will be your puppy's temporary "Safety Zone". This is the duration of time he can generally be trusted to hold his urine after he is taken for a walk or has "gone" on his newspapers, provided he does not drink a ton of water during this time. Make sure however, that he is still closely supervised any time he is not confined to his crate or confinement area.

Frequent Access To Newspapers, Backyard, Or Taken For A Walk If Fully Immunized

Puppies need to urinate shortly after the eat, drink water, play, chew, or sleep. For most puppies over 10 weeks of age, that means somewhere between 5 and 10 times a day! Adolescent dogs (from 6 to 11 months old) will need 4 to 6 walks a day. Adult dogs need 3 to 4 walks a day, and elderly dogs need at least 3 to 4 walks daily (incontinent dogs will need more).

Do Not Return From A Walk Until Your Puppy Eliminates

If your puppy has been confined overnight to a crate, take him outside first thing in the morning (before he's had a chance to soil indoors.) Be prepared to stay outdoors with him until he eliminates. (This could take from a few minutes to as much as several hours!) As soon as your puppy eliminates outdoors, offer him lavish praise and a treat. If you take your puppy back inside the house before he's fully eliminated, he will surely have a house soiling accident indoors!

[Note: If you absolutely have to return home before your puppy does his "business", crate him, then try taking him outside again every 15-30 minutes until he "goes".]

Early Interactive Socialization With People Is Important

Early and ongoing interactive socialization with lots of friendly new people (including calm friendly children) is very important. If your puppy is not immunized sufficiently to taken for a walk, make sure to have lots of new people visit your puppy in your home. You can also carry your puppy outdoors to public places to properly acclimate him to the sights, sounds and activities of the outdoors (especially crowds of people and traffic noises) soon after he has received at least two series of shots, provided he is not placed on the sidewalk or streets, and he is not brought near other dogs (or anywhere other dogs might have been).

Praise & Reward Your Puppy For "Going" Outdoors

Lavish praise, a trigger word (ie: "potty", "get busy", "business", "bombs away", etc.) and a treat reward immediately following his eliminating in the right place (newspapers, backyard, or outdoors) will help you to communicate to your puppy that you are pleased with his behavior. Delayed praise is not effective, so witnessing him going in the right spot is important.

No Access To Inappropriate Areas To Eliminate

Many puppies and dogs prefer certain areas or surfaces to eliminate on, such as rugs, carpeting, etc. Keep your puppy away from risky areas or surfaces whenever possible. If your puppy suddenly runs out of sight (ei: out of the room), he may be looking for a secret spot to eliminate, so close doors to rooms where he may sneak a quick pee or poop.

Neutralize Urine Odors With Enzyme-Based Deodorizer

Should your puppy have a few house soiling accidents despite your best efforts to prevent them, neutralize any soiled areas (carpet or floor surface) with an pet odor neutralizer such as Nature's Miracle. Avoid using ammonia-based cleaners to clean up after your puppy's urine, as ammonia breaks down to urea, which is a component of urine.

No Water After 9PM

Generally speaking, it is advisable to take up your puppy's water bowl after 9 PM, unless he seems very thirsty or weather conditions are exceedingly hot. (But a couple of ice cubes are OK)

Eliminate Worms and Parasites

Contact your veterinarian if you suspect that your puppy has worms, coccidia, fleas, ticks, or other internal or external parasites.

Diarrhea Will Prevent House training Success

Your puppy or dog cannot be expected to be reliable if he has diarrhea. Loose, liquidy or mucousy stools will hinder any housetraining success.

After-The-Fact Discipline Does NOT Work!

Never ever discipline (verbally or otherwise) your puppy or dog after-the-fact for housesoiling accidents that you did not actually witness. (Even if you should see your puppy eliminate on the floor or carpet, harsh physical punishment is never recommended.)

Never Discipline A Dog For Submissive Urination!

Submissive and excitement urination are completely involuntary, so never discipline your puppy for this. Eye contact, verbal scoldings, hovering over, reaching out to pet your puppy's head, animated movements, talking in an exciting or loud voice, as well as strangers/ visitors approaching your puppy, may all potentially trigger your puppy to piddle. Disciplining your puppy for involuntary piddling must be avoided or the problem will simply get worse.


A rolled up newspaper can be an effective training tool when used properly. For instance, use the rolled-up newspaper if your dog chews up something inappropriate or has a housebreaking accident. Bring the dog over to the destroyed object (or mess), then take the rolled-up newspaper... and hit yourself over the head as you repeat the phrase, "I FORGOT TO WATCH MY DOG, I FORGOT TO WATCH MY DOG!"

Puppy Food & Feeding

There are few things as important as good nutrition for your puppy. We feed only 4 and 5 star dog food per this rating chart:

The majority of the 6 star dog foods are very high in protein and fat levels so we do not feed 6 star food to puppies.

Your puppy is currently eating: Kirkland Signature ADULT Chicken & Rice.

You can change the food to a comparable brand if you choose as not all foods are easily found in different areas. Whatever food you do choose to switch to be sure it is under 24% protein-you may have to feed an adult formula to have the lower protein level. If the protein levels are too high bone growth may be too rapid and multiple issues including Panosteitis*, Bowing Out and Knuckling over* might be seen.

The puppy is also on these supplements: K9 Puppy Gold, Full Fat plain yogurt-one tablespoon a day.

Puppies should be offered food 3x a day until 12 weeks of age and twice a day after 12 weeks of age. Our typical feeding schedule is 8am, 1pm, 6pm. Once the puppy turn 12 weeks old we remove the 1pm 'lunch'. We offer the food for 20 minutes and whatever is not eaten after that time is removed until the next feeding.

Be sure to allow the puppy to exercise on carpet and grass (not just hardwood/tile/laminate floors)-they need to grip provided by carpet to allow the ligaments and tendons to form correctly and prevent bowing and/or knuckling over.

*Panosteitis is a bone disease of dogs that is characterized by bone proliferation and remodeling. It is often painful and can last as long as 18 months, though more commonly it lasts from 2 to 5 months. It is characterized by lameness that often comes and goes and changes from leg to leg. It is a common problem in several large breeds. This condition is self limiting, meaning that it will eventually go away, with or without treatment. Pain control can go a long way towards helping your pet feel more comfortable and should be used, though.

* Bowing or knucking-over (carpel flexural deformity) causing uneven growth patterns between the bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments. This is not genetic, this is a nutritional/management problem and caught early enough it can be repaired.


Doberman Pinschers are at an increased risk of developing Parvo as "black/tan" breeds are more susceptible to the virus. Until your puppy is fully vaccinated at 16 weeks, care needs to be taken as to where your puppy goes. A puppy should not be taken to a dog park (really ever-we do NOT recommend dog parks) , petstores where puppies are sold, "meet and greets" with other strange dogs etc. The chance of a puppy coming in contact with Parvo or other diseases is so high in those areas and without the full series of vaccinations your puppy will be susceptible to coming down with a potentially deadly disease. While we take every precaution to ensure the health of our dogs and puppies, we are very careful to not over vaccinate either. Below is the vaccination schedule we follow:

6 weeks Duramune Max 5

8 weeks Duramune Max 5

11 weeks Duramune Max 5

16 weeks Duramune Max 5

6 months Rabies

1 year Duramune Max 5

1.5 year Rabies (3 year)

After the 1 year booster of Duramune Max 5 we do titer tests yearly to check the level of antibodies in the blood. Recent research has shown these vaccinations do not need to be given yearly for most dogs and the level of antibodies typically stays at high levels for 3 years or more.

We DO NOT give vaccinations with Lepto to our dogs. The Lepto vaccine has the highest allergic reaction rate of all vaccinations and provides coverage for only 3 out of 120+ strands of Lepto.

As every region is different, you will want to talk to your vet about any additional vaccinations they might recommend (Bordatella, Lyme etc).

To read more about the growing trend of titer testing:

Spay & Neuter

Health Risks and Benefits Associated with Spay/Neuter in Dogs

***Please note Titan Doberman is not advocating that our puppy owners NOT spay or neuter their puppies, in fact all of our companion puppies will only be placed with new families on a spay/neuter contract and limited AKC registration. To not spay/neuter per our contract will hold you in violation of the agreement. We are using this article to demonstrate why we only allow spays and neuters of our puppies to be performed at 10-18 months of age vs. the typical 6 months most vets typically perform these procedures.***

AUTHOR: Laura J. Sanborn, M.S.

Dog owners in America are frequently advised to spay/neuter their dogs for health reasons. A number of health benefits are cited, yet evidence is usually not cited to support the alleged health benefits. When discussing the health impacts of spay/neuter, health risks are often not mentioned. At times, some risks are mentioned, but the most severe risks usually are not. This article is an attempt to summarize the long-term health risks and benefits associated with spay/neuter in dogs that can be found in the veterinary medical literature. This article will not discuss the impact of spay/neuter on population control, or the impact of spay/neuter on behavior. Nearly all of the health risks and benefits summarized in this article are findings from retrospective epidemiological research studies of dogs, which examine potential associations by looking backwards in time. A few are from prospective research studies, which examine potential associations by looking forward in time.


An objective reading of the veterinary medical literature reveals a complex situation with respect to the longterm health risks and benefits associated with spay/neuter in dogs. The evidence shows that spay/neuter correlates with both positive AND adverse health effects in dogs. It also suggests how much we really do not yet understand about this subject. On balance, it appears that no compelling case can be made for neutering most male dogs, especially immature male dogs, in order to prevent future health problems. The number of health problems associated with neutering may exceed the associated health benefits in most cases. On the positive side, neutering male dogs

  • eliminates the small risk (probably <1%) of dying from testicular cancer
  • reduces the risk of non-cancerous prostate disorders
  • reduces the risk of perianal fistulas
  • may possibly reduce the risk of diabetes (data inconclusive)

On the negative side, neutering male dogs

  • if done before maturity, increases the risk of osteosarcoma (bone cancer) by a factor of 3.8; this is a common cancer in medium/large and larger breeds with a poor prognosis.
  • increases the risk of cardiac hemangiosarcoma by a factor of 1.6; this is a common cancer and major cause of death in some breeds
  • triples the risk of hypothyroidism
  • increases the risk of geriatric cognitive impairment
  • triples the risk of obesity, a common health problem in dogs with many associated health problems
  • quadruples the small risk (<0.6%) of prostate cancer
  • doubles the small risk (<1%) of urinary tract cancers
  • increases the risk of orthopedic disorders
  • increases the risk of adverse reactions to vaccinations

Female Dogs

For female dogs, the situation is more complex. The number of health benefits associated with spaying may exceed the associated health problems in some (not all) cases. On balance, whether spaying improves the odds of overall good health or degrades them probably depends on the age of the female dog and the relative risk of various diseases in the different breeds. On the positive side, spaying female dogs

  • if done before 2.5 years of age, greatly reduces the risk of mammary tumors, the most common malignant tumors in female dogs
  • nearly eliminates the risk of pyometra, which otherwise would affect about 23% of intact female dogs; pyometra kills about 1% of intact female dogs
  • reduces the risk of perianal fistulas
  • removes the very small risk (0.5%) from uterine, cervical, and ovarian tumors
  • On the negative side, spaying female dogs
  • if done before maturity, increases the risk of osteosarcoma by a factor of 3.1; this is a common cancer in larger breeds with a poor prognosis
  • increases the risk of splenic hemangiosarcoma by a factor of 2.2 and cardiac hemangiosarcoma by factor of >5; this is a common cancer and major cause of death in some breeds
  • triples the risk of hypothyroidism
  • increases the risk of obesity by a factor of 1.6-2, a common health problem in dogs with many associated health problems
  • causes urinary "spay incontinence" in 4-20% of female dogs
  • increases the risk of persistent or recurring urinary tract infections by a factor of 3-4
  • increases the risk of recessed vulva, vaginal dermatitis, and vaginitis, especially for female dogs spayed before puberty
  • doubles the small risk (<1%) of urinary tract tumors
  • increases the risk of orthopedic disorders
  • increases the risk of adverse reactions to vaccinations

One thing is clear – much of the spay/neuter information that is available to the public is unbalanced and contains claims that are exaggerated or unsupported by evidence. Rather than helping to educate pet owners, much of it has contributed to common misunderstandings about the health risks and benefits associated of spay/neuter in dogs.

The traditional spay/neuter age of six months as well as the modern practice of pediatric spay/neuter appear to predispose dogs to health risks that could otherwise be avoided by waiting until the dog is physically mature, or (perhaps in the case of many male dogs) foregoing it altogether unless medically necessary. The balance of long-term health risks and benefits of spay/neuter will vary from one dog to the next. Across-the-board recommendations for all pet dogs do not appear to be supportable from findings in the veterinary medical literature.

Findings and Studies

This section summarizes the diseases or conditions that have been studied with respect to spay/neuter in dogs.

Complications from Spay/Neuter Surgery

All surgery incurs some risk of complications, including adverse reactions to anesthesia, hemorrhage, inflammation, infection, etc. Complications include only immediate and near term impacts that are clearly linked to the surgery, not to longer term impacts that can only be assessed by research studies. At one veterinary teaching hospital where complications were tracked, the rates of intraoperative, postoperative and total complications were 6.3%, 14.1% and 20.6%, respectively as a result of spaying female dogs1. Other studies found a rate of total complications from spaying of 17.7%2 and 23%3. A study of Canadian veterinary private practitioners found complication rates of 22% and 19% for spaying female dogs and neutering male dogs, respectively.

Serious complications such as infections, abscesses, rupture of the surgical wound, and chewed out sutures were reported at a 1- 4% frequency, with spay and castration surgeries accounting for 90% and 10% of these complications, respectively. The death rate due to complications from spay/neuter is low, at around 0.1%2.

Prostate Cancer

Much of the spay/neuter information available to the public asserts that neutering will reduce or eliminate the risk that male dogs develop prostate cancer. This would not be an unreasonable assumption, given that prostate cancer in humans is linked to testosterone. But the evidence in dogs does not support this claim. In fact, the strongest evidence suggests just the opposite. There have been several conflicting epidemiological studies over the years that found either an increased risk or a decreased risk of prostate cancer in neutered dogs. These studies did not utilize control populations, rendering these results at best difficult to interpret. This may partially explain the conflicting results.

More recently, two retrospective studies were conducted that did utilize control populations. One of these studies involved a dog population in Europe5 and the other involved a dog population in America. Both studies found that neutered male dogs have a four times higher risk of prostate cancer than intact dogs. Based on their results, the researchers suggest a cause-and-effect relationship: "this suggests that castration does not initiate the development of prostatic carcinoma in the dog, but does favor tumor progression" and also "Our study found that most canine prostate cancers are of ductal/urothelial origin... The relatively low incidence of prostate cancer in intact dogs may suggest that testicular hormones are in fact protective against ductal/urothelial prostatic carcinoma, or may have indirect effects on cancer development by changing the environment in the prostate."

This needs to be put in perspective. Unlike the situation in humans, prostate cancer is uncommon in dogs. Given an incidence of prostate cancer in dogs of less than 0.6% from necropsy studies, it is difficult to see that the risk of prostate cancer should factor heavily into most neutering decisions. There is evidence for an increased risk of prostate cancer in at least one breed (Bouviers)5, though very little data so far to guide us in regards to other breeds.

Testicular Cancer

Since the testicles are removed with neutering, castration removes any risk of testicular cancer (assuming the castration is done before cancer develops). This needs to be compared to the risk of testicular cancer in intact dogs. Testicular tumors are not uncommon in older intact dogs, with a reported incidence of 7%8. However, the prognosis for treating testicular tumors is very good owing to a low rate of metastasis, so testicular cancer is an uncommon cause of death in intact dogs. For example, in a Purdue University breed health survey of Golden Retrievers, deaths due to testicular cancer were sufficiently infrequent that they did not appear on list of significant causes of "Years of Potential Life Lost for Veterinary Confirmed Cause of Death" even though 40% of GR males were intact. Furthermore, the GRs who were treated for testicular tumors had a 90.9% cure rate. This agrees well with other work that found 6-14% rates of metastasis for testicular tumors in dogs. The high cure rate of testicular tumors combined with their frequency suggests that fewer than 1% of intact male dogs will die of testicular cancer.

In summary, though it may be the most common reason why many advocate neutering young male dogs, the risk from life threatening testicular cancer is sufficiently low that neutering most male dogs to prevent it is difficult to justify. An exception might be bilateral or unilateral cryptorchids, as testicles that are retained in the abdomen are 13.6 times more likely to develop tumors than descended testicles12 and it is also more difficult to detect tumors in undescended testicles by routine physical examination. Osteosarcoma (Bone Cancer) A multi-breed case-control study of the risk factors for osteosarcoma found that spay/neutered dogs (males or females) had twice the risk of developing osteosarcoma as did intact dogs.

This risk was further studied in Rottweilers, a breed with a relatively high risk of osteosarcoma. This retrospective cohort study broke the risk down by age at spay/neuter, and found that the elevated risk of osteosarcoma is associated with spay/neuter of young dogs14. Rottweilers spayed/neutered before one year of age were 3.8 (males) or 3.1 (females) times more likely to develop osteosarcoma than intact dogs. Indeed, the combination of breed risk and early spay/neuter meant that Rottweilers spayed/neutered before one year of age had a 28.4% (males) and 25.1% (females) risk of developing osteosarcoma. These results are consistent with the earlier multi-breed study13 but have an advantage of assessing risk as a function of age at neuter.

The researchers suggest a cause-and-effect relationship, as sex hormones are known to influence the maintenance of skeletal structure and mass, and also because their findings showed an inverse relationship between time of exposure to sex hormones and risk of osteosarcoma. The risk of osteosarcoma increases with increasing breed size and especially height. It is a common cause of death in medium/large, large, and giant breeds. Osteosarcoma is the third most common cause of death in Golden Retrievers and is even more common in larger breeds. Given the poor prognosis of osteosarcoma and its frequency in many breeds, spay/neuter of immature dogs in the medium/large, large, and giant breeds is apparently associated with a significant and elevated risk of death due to osteosarcoma.

Mammary Cancer (Breast Cancer)

Mammary tumors are by far the most common tumors in intact female dogs, constituting some 53% of all malignant tumors in female dogs in a study of dogs in Norway15 where spaying is much less common than in the USA. 50-60% of mammary tumors are malignant, for which there is a significant risk of metastasis16. Mammary tumors in dogs have been found to have estrogen receptors17, and the published research shows that the relative risk (odds ratio) that a female will develop mammary cancer compared to the risk in intact females is dependent on how many estrus cycles she experiences.

Mammary cancer was found to be the 10th most common cause of years of lost life in Golden Retrievers, even though 86% of female GRs were spayed, at a median age of 3.4 yrs10. Considering that the female subset accounts for almost all mammary cancer cases, it probably would rank at about the 5th most common cause of years of lost life in female GRs. It would rank higher still if more female GRs had been kept intact up to 30 months of age. Boxers, cocker spaniels, English Springer spaniels, and dachshunds are breeds at high risk of mammary tumors. A population of mostly intact female Boxers was found to have a 40% chance of developing mammary cancer between the ages of 6-12 years of age.

There are some indications that purebred dogs may be at higher risk than mixed breed dogs, and purebred dogs with high inbreeding coefficients may be at higher risk than those with low inbreeding coefficients20. More investigation is required to determine if these are significant.

In summary, spaying female dogs significantly reduces the risk of mammary cancer (a common cancer), and the fewer estrus cycles experienced at least up to 30 months of age, the lower the risk will be.

Female Reproductive Tract Cancer

Uterine/cervical tumors are rare in dogs, constituting just 0.3% of tumors in dogs. Spaying will remove the risk of ovarian tumors, but the risk is only 0.5%. While spaying will remove the risk of reproductive tract tumors, it is unlikely that surgery can be justified to prevent the risks of uterine, cervical, and ovarian cancers as the risks are so low.

Urinary Tract Cancer

An age-matched retrospective study found that spay/neuter dogs were two times more likely to develop lower urinary tract tumors (bladder or urethra) compared to intact dogs. These tumors are nearly always malignant, but are infrequent, accounting for less than 1% of canine tumors. So this risk is unlikely to weigh heavily on spay/neuter decisions. Airedales, Beagles, and Scottish Terriers are at elevated risk for urinary tract cancer while German Shepherds have a lower than average risk.


Hemangiosarcoma is a common cancer in dogs. It is a major cause of death in some breeds, such as Salukis, French Bulldogs, Irish Water Spaniels, Flat Coated Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Boxers, Afghan Hounds, English Setters, Scottish Terriesr, Boston Terriers, Bulldogs, and German Shepherd Dogs. In an aged-matched case controlled study, spayed females were found to have a 2.2 times higher risk of splenic hemangiosarcoma compared to intact females. A retrospective study of cardiac hemangiosarcoma risk factors found a >5 times greater risk in spayed female dogs compared to intact female dogs and a 1.6 times higher risk in neutered male dogs compared to intact male dogs.25 The authors suggest a protective effect of sex hormones against hemangiosarcoma, especially in females. In breeds where hermangiosarcoma is an important cause of death, the increased risk associated with spay/neuter is likely one that should factor into decisions on whether or when to sterilize a dog.


Spay/neuter in dogs was found to be correlated with a three fold increased risk of hypothyroidism compared to intact dogs. The researchers suggest a cause-and-effect relationship: They wrote: "More important [than the mild direct impact on thyroid function] in the association between [spaying and] neutering and hypothyroidism may be the effect of sex hormones on the immune system. Castration increases the severity of autoimmune thyroiditis in mice" which may explain the link between spay/neuter and hypothyroidism in dogs. Hypothyroidism in dogs causes obesity, lethargy, hair loss, and reproductive abnormalities.


Owing to changes in metabolism, spay/neuter dogs are more likely to be overweight or obese than intact dogs. One study found a two fold increased risk of obesity in spayed females compared to intact females. Another study found that spay/neuter dogs were 1.6 (females) or 3.0 (males) times more likely to be obese than intact dogs, and 1.2 (females) or 1.5 (males) times more likely to be overweight than intact dogs.

A survey study of veterinary practices in the UK found that 21% of dogs were obese. Being obese and/or overweight is associated with a host of health problems in dogs. Overweight dogs are more likely to be diagnosed with hyperadrenocorticism, ruptured cruciate ligament, hypothyroidism, lower urinary tract disease, and oral disease. Obese dogs are more likely to be diagnosed with hypothyroidism, diabetes mellitus, pancreatitis, ruptured cruciate ligament, and neoplasia (tumors).


Some data indicate that neutering doubles the risk of diabetes in male dogs, but other data showed no significant change in diabetes risk with neutering31. In the same studies, no association was found between spaying and the risk of diabetes.

Adverse Vaccine Reactions

A retrospective cohort study of adverse vaccine reactions in dogs was conducted, which included allergic reactions, hives, anaphylaxis, cardiac arrest, cardiovascular shock, and sudden death. Adverse reactions were 30% more likely in spayed females than intact females, and 27% more likely in neutered males than intact males. The investigators discuss possible cause-and-effect mechanisms for this finding, including the roles that sex hormones play in body’s ability to mount an immune response to vaccination. Toy breeds and smaller breeds are at elevated risk of adverse vaccine reactions, as are Boxers, English Bulldogs, Lhasa Apsos, Weimaraners, American Eskimo Dogs, Golden Retrievers, Basset Hounds, Welsh Corgis, Siberian Huskies, Great Danes, Labrador Retrievers, Doberman Pinschers, American Pit Bull Terriers, and Akitas. Mixed breed dogs were found to be at lower risk, and the authors suggest genetic hetereogeneity (hybrid vigor) as the cause.

Urogenital Disorders

Urinary incontinence is common in spayed female dogs, which can occur soon after spay surgery or after a delay of up to several years. The incidence rate in various studies is 4-20% 33,34,35 for spayed females compared to only 0.3% in intact females36. Urinary incontinence is so strongly linked to spaying that it is commonly called "spay incontinence" and is caused by urethral sphincter incompetence37, though the biological mechanism is unknown. Most (but not all) cases of urinary incontinence respond to medical treatment, and in many cases this treatment needs to be continued for the duration of the dog’s life.A retrospective study found that persistent or recurring urinary tract (bladder) infections (UTIs) were 3-4 times more likely in spayed females dogs than in intact females39. Another retrospective study found that female dogs spayed before 5 ½ months of age were 2.76 times more likely to develop UTIs compared to those spayed after 5 ½ months of age.

Depending on the age of surgery, spaying causes abnormal development of the external genitalia. Spayed females were found to have an increased risk of recessed vulva, vaginal dermatitis, vaginitis, and UTIs. The risk is higher still for female dogs spayed before puberty. Pyometra (Infection of the Uterus) Pet insurance data in Sweden (where spaying is very uncommon) found that 23% of all female dogs developed pyometra before 10 years of age. Bernese Mountain dogs, Rottweilers, rough-haired Collies, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Golden Retrievers were found to be high risk breeds . Female dogs that have not whelped puppies are at elevated risk for pyometra43. Rarely, spayed female dogs can develop "stump pyometra" related to incomplete removal of the uterus. Pyometra can usually be treated surgically or medically, but 4% of pyometra cases led to death. Combined with the incidence of pyometra, this suggests that about 1% of intact female dogs will die from pyometra.

Perianal Fistulas

Male dogs are twice as likely to develop perianal fistulas as females, and spay/neutered dogs have a decreased risk compared to intact dogs. German Shepherd Dogs and Irish Setters are more likely to develop perianal fistulas than are other breeds.

Non-cancerous Disorders of the Prostate Gland

The incidence of benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH, enlarged prostate) increases with age in intact male dogs, and occurs in more than 80% of intact male dogs older than the age of 5 years45. Most cases of BPH cause no problems, but in some cases the dog will have difficulty defecating or urinating. Neutering will prevent BPH. If neutering is done after the prostate has become enlarged, the enlarged prostate will shrink relatively quickly. BPH is linked to other problems of the prostate gland, including infections, abscesses, and cysts, which can sometimes have serious consequences.

Orthopedic Disorders

In a study of beagles, surgical removal of the ovaries (as happens in spaying) caused an increase in the rate of remodeling of the ilium (pelvic bone)46, suggesting an increased risk of hip dysplasia with spaying. Spaying was also found to cause a net loss of bone mass in the spine. Spay/neuter of immature dogs delays the closure of the growth plates in bones that are still growing, causing those bones to end up significantly longer than in intact dogs or those spay/neutered after maturity48. Since the growth plates in various bones close at different times, spay/neuter that is done after some growth plates have closed but before other growth plates have closed can result in a dog with unnatural proportions, possibly impacting performance and long term durability of the joints.

Cranial Cruciate Ligament Rupture

Spay/neuter is associated with a two fold increased risk of cranial cruciate ligament rupture. Perhaps this is associated with the increased risk of obesity or to changes in body proportions in dogs spay/neutered before the growth plates in the bones have closed. Spay/neuter before 5 ½ months of age is associated with a 70% increased aged-adjusted risk of hip dysplasia compared to dogs spayed/neutered after 5 ½ months of age. The researchers suggest "it is possible that the increase in bone length that results from early-age gonadectomy results in changes in joint conformation, which could lead to a diagnosis of hip dysplasia". In a breed health survey study of Airedales, spay/neuter dogs were significantly more likely to suffer hip dysplasia as well as "any musculoskeletal disorder", compared to intact dogs, however possible confounding factors were not controlled for, such as the possibility that some dogs might have been spayed/neutered because they had hip dysplasia or other musculoskeletal disorders. Compared to intact dogs, another study found that dogs neutered six months prior to a diagnosis of hip dysplasia were 1.5 times as likely to develop clinical hip dysplasia. Compared to intact dogs, spayed/neutered dogs were found to have a 3.1 fold higher risk of patellar luxation.

Geriatric Cognitive Impairment

Neutered male dogs and spayed female dogs are at increased risk of geriatric cognitive impairment compared to intact male dogs. There weren't enough intact geriatric females available for the study to determine their risk. Geriatric cognitive impairment includes disorientation in the house or outdoors, changes in social interactions with human family members, loss of house training, and changes in the sleep-wake cycle. The investigators state "This finding is in line with current research on the neuro-protective roles of testosterone and estrogen at the cellular level and the role of estrogen in preventing Alzheimer’s disease in human females. One would predict that estrogens would have a similar protective role in the sexually intact female dogs; unfortunately too few sexually intact female dogs were available for inclusion in the present study to test the hypothesis."


An objective reading of the veterinary medical literature reveals a complex situation with respect to the longterm health risks and benefits associated with spay/neuter in dogs. The evidence shows that spay/neuter correlates with both positive AND adverse health effects in dogs. It also suggests how much we really do not yet understand about this subject. On balance, it appears that no compelling case can be made for neutering most male dogs to prevent future health problems, especially immature male dogs. The number of health problems associated with neutering may exceed the associated health benefits in most cases. For female dogs, the situation is more complex. The number of health benefits associated with spaying may exceed the associated health problems in many (not all) cases. On balance, whether spaying improves the odds of overall good health or degrades them probably depends on the age of the dog and the relative risk of various diseases in the different breeds.

The traditional spay/neuter age of six months as well as the modern practice of pediatric spay/neuter appear to predispose dogs to health risks that could otherwise be avoided by waiting until the dog is physically mature, or (perhaps in the case of many male dogs) foregoing it altogether unless medically necessary. The balance of long-term health risks and benefits of spay/neuter will vary from one dog to the next. Across-the-board recommendations for all dogs do not appear to be supportable from findings in the veterinary medical literature.


1. Long-term Health Risks and Benefits Associated with Spay/Neuter in Dogs. Laura J Sanborn, MS., 2007