Should You Give a Puppy Affection or Leave It Alone?

by Leslie Darling
    Puppies need lots of affection -- most of the time.

    Puppies need lots of affection -- most of the time.

    Chris Amaral/Digital Vision/Getty Images

    When you bring home your new bundle of canine joy, you probably want to pick that cute little thing right up and snuggle her 24-7. Puppies need lots of love and affection, and this interaction supports the human-canine bond, but make sure you deliver it at appropriate times. Most affection that you shower on your pup is fine, but at certain times you should refrain, even in the face of all that cuteness.

    Newborn Puppies

    It might be tempting to grab that precious bundle of fur, but do not handle newborn puppies more than is necessary in the first two weeks of life. If the mother is not anxious, you can pick them up daily to weigh them and get them accustomed to your smell. At three weeks of age, they are beginning to hear and see, and this is a crucial time for socialization. Gently handle them daily in several short sessions.

    The Importance of Affection

    Your loyal canine is pretty good at showing affection. Licking, tail-wagging and nudging are all ways pups learn to communicate with their littermates and Mom, and subsequently with their humans. Showing your puppy affection tells her she is part of the family and she belongs, and it reinforces the bond between you. However, affection at inappropriate times can actually teach your pup to misbehave. Don’t give her affection when she is barking, anxious, jumping or playing too rough, for instance.

    Positive Reinforcement

    Because dogs like it when you show them affection -- petting, sweet-talking, rubbing their bellies and chests -- any behavior your pup performs that garners affection will be reinforced. Even though much of your puppy’s behavior seems silly and even random, she is learning from the time you bring her home. For instance, if your puppy is whining to be picked up and you pick her up, that will teach her that whining gets her what she wants. Instead, wait until she is silent and calm, then reward her with lots of affection and pats. That will reinforce the calm behavior.

    Fearfulness

    While it might seem like your pup needs affection when she is fearful, most of the time it’s a mistake. For instance, if your puppy whimpers and shakes the first time she hears a thunderstorm, talking sweetly and petting her will not help her be less fearful but will tell her this is appropriate behavior because you are rewarding her. Instead, create a safe place for her to go when she hears noises that frighten her. But remember, this must be a safe location from her perspective, not yours. If there’s a particular room in the house she prefers when there’s thunder, or she likes to go under your bed, make sure she can access it. Encourage her to go there when she hears the frightening noise, but don’t pet her or otherwise reward her fear.

    More Affection

    As long as you are not rewarding undesirable behavior, give your puppy all the love and affection she desires. Take time to understand what your puppy is trying to communicate to you with her body language, and show your affection when she is calm and relaxed. In addition to interacting with her, affection includes giving her what she needs to successfully navigate the human world -- training, appropriate exercise and play time, and structure.

    Photo Credits

    • Chris Amaral/Digital Vision/Getty Images

    About the Author

    Leslie Darling has been a writer since 2003, writing regularly for "Mississippi Magazine" and "South Mississippi Living," specializing in food and wine, animals and pets, and all things Southern. She is a graduate of the University of New Orleans.

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