Dog Gone Problems is a weekly advice column by David Codr, a dog behaviorist in Omaha. David answers dog behavior questions sent in by our readers. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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Dog Gone Problems,
Me and my neighbor both bought our pups from the same litter. They are now 16 weeks old. I am a full-time grad student and most days my neighbor is a stay-at-home dog mom. She dog sits a lot of different dogs and she’s the sweetest, most active woman I’ve ever met.
In the afternoons while I’m at school, she picks up my pup from my house and takes him to her house so that he and his brother can play. At first I thought this was wonderful, because I didn’t have to worry about my pup being home alone for so many hours while I’m at school. From noon to about 3:30 or 4:30 (depending on the day) he is at my neighbor’s house. They play in the yard, in the house and even in her kiddie pool on hot days. In the evenings I return the favor and take her pup over to my house for a couple hours. At the end of the day they’re both very tired — just how we like it!
However, I started to notice that my pup wasn’t listening to me as much anymore and even stopped playing fetch (his brother doesn’t fetch so I guess now he doesn’t want to).
At first I thought I just wasn’t spending enough time with him. I tried putting more effort in spending individual time with him, but I still feel that, at the end of the day, he spends much more time at my neighbor’s house.
Because they’re always playing, we haven’t taken them out to socialize as much. We figured if they’re playing all day in a house full of dogs then they would be OK. But when I took them to the dog park for the first time, my dog was very aggressive towards any dog that came up to smell and greet him.
My question to you is this: Is my puppy spending too much time at my neighbor’s house? Does he not see me as his owner anymore? Or is he just being spoiled by her and learning bad habits? Please advise. I don’t know what to do. I love that he’s able to play while I’m away, but I don’t know what the right thing to do is (especially without hurting anyone’s feelings). Thanks.
Socialization is super important when raising a puppy — just like for humans — but remember, everything in moderation.
Puppies sleep an average of 18 to 20 hours a day. That means they're only awake for around four to five hours every day. While it's great to have your puppy play with your neighbor, spending three to four hours there, followed by one to three hours at your house after you get home puts your puppy at a sleep deficit.
Add two siblings to that and it's not at all surprising your pup is acting this way. The expression “sibling rivalry” didn’t happen by accident. These two have been sizing each other up since day one.
While having a buddy is great, you want to find a variety when socializing puppies. Pups of different breeds, sizes, energy levels, play styles and confidence levels help your puppy practice playing appropriately. With supervision, of course, so you can step in and provide breaks when needed.
Supervision and guidance are crucial, as puppies are practicing at everything they do. This absolutely includes play styles. It's not a good idea to let two or more puppies play as much as they wish.
Since your puppy is so young, I'd enroll him in a puppy socialization class that includes supervised play time like the puppy classes we have in Omaha. We break up play when any pup gets too intense — even if it's not aggressive. Otherwise, your puppy thinks that over-intense play is OK and normal.
I'd suggest you cut back play time to a few hours at your neighbors and only leave him there every other day. On the off days, you can invite your neighbor’s puppy over to play when you get back. But in both cases, when play gets too spirited, separate the pups and wait for them to settle down before letting play resume. You may need to move them out of each other’s sight to get them to settle down.
Good luck and remember — everything you do trains your dog. Only sometimes you mean it.