Dog People: What Can My Puppy Learn at 5 Weeks Old?

Polaris is a rescue puppy. She’s only five weeks old, too young, really, to be away from her mother and littermates, but her litter was “overdue” to be destroyed at the overly-crowded shelter.

I’ve been reading on the internet about puppy developmental stages, and what I’m reading concerns me a little. This site says,

This one is even more alarming:

How can I help Polaris learn how to be a puppy, and how to interact with other dogs? My adult dog is no help: she’s still afraid of the puppy and barks at her whenever the puppy ventures too close. I’ve considered getting down on the floor and aping the “play” posture of a dog so that perhaps she can learn what that looks like, but what could I do about biting? She’s been trying to gnaw on me, which I do not allow, simply because I’ve always been told not to allow puppies to acquire habits you wouldn’t want in an adult dog.

Secondly, how firm should I be in training her at this point? When I put her in her crate she sometimes cries piteously. I’m of two minds: some of the dog books say to ignore it, else she’ll get the idea that I’m at her beck and call, but she’s still a baby. Is she actually old enough to learn anything from being left in the crate when she cries, or is it just cruel? (I’m thinking that being left alone doesn’t really teach a human infant anything.)

When she gnaws on me, I say firmly, “No!” and put her chew toy in her mouth, but she goes right back to it. Is she too young to understand my vocalization? One of my dog books says to give them a gentle shake when they do something wrong-- is this correct?

Can she be trained at all at this point? I’ve been experimenting a little with it. When I take her outside, I wait until she sits down before I pick her up to take her back in. She seems to be catching on to the idea, but I’m not sure that she’s actually learning, or if she just eventually sits because she’s tired and it’s all a coincidence.

So, any advice those of you who’ve gone through this can give me woulf be most welcome. I want to try to give Polaris as much help as I can to be a well-developed and well-socialized dog.

I forwarded your inquiry to my aunt, who is a long-time dog breeder, show judge, etc. We got both our pups from her (shar pei’s) and her help was invaluable. However, we got ours at 7 and 11 weeks respectively.

What I can say before I hear back from her is that you shoudl take advantage of any opportunity you have to socialize your pup with other dogs. Don’t worry about your older dog - ours had similar reactions when we introduced the new dogs into the household and adapted to their new brothers/sisters shortly thereafter. My understanding is that its a normal part of the process.

Back soon w more ‘professional’ advice.

I forwarded your inquiry to my aunt, who is a long-time dog breeder, show judge, etc. We got both our pups from her (shar pei’s) and her help was invaluable. However, we got ours at 7 and 11 weeks respectively.

What I can say before I hear back from her is that you shoudl take advantage of any opportunity you have to socialize your pup with other dogs. Don’t worry about your older dog - ours had similar reactions when we introduced the new dogs into the household and adapted to their new brothers/sisters shortly thereafter. My understanding is that its a normal part of the process.

Back soon w more ‘professional’ advice.

I would never advise someone to have a dog without going through at least some basic obediance training. Many trainers offer puppy kindergarden classes to allow socialization.

Being left alone teaches nothing, correct. However the dog is taught that you will return. I would put the puppy in the crate for many short breaks throughout the day. The lesson is that you will return. Eventually time in the crate is lengthened and the dog “knows” that you will return.

Repetition is the key. She still gnaws on you now, but if you repeat the lesson a thousand times, it will sink in. Along with a verbal “NO” I place my hand over the bridge of the nose and squeeze just hard enough to be uncomfortable.

Yes, training should begin with modest expectations.

I’m not an expert by a longshot, my dog Auggie, The Cutest Dog on the Planet ™, is a sweet, well-behaved little guy despite my lack of expertise. I have read a ton of training and behavior books, and some of the experts think that shaking the pup isn’t good for them, as it can make them aggressive.

 The problem that I ran into (Auggie is my very first ever dog) is that there is so much conflicting information out there.  One expert says to do one thing, and another expert runs in and says "NO!  You'll turn your dog into a raving lunatic if you do that!".  The trend, however, seems to be toward positive reinforcement rather than punishment.   Giving your dog a substitute objext, like a chew toy, when he's chewing on a forbidden object is a good idea, as long as you don't let him think he's being rewarded for the bad chewing.  

 This probably isn't much help- I just want to add that you are a wonderful person for rescuing the little pup.

I recently got a Golden Retriever puppy (7 weeks) and much of the advice I see here is echoed in the Retrievers for Dummies book I got for the occasion.

The biting should be discouraged with a firm NO, one hand grasped around her snout just hard enough to be uncomfortable. You may have to repeat this over and over and over. My dog almost always trys to (playfully) bite when I come home but will stop for the moment after being told no. I expect this to become a learned behavior after a few months.

Its good to know you are doing the crate training, this is key to a housebroken dog. I’m discouraged at times because my dog seems to wait for the 10 seconds I turn my back to pee or poop on the carpet but she’s generally learning to go outside. The less opportunity she has to go inside the better but of course that means constant, and I mean CONSTANT, supervision. You get about 2 seconds to stop the dog as they go in a quick circle, squat, then let loose.

Many dogs, especially puppies, will bark and cry when put them in their crate. I find a cover over the crate to be helpful, enough to cover the top and sides but not the front. If she cries or barks a quick tap on the top of the cage followed by a stern “settle down” may work. At night you could try a ticking clock, quiet music, or some kind of steady repeatitive sound. Some people bring the crate into their bedroom at first and then move it to another room as they get older. For a puppy as young as yours it may be wise to do that.

One key point about the crate…if it is large you should section it off, perhaps in half. If they have enough room they will use a corner to pee and poop in which you really don’t ever want. They should have just enough room to lay comfortably, not enough to feel as if she can pee in one corner and sleep in another.

When you let her out of the crate you should immediately carry her outside so she has no chance to let it go inside. (I made this mistake several times)

Definately try to expose her to as many other dogs as possible. My breeder strongly recommended dog training at a local facility. I’ve never tried this but it sounds like a great idea…its as much for you as for the dog. If you live in a larger area you could probably find a Petco or another large pet store which offers training.

There is much more to it than my short summary, please feel free to ask away and I’ll try to get answers for you. Good luck!

Well, you have to keep in mind that those sites are usually talking about dogs whose owners haven’t put in the extra time and work to socialize their dogs adequately. Think of Polaris as a “special needs” puppy. She’s going to have some developmental delays as regards interaction with other dogs, but she can catch up if you work with her intensively when she’s a touch older. Play with her a lot now, and when she’s twelve weeks or so, she can go to puppy kindergarten and learn to be with other puppies. (The vets I’ve worked for have generally not recommended stuff like that before the puppies had at bare minimum 2 sets of vaccines, preferably 3.) You can set up puppy play dates, or look into doggie daycare on a short-term basis.

I absolutely cannot emphasize enough how important it is to socialize this dog as much as you possibly can. It’s important with any dog, but with a dog with increased likelihood of becoming a fear biter, it’s absolutely vital. That’s the mistake too many people make with nervous dogs. They don’t want to upset the dog, so they don’t put it into new situations, so when something outside its routine comes up, the dog absolutely flips out. A dog that is scared out of its mind is a dangerous dog, both to itself and to everyone around it, including the owner. It’s just totally unnecessary to put your poor dog through that kind of stress and fear.

The good thing is that Polaris is young enough to have not developed the skittishness and fear of things new and different that tends to make a fear biter. It makes things much, much easier. If you start her out constantly seeing and doing and learning new stuff, she’ll learn to accept it as a matter of course, and she ought to be fine. Take her to puppy kindergarten. Take her to other people’s houses if and when you can so she learns new places aren’t going to kill her. Have other people walk her without you so that she learns she’s safe even if you’re not around. Take her to the park and let her meet children. Let strangers pet her when you’re out for walks. Take her to the vet just to get weighed and maybe have a cookie so she doesn’t strictly associate the sights and smells with bad things like getting jabbed with a needle. Let the techs love on her so she realizes they’re not going to kill her. Take her to Petsmart or a similar place so she gets used to crowds. The trick is to push her beyond her current comfort zone without totally blowing her circuits.

You’d be amazed at the difference this stuff can make in a dog. Our Claudia was an adult stray when we got her, and she was so timid and skittish that she just flat-out ran from people whenever possible. It’s been a long, slow road, but a couple of weeks ago we had a party, and she actually came out into a room full of strangers of her own volition to demand petting. This from a dog that two years ago would lay on her side and squirm under the bed to hide whenever someone she didn’t know came into the house. I really never thought she would get to this point.

Oh, and you need to acclimate Polaris to having her feet and ears messed with, and you need to start that process now. It will make your life so much easier over the years, when she needs her nails done or her ears cleaned. Hold her paws and twiddle with her toes, and if she puts up a fuss, hang on to her. If she growls or nips, tap her on the nose (never use more pressure than you’d use on your own nose) and tell her no. Same thing for putting a finger in her ear.

As far as training, I would pretty much limit it to extravagant praise for behaviors you want to encourage. The first several times it will all be coincidence, but with enough repetitions she’ll learn.

I give her constant supervision, taking her out about once every two hours. The only time I let her run around on the floor without watching her every move is when she’s just been outside. We haven’t had any accidents yet (six days and counting!) because I’ve managed to catch her every time she went to squat. She seems to be a bit picky with her spots, which is good, because it gives me plenty of time to recognize that she’s looking for a place to pee.

I called a doggy day care today to see if by any chance she had very young, or tiny puppies (ones which couldn’t hurt Polaris accidently) for my baby to play with. She said the exact same thing-- that as a responsible day care provider, she couldn’t let Polaris come until after her third set of vaccinations

She seems to have no fear. I’ve been introducing her to things around the house-- a loud radio, the vaccuum, an alarm clock, and she’s not bothered one bit. I was surprised and pleased. Even when my adult dog barked at her, all the puppy did was crouch lower to the ground.

This really is the most placid dog I have ever seen. Nothing seems to bother her-- except a bath. She’s apparently got a very submissive personality. I did the submissiveness test on her, gently rolling her on to her back and holding her there. She didn’t struggle at all. Since my adult dog is very dominant, this should help when it comes to them getting along.

I wish I could have taken them all. It breaks my heart to think of her poor brothers and sisters.

I’d like to offer a different suggestion on how to handle the biting, or really, any rough play habits she might form.

Instead of pinching her snout or shaking her, I would recommend saying a firm “No!” and then turning away from her. If she’s on your lap, put her down on the floor and turn away. This teaches her that being rough means no more playtime and I truly think that is the most effective lesson. That is what she would learn from another dog after all … dogs are very tolerant of pups, but they will stop playing and leave if the puppy becomes too rough.

I would prefer this rather than causing any pain to such a baby. There are a lot of books, message boards, etc regarding dog training. The best thing you can do is educate yourself, ask lots of questions, and follow your gut.

I hate to cause my dog any pain or fear, so I do everything I can to teach her, as another poster said, with positive reinforcement & correction rather than punishment. This pup needs to learn that she can trust you 100%, and I personally believe that punishing her isn’t the best way to develop that relationship.


I also rescued a 5 week (approximate) old puppy who was already neutered! Much too young IMO, but it was a shelter. Just a couple comments, YMMV.

My dog was house trained in about 3 days. Bladder control was a problem, but he quickly understood the concept. There were a couple of accidents in the process of getting him outside, but the little guy was trying to go out, so that counts as a win in my book. The key to crate training is a regular schedule, and to only play with the puppy immediately after they’ve been outside to take care of business, and only for short times. It was hard at first, to keep a new puppy in the crate the majority of the time, but it paid off, and quickly the crate became a place that the pup would go to later on as a place to just chill out.

I also considered the learning to play with other puppies and bite and muscle control. What I did was let my pup use my fingers as chew toys. Gentle licking/testing was fine. When the little guy would exert more pressure than I thought was right, I would recoil in feigned pain and yell as if I was hurt, not super loud, but loud enough that it wasn’t normal. Thus I was imitating behavior of another puppy in the event that the playing go too rough. Now, 5 years later, the dog still does not like fingers in his mouth. I have no fear of him biting anyone, and he’s over 80 pounds.

One thing about obedience schools. In my experience, they are primarily schools for the owners, not for the dogs. Nothing that can be taught in a few or several lessons will stick unless consistently applied by the owner. Nothing that can be taught at school can’t also be learned and taught at home. If you think you need the school, go for it, but it’s not for your dog, it’s for you.

Dog socialization is also very important. If you know for a fact that other dogs have had their vaccinations, from friends and such, socialization with other dogs is possible.

Good luck!

Interesting suggestion, I’m going to give this a try.

I think Stainz offered very good advice. A puppy, and well all adult dogs too, crave attention, affection, closeness. Ignoring them is a very good punishment. Turning your back is what you do to discourage them from jumping up to greet you This is aping dog language. If you have a chance to go see some grown dogs fooling around outside, check how the females behave when they get too much unwanted attention by the males. They wil almost always turn away from them as a first messure, and it that doesn’t help, the male will get a large and firm “WOFF”.

Another thing - I see too many people who correct theirdogs by pulling the ear (you know of course that you should never beat it). That’s wrong. Check out adult females, they use the skin of the neck and this is where you should grab when you’re trying to stop it, get its attention. Not so strongly for minor corrections and vere firm for stronger.
Two ways to cool down your pup: 1. The dominant way, i.e. showing who’s the boss - put your hand over its shoulders. 2. The comforting way, i.e. mommy/daddy is here for you - make it sit down and stroke it between the front legs.

What sort of games should I play with her to help her reach her full mental and learning potential?

Problem solving is good. Remember, it’s hard to exhaust a dog by letting it run around, but 15 minutes of mental training will put them out for hours, at that age (btw, a puppy sleeps - in intervals - about 18 hours a day).

One thing that’s fun, simple and cheap: Take an empty toilet roll, stich a small treat inside (piece of hot dog or something), fold the edges to close the cylinder and let the pup go att trying to get the goodies inside.

A general advice, don’t buy expensive pedagogical dog toys. Often, cheap stuff can give them as much joy.

This is a great idea, I’m going to try this when I get home.

Man, this puppy is amazing!

For three nights now, Polaris has remained quiet through the whole night, making no messes in her crate. I have a bell on her collar, so I know when she’s awake and moving around, but she seems content just to lie quietly until morning. (The bell on the collar is for my older dog, so the puppy doesn’t sneak up on her and scare her.)

She also cries to let me know when she wants outside, but otherwise plays quietly in her playpen. I know when she cries that she really needs something.

She’s learning “no” pretty quickly, too. I have to tell her a couple of times, but she seems to understand what I mean.

Today we played with new toys: a rope, a tennis ball, and a soft rubber shoe. She also learned to walk through snow which comes up to her chest.

I’m going to start her on “problem” toys tomorrow. Given her age, I’m going to start very simply-- by putting a treat under a plastic cup, then gradually work up to putting it in containers. That toilet paper roll idea sounds great.

I thought of one more thing. Dogs track instinctively. Hide small treats around the house and start practising search. Using the nose and searching for treats is good excercise and fun for puppy.

There are a lot of websites which tell you how to teach the puppy party tricks. Some of them are useful as well. Do a search and you can come up with great ways to train and stimulate Polaris.

Another thing you might want to practise early is saying “no” and holding up your hand as a stop signal, palm out. This will help you a lot if you’re going to obedience later.

Give her time. She’s only 5 weeks old.

Dogs usually have the potential to start learning some basics at that age, but their true learning starts around 7 weeks. Beware of fear imprint periods - during those (usually short) phases, keep the introduction of “new and scary things” to a minimum.

Do a lot of manipulation with her - handle her paws, feet, ears, a few times a day. Teach her to play. Be a puppy yourself. Play bow to her and tumble around with her. Correct her when she bites too hard (yelp and say no and give a slight muzzle shake). See if she has any prey drive (chasing a rope, etc.) Get her to chase new toys.

At 7 weeks, introduce her to different floor textures, elevations, tunnels, boxes, things to stimulate her drive to explore. I have found that the seventh week is often the most important week of a young puppy’s development.

Don’t expect too much of her. Things that are going well now may not be doing so hot in a few weeks. That’s just the nature of the beast. If you want to start teaching her some basics (sit, stay, wait…) you can - but just a little bit at a time.

Later on, socialise the living daylights out of her. Find a good trainer in your area and work with them to socialise her with other dogs AND with people as much as you can.

I took her shopping with me today, with very positive results. We went to Petland to buy some treats for her, the bookstore, and Lowes. She behaved wonderfully.

The folks at Petland think she might be a Pomeranian/Beagle.

New question: should I keep warming her food? I started this when we brought her home, and she seemed rather uninterested in it. I microwave it just enough to take the chill off (the can of wet food is in the refrigerator). Hubby says I may be spoiling her so that she’ll demand her food be warmed all the time. I say it’s cold outside and she’s still a baby.

Is he right? Will she refuse cold food when she’s older because of this?

Five week old pom/beagle … awwwwwwww.
There’s so much good advice here; for a change of pace I’ll tell you how I raised my mini-dachshund.

She and I spent hours and hours in the recliner so that she could snuggle into her favorite place on my shoulder, under my hair. At night I would put her in her crate and absolutely not let her out until she whined, at which point we would return to the recliner to watch 3 A.M. infomercials. This began to wear on me after a few months so I started letting her sleep in the bed, under the covers. She’s still sleeping there, ten years later. She now knows all my husband’s opening moves so well that she growls when he even starts to think about it.

I took her outside after every nap as well as every two hours or so until she became very good at holding it till we got back inside and she could go in her favorite place under the dinning room table. Eventually she became more or less “trained” , but I still have to get up with her once every night.

We have always kept her on a strict diet of expensive dry dog food as recommended by the vet; and treats, and what she licks off our dinner plates and the deer leg bones she steals from the neighbor’s Golden Retriever and their horse’s hoof shavings and the mice our cat brings to her and the steak fat from the other neighbor’s grill. Pepto Bismal is really good for dogs with stomach problems.

She loves us very much inspite of our being such bad parents and we adore her.

Good luck, Lissa --your puppy is very lucky to have you.