Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.
What Is a Puppy License and What Is Its Purpose?
Among the interactions taking place in a social group of dogs, many different and interesting behaviors may be observed. Normally, when puppies are born (right after weaning), they are granted what is known as a "puppy license." What exactly is a puppy license and what does it entail?
Generally, when the puppies are very small, they interact primarily with their mothers. About 90 percent of the time is spent sleeping while the rest is spent nursing and being cleaned by the mother. The mother dog is protective during this stage as the puppies are very vulnerable. Once the puppies' eyes open, they may start crawling around and exploring the world around them. As the puppies move about, they start interacting with other dogs in their social group.
Normal social dogs know for a fact that the puppy is small and tends to behave in a "socially illiterate" manner. While the mother dog and littermates have taught some social rules, such as bite inhibition and submissive postures, there is still a lot to learn.
What Is Good Canine Etiquette
A good part of learning good canine etiquette comes from the exposure to healthy, well-socialized adult dogs which are part of the social group. The role of these dogs is to guide the puppy and teach the youngster which behaviors are appropriate and which are not.
Puppies also often engage in behaviors that make clear they are just puppies and, as such, should have a puppy license. When an older dog approaches, the puppy may engage in appeasement behaviors which are telling the older dog, "I am just a small puppy, please don't hurt me."
Whining, submissive postures such as ears back, licking the lips of the older dog, and keeping the head and body low are all non-threatening signals. When the puppy rolls over his back and emits a dribble of urine, this urine further proves his right to this license. Indeed, the urine of a puppy advertises the puppy's age as well.
It is as if the puppy was saying "See? Even my urine smell tells you I am just a puppy! I don't know any better and I really did not mean to bite your ears and tail but they look like so much fun to play!" The older dogs understand this and tend to close their eyes. They are more likely to accept these behaviors compared to how they would react if this was an adult dog.
Things, however, start to change as the puppy matures, which brings us to the next question; when does a puppy license expire?
When Does a Puppy License "Expire?"
As the puppy matures, the urine components tend to change. Testosterone levels tend to rise in the urine when the puppy reaches five months old. The biggest surge takes place when the puppy is 10 months old, with levels reaching up to seven times more than the normal levels found in adult dogs. Then, once the puppy is about 18 months, these levels revert to the normal levels found in adult dogs.
Upon detecting these initial hormonal changes, older dogs revoke the puppy license and think about putting the testing youngster into his place before he becomes a significant challenge. This is when the puppy license privileges abruptly stop.
In dog packs, adult dogs are extremely tolerant of puppies, giving them “puppy license” up until they are about four or five months old. Puppies are allowed to bully adult dogs and be mischievous. 3 Past this point, puppies need to learn to control themselves and behave more politely.
— Kyra Sundance, "The Dog Rules, 14 Secrets to Developing the Dog YOU Want."
But My Older Dogs Will Not Grant a Puppy License!
Yet, if a puppy license does exist, why are there so many people having trouble with older dogs not being willing to accept puppies? One great answer comes from Mario Sturm, author of the book 100 Mistakes in Dog Training: The Somewhat Practical Guide to Buying a Puppy, Training and Dealing With Dogs.
The Puppy Is Not Part of the Social Group!
While it is true that puppy licenses do exist, it is important to keep in mind that these mainly apply to puppies that are part of a social group of wolves or free-ranging dogs, basically a family.
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Things may change drastically when an unknown puppy that is not related to any other member is introduced to a group of dogs. An unfamiliar puppy is of course not part of the social group, and therefore, they will not typically be granted such a license. This means you should practice caution and never assume anything will ever happen to your puppy because of the "puppy license warranty."
This also means that there may be chances your older dog may be a bit more lenient with the puppy, but to err on the side of caution, you should also expect your older dog may not be willing to accept misbehavior as expected, which may lead to squabbles.
The Puppy May Appear Threatening
Adult dogs who have never been exposed to puppies before may be stressed by the rowdy puppy behaviors. Some adult dogs barely tolerate other dogs and a puppy may be too much for them. They may try to avoid the puppy or attack the puppy if the puppy does not take the warning signs of stress and growing intolerance seriously.
Some dog owners, especially those owning an elderly dog, find that their dog does better when the puppy is calmer. For this reason, it helps to keep the two separated at first and then present the puppy when it is tired and less likely to engage in excessively rowdy behaviors.
It is at times a big mistake to adopt a puppy to "rejuvenate" a dog that is getting old. The old dog may have a hard time telling the puppy to stop and with the pain of arthritis or other medical issues, the older dog may not be much in the mood for play. A puppy should not be constantly pestering an older dog that just wants to relax and conduct a laid-back life.
Puppy License Does Not Mean Permissiveness
Another important clarification to keep in mind is that a puppy license does not translate into an adult dog accepting anything the puppy does. Adult dogs are there to teach the puppy proper behaviors and they may resort to discipline to put the puppy into place.
A certain amount of discipline must be dished out by the adult dog to train good dog etiquette. This often entails slight physical punishment. In such cases, the physical punishment is more a form of ritualized aggression than anything else. In other words, it's noisy and a bit dramatic, but no real harm is done to the puppy.
This form of discipline tells the puppy when to back off, how to ask permission, how to submit and which behaviors are appropriate or not. Because it may be challenging at times to tell if the dog is really engaging in harmless discipline or if there is something more serious going on, the intervention of a behavior specialist may be required. The reasons for the intervention are several.
What a Behavior Specialist Looks for
- If the adult dog is engaging in discipline or if there is more to it.
- If the puppy is able to send appeasement signals to the adult dog.
- If the adult dog is capable of reading these appeasement signals.
- If the puppy is actually learning from the adult dog and how it responds.
- If the puppy appears traumatized by the discipline or if it does not affect the puppy at all.
- If the interaction should be stopped or allowed to continue.
- If the puppy and adult dog should not be allowed to interact anymore, with the option of re-homing one of the two, or keeping them permanently separated.
The latter is very important. If the adult dog is truly engaging in discipline, it is important to allow him to finish giving the "lecture.'' If the adult dog is interrupted, the puppy may never learn appropriate and inappropriate behaviors and the adult dog may feel the need to escalate into more effective strategies, which may ultimately harm the puppy.
Generally, in cases where the adult dog disciplines the puppy without doing any visible harm, the interactions do not require intervention. Mostly they're just noisy.
Puppies upon being corrected may emit a short high-pitched yelp as if hurt, but this is mostly drama as the adult dog most likely did not even make contact. Keep in mind that if the adult really wanted to hurt the puppy he would.
After the discipline takes place, the puppy may show submissive, appeasement gestures such as licking the mouth or moving away with its body low.
The puppy most likely learns the lesson and the adult dog may continue teaching the puppy, perhaps next time warning with just a mere stare or a light growl. Do not feel tempted to comfort the puppy or punish the adult in such a case!
Important considerations: always supervise the adult and puppy interactions. Do not leave food or toys around as these may cause tension. Make sure your puppy has an escape route so they can move away from the interaction as needed.
Intervene if the behavior is more than just ritualized discipline and seems to have an impact on the puppy and doesn't bounce back to acting normally. If so, consult with a certified applied animal behaviorist at once if something concerns you.
A mother dog disciplines a puppy
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2012 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 19, 2012:
Thank you dahoglund, I am happy you appreciate the information and thank you for sharing!
Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on July 18, 2012:
I appreciate this information. We have usually acquired dogs that are past the early puppy stages so this information is useful to fill in gaps of understanding. shared with my followers.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 17, 2012:
Puppy made a little drama out of it, but I guess learned quickly that canine etiquette requires not to disturb any dog that is eating! After all, mom needs to eat in peace to help those pups nurse and grow into strong fellows!
wetnosedogs from Alabama on July 17, 2012:
awesome watching the pups and mom. One child at a time is enough! Dogs are spectacular handling all those puppies!