Marc Bekoff

Demystifying dogs depends on knowing a good deal of what makes them tick and what they’re feeling. In my new book, Dogs Demystified: An A-to-Z Guide to All Things Canine, you can read all about dog behaviour—everything dog—and what puppies need and want. This will help you become fluent in dog—dog literate—and allow you to develop and maintain a long-term mutually beneficial relationship. 

Taking a dog of any age into your home and heart is a huge decision. It’s truly a life changer even if you’ve lived with a dog or are bringing in a second one—however, it’s not necessarily twice the fun. On the other hand, if your daily schedule allows for getting a puppy, and you can afford to do it what with added costs for toys, puppy training, food, and veterinary care along with more demands on your personal time for spending high quality time with them and allowing them to meet other puppies, other dogs, and other people on walks—always keeping in mind their walk and playtime is for them, not you—or at dog parks or at other areas where dogs gather, then there’s no reason not to bring home a puppy. Just be ready for new “demands” on your life. 

Because young dogs are unique individuals, as are older dogs, there’s no one “right” way to raise them other than to freely use praise and reward to teach them what you would like them to do and to be sure they agree with what you are asking of them. 

Of course, there will be situations where you ask them to do something that they don’t want to do because it’s unsafe or “human-inappropriate” for them to do something like mounting or humping or sticking their noses into human “private areas.” 

An easy rule of thumb is that it’s always essential to use positive, force-free methods to educate them. The more you try to get their consent and to give them choices with which they agree, the happier they will be and this positive state of mind will have long-term benefits for you and for them as you develop a strong, mutually respectful on-going relationship in which there is as much give-and-take as possible.   

The importance of choice (agency), consent, and context appears all over the place in the daily life of a puppy and all dogs for that matter, and in their ongoing relationships with humans and other dogs. Giving them room to tell you what they want and need will make it easier for you to coexist with your dog in mutually respectful ways.

Dog-human relationships require give-and-take and constant negotiations that might favour a dog or favour a human, depending on what is happening at a given moment. We must strive for ongoing balanced relationships that are as symmetrical as possible. Isn’t that what living with a dog should be all about? And mutual trust begins in early puppyhood. 

The Ten Freedoms for puppies and all dogs -Simple ways to enrich their lives

Like all animals, puppies and all dogs need the following freedoms. The more freedoms they have, the happier they will be

1. Freedom from hunger and thirst

2. Freedom from pain

3. Freedom from discomfort

4. Freedom from fear and distress

5. Freedom from avoidable or treatable illness and disability

6. Freedom to be themselves

7. Freedom to express normal behaviour

8. Freedom to exercise choice and control

9. Freedom to frolic and have fun

10. Freedom to have privacy and “safe zones”

The freedom to be a puppy is critical. Most, but not all puppies love to play, so if they do, let them play to their heart’s content. If they don’t, there’s not necessarily something wrong with them, but it might be a good idea to find out why they don’t like to play and see if you can teach them to do so along with user-friendly dogs and people. 

Play is important for learning social skills (socialisation), physical training (developing joints, muscles, tendons, and bones), cognitive training (how hard they can bite or slam into another dog, how high a rock they can jump on to or jump down from), and learning how to deal with unexpected situations in which they surely will find themselves. 

Play is also lots of fun, and there’s no reason why “having fun” isn’t one of the main reasons why puppies and older dogs like to play and why it evolved in the first place. Just watch puppies zooming here and there as if they’re going crazy—they do so because it’s tons of fun

Puppies also learn to play fairly and follow the ”golden rules” of play—asking first, minding manners, admitting when you’re wrong, and being honest—which is critical for making friends and maintaining long-term friendships. Cheaters often have trouble getting other dogs (or humans) to play with them. They’re often avoided or their play bows asking others to play are ignored. Why play with another dog if they might not play fair? 

Living with a puppy can be a lot of fun for everyone involved

All in all, puppies want and need to feel safe and free to come to you for help and love. They are not inherently our best friends or unconditional lovers, and we need to earn their trust. When we do, and they know they can depend on us, it’s a win-win for all, even with all of the ups and downs of living with one another. 

Some useful references: 

How to Raise Puppies So They Have the Best Lives Possible

Does Early Puppy Training Lead to Fewer Behaviour Problems?

Words of Wisdom on Raising and Training a Happy Puppy

Teach the Puppies Well: Let Them Enjoy Their Childhood

Giving Puppies Extra Socialisation Is Beneficial for Them

When Dogs Play, They Follow the Golden Rules of Fairness

Dogs Do Zoomies Because It’s Fun

Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He has published 31 books (or 41 depending on you count multi-volume encyclopedias), won many awards for his research on animal behaviour, animal emotions (cognitive ethology), compassionate conservation, and animal protection, has worked closely with Jane Goodall, is co-chair of the ethics committee of the Jane Goodall Institute, and is a former Guggenheim Fellow. 

He also works closely with inmates at the Boulder County Jail. In June 2022 Marc was recognised as a Hero by the Academy of Dog Trainers. His latest books include The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age (with Jessica Pierce), Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do, and Unleashing Your Dog: A Field Guide to Giving Your Canine Companion the Best Life Possible (with Jessica Pierce). A Dog’s World: Imagining the Lives of Dogs in a World Without Humans was published in 2021 and Marc’s latest book is Dogs Demystified: An A to Z Guide to All Things Canine. The second edition of The Emotional Lives of Animals will be published in March 2024. (Many of Marc’s books can be seen here.) Marc also publishes regularly for Psychology Today. His homepage is In 1986 Marc won the Master’s Tour du Haut, aka the age-graded Tour de France.” 

Learn more about how to give puppies the best life possible in the Zigzag Puppy training app. We have videos, lessons, articles and a team of professional dog trainers to support you every step of the way.