Puppies get pimples! Plus 9 more facts that might surprise first-time dog parents

Teething, temper tantrums and everything else that could come along with raising a puppy.

Teething, temper tantrums and everything else that could come along with raising a puppy

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

Anyone who faults a dog owner for anthropomorphizing their pet probably hasn't had the pleasure of raising a fur child. The truth is, dogs are similar to humans in many ways, especially where maturation is concerned. 

"As a rule of thumb, there are a lot more similarities than there are differences," says Dr. Philipp Schott, a Winnipeg-based veterinarian.

Puppies bond with their caregivers in infancy and become defiant while going through puberty, they develop a vocabulary, and even lose their baby teeth. 

Dr. Daphna Buchsbaum, assistant professor in the psychology department at the University of Toronto and principal investigator at the university's Canine Cognition Lab, says research around canine cognition has ramped up in recent years. She attributes this to a growing interest in the cognitive and social skills that dogs may share with humans. 

Dr. Krista Macpherson, a dog cognition researcher at the University of Western Ontario, agrees. "Dogs have been selectively bred to be our friends, pull our sleds and guard our homes. Not hating on cats in any way, I certainly have met very social cats, but dogs seem to have that extra bond to us based on the fact that we have bred them to interact with us in so many different ways," she explains.

In honour of National Puppy Day on March 23, we dug deep into the unexpected discoveries that can come along with raising man's best friend.

They go through teething

It's difficult not to feel alarmed finding a stray tooth in the dog bed, but experts say this is par for the course when raising a canine companion. 

"Between three and four months of age, they begin to lose baby teeth," says Schott. "You might not see them fall out. They often just swallow them, which is not alarming. They're like little thin egg shells when they come out so they can be safely swallowed. By six months they should have all their adult teeth in place."

They look to their 'parents' for social references

Research suggests that your puppy will grow to see the world as you see it, in some ways. Social referencing is a process human children use to understand the world around them, watching their caregivers for cues on how to react to certain situations, and referential expressions can also have an effect on Rover

"Around 10 or 12 months infants will start to look at their parents to gauge their reaction to a sound or event. If the parent is really excited and encouraging then they might explore the potentially scary thing, but if the parent acts scared then the child is going to act scared to a certain degree," Buchsbaum explains. "There's some evidence that dogs experience the same thing."

They throw temper tantrums

There may not be stomping and tears, but make no mistake, your pup is still capable of emotional outbursts when they think they may have hurt themselves or things aren't going their way.

"Puppies can be very dramatic when they injure themselves," says Schott. "They can just start to scream and so many times we have people running in saying 'my dog broke its leg' and yes, occasionally they break their legs, but 95 times out of 100 they sprain something. If you give it a few hours and don't fuss with them too much just let them rest and keep an eye on things and make sure the screaming subsides in 20 seconds or so they'll be fine." 

They thrive on positive reinforcement

Good dogs love to be celebrated, making a case for positive, reward-based training, which can be especially helpful in puppyhood with tasks like housebreaking. 

"Housebreaking a dog and toilet training a toddler were pretty similar experiences for me," says Buchsbaum. "At the first sign that something is going to happen you have to get them to the right spot and reward them!"

"In a lot of ways how you train a child is not that different from how you train your golden retriever or how you train someone at your job," Macpherson explains. "It's all about association and reinforcement of behaviours and timing."

They get pimples

Hearing the words "dog" and "breakout" in the same sentence may initially conjure thoughts of great escapes, but, indeed, puppies can get pimples.

According to Schott, many dogs will experience acne in adolescence but it's nothing to worry about. "The chin is by far the most common [place to spot it] and it's usually self-limiting as long as the area is kept clean and dry," he explains. "Not much different than a teenager really."

They can reason and learn words

Tail-chasing aside, dogs are smarter than you may realize. Most canines have vocabularies that exceed 150 words and research has suggested they're intellectually on par with two-year-old children.

Evidence suggests that dogs learn new words the same way children do, by fast mapping. "They use different social or contextual cues to figure out what a word they haven't heard before means," Buchsbaum explains. 

Chaser, a border collie often referred to as "the world's smartest dog," knew more than a thousand words. "The way that she was able to learn the names of a thousand objects is that she inferred the names of novel objects," says Macpherson. "So if you showed her two objects she knew like 'star' and 'cube' then you showed her a new object and you asked for, say, 'curtain' she'd go get this new object not because she'd never encountered it before but because she knew she recognized the other two." 

They go through growth spurts 

Puppies, they grow up so fast… no really, they do. "Some giant breeds will almost double in size in a month from two to three months," says Schott. "The two to four month stretch is the most rapid growth phase for all breeds. The tiniest ones are probably almost done [growing] between six to eight months of age whereas for the giant breeds it could be 16 to 18 months." 

They get periods

"We don't call it menstruation because it's a different process," says Schott. "Dogs don't have a monthly cycle and they don't ever become menopausal. The average for the first heat cycle is six months of age. You will see a little bit of spotting of blood from the vulva and you might see some swelling there. The breast tissue might also swell. You might also notice some changes in behaviour and restlessness."

Schott explains that female dogs typically cycle twice a year.

They dream

Dogs spend a lot of time sleeping — about 50 per cent of each day — and it turns out doggie dreamland is pretty entertaining. Our four-legged friends have been known to run, bark and whimper in their sleep and research suggests that they may be recounting the activities of their waking hours.

"Dogs definitely dream," says Buchsbaum. "We know that they have REM sleep. You can see them going through the dream stages — you'll see their eyes moving or they'll do these muted dream barks."

They love us

"One thing that I get asked about a fair bit by owners is 'do our dogs love us?'" says Buchsbaum. "There's definitely some evidence that they are actually emotionally attached to [us] in somewhat similar ways to how we get attached to them."

Studies suggest that if your dog finds your yawns contagious it may be an indication of how much he cares for you. 

Staring deep into your eyes could be another method your dog uses to convey his feelings. "There's been some intriguing work that shows that when dogs and owners are having a loving moment and looking at each other that both of them are releasing oxytocin," Buchsbaum explains. "We know that oxytocin promotes bonding between mothers and infants and it really is the case that you can have this bonding experience with your dog."

Jen O'Brien is an award-winning editor and freelance writer based in Toronto. Follow her @thejenobrien

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