Welfare of dogs: code of practice

Best practice guidance to help those responsible for dogs meet the duty of care under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006

Section 3: the need to be able to exhibit normal behavious patterns

3.1. This section offers guidance on your dog's behaviour. Although this section focuses mainly on puppies, many of the principles equally apply to older dogs.

Early experiences

3.2. Socialisation with people, dogs and other animals is an essential part of early learning. The important period of learning is from approximately three to eight weeks of age. Therefore, it is essential that you obtain your puppy from an environment where its behavioural needs have been met. The first few weeks when your puppy is in your home are also very important in terms of it learning how to react to other dogs, people and the environment. It will also learn to interact and understand how dogs communicate with each other by mixing with them, and your vet will tell you when it is safe to allow this. Your dog should continue to have a range of social and environmental stimuli throughout its life.

3.3. Your puppy should be carefully introduced to as wide a range of noises, objects, other animals and people as possible. If puppies learn at an early age that these are not a threat, then they will probably be happy in their presence for the rest of their lives. However, it is important not to overwhelm your puppy, and you should always allow it an escape route from things that it finds frightening and stressful. Forcing your puppy to interact may lead to behavioural problems so it is important to make situations as relaxed and positive as possible so that it wants to investigate and interact.

3.4. A puppy needs long periods of rest to develop a healthy body and temperament. A sleeping puppy should not be disturbed but allowed to awaken naturally.

3.5. The veterinary practice where you have chosen to register may run 'puppy parties' for owners to seek advice about how to care for their new puppy and you could ask about this at your first appointment. Similar parties or socialisation parties are sometimes offered by dog training clubs, pet shops and other pet care businesses.

Training your dog

Your dog should be well trained

3.6. Social training is important from an early age. It is easier to change the behaviour of a puppy that nips than to deal with a dog that bites.

3.7. Training a dog of any age should begin with simple tasks such as teaching it to respond to its name and to come when called. It is important to be consistent and positive when training your dog; using the same command words and responding to it in the same way every time will help it to learn more quickly and will avoid confusion.

3.8. Reward good behaviour with something that your dog finds enjoyable (such as play, food or attention) and make sure that you respond immediately. These positive training methods are based on a dog's natural willingness to obey. You should avoid punishment when training your dog as it teaches response out of fear; this is bad for its welfare and can cause behavioural problems later in its life.

3.9. As puppies have very short attention spans, it is best to train them for short periods on a regular basis. They also respond far better to cheerful voice tones rather than threatening orders. Take every opportunity to praise your puppy for good behaviour.

3.10. Good dog-training classes can show you positive training techniques that can prevent and correct different types of unwanted behaviour. There are a number of suitable training schemes.


Your dog should receive a suitable amount of exercise

3.11. The amount of exercise your dog needs will vary according to its age and breed. For example, as your dog gets older it may prefer a more sedentary life, or your vet may recommend a restricted exercise regime, where physical exercise may be replaced by toys for mental stimulation.

3.12. If you over exercise a growing puppy, you can damage its developing joints, but obviously puppies need sufficient exercise to provide outlets for their physical and mental energy. If you are in any doubt about what exercise your puppy needs, seek professional advice.

3.13. Your puppy is not immediately protected from disease when it is first vaccinated. Always ask your vet when it will be protected, and do not exercise it outside your home until then.

3.14. It is important to keep your dog on a lead in a built-up area and when near livestock; not only are there dangers from the traffic, but also from other dogs. Only let it off the lead when you are sure that it is safe and legal to do so. It is also important to train it to return to you when called. Before walking your dog in the countryside, you should familiarise yourself with the advice given in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

3.15. You should also avoid walking your dog when it is particularly hot. Early morning or in the evening are the best times to walk your pet during periods of hot weather.

Boredom and frustration

Your dog should have plenty of things to stimulate it mentally

3.16. Dogs are social animals with active minds and so they need mental stimulation to be happy. This can be provided by contact with humans or another dog, by providing toys to play with or an environment where a lot is going on. However, not to such an extent that the dog becomes over stimulated or stressed.

3.17. Interacting with your dog by playing games using appropriate toys will provide the best mental stimulation for it. It is not advisable, however, to leave it alone with flimsy toys, especially if it chews very vigorously, as swallowing small parts of them could lead to serious intestinal problems. Toys should be checked regularly to ensure they are not dirty or damaged. Changing them often means that your dog will not become bored with an individual toy.

Signs of stress

Observe your dog closely for signs of stress or changes in behaviour

3.18. Dogs will generally convey contentment through looking calm and relaxed; they will be happy to approach and interact with people, dogs and other animals. It is important that you recognise any changes in the behaviour of your dog as this may indicate stress, which can vary from dog to dog.

3.19. Signs of stress include:

  • panting, salivation, licking of the lips
  • excessive activity, such as pacing around
  • fouling or urinating indoors
  • barking
  • excessively seeking out contact, both with people and other pets
  • hiding or cowering
  • flattening the ears and lowering the tail
  • yawning, unless tired

3.20. Some of the above may also be signs of illness; however, if you are concerned, you should contact your vet who will be able to advise you on the best course of action. This may include referring you to a clinical animal behaviourist.

Toilet training

3.21. Toilet training is an essential part of early learning. If your dog is introduced to a suitable outdoor location early on, and is rewarded for using this as a toilet area, it will use it as a matter of routine. Do not punish your dog when it makes a mistake as this can make it fearful and lead to problems later on in its life. There are many available sources of useful information about toilet training your puppy (see Appendix 2 - Sources of Information).

3.22. A dog owner, or the person responsible or in charge of the dog, has a legal obligation (the Dog Fouling (Scotland) Act 2003) to clean up after their dog (use either a 'pooper scooper' or a plastic bag) when in a public place and dispose of dog faeces in bins where provided. If no bins are provided then take the dog dirt home for disposal.

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