When it comes to training our dogs, we naturally think about teaching them things like to come when we call them, siting to greet our guests, and don’t steal the food off the table or out of our kids’ hands. We don’t typically think of Socialization as part of active training. We know that Socialization is important, but most people don’t understand the true meaning of socializing a puppy. Some think all that is needed is to take their puppy to be around other dogs and let them learn puppy social skills from the other dogs, but it is so much more than that. We have all at one point had a dog, or a friend that had a dog that was terrified of fireworks, or the kid riding a bike though the neighborhood. Maybe we know of a dog that growls every time they see someone in a baseball hat. Did you know that proper Socialization can help these problems?The idea of socialization is to help our puppies to become accustomed to all the things that they could come into contact with in a way that helps to build positive associations with unfamiliar people, places and things. Socialization starts within a few days of birth. When a puppy is held and snuggled, they start to make a positive association with human touch, before their eyes are open to even see who is touching them. This helps the puppies not be afraid of human interaction later in life. Puppies go through a developmental stage from 3-16 weeks called the Critical or Sensitive Socialization Period. This is the time when bonding occurs with people and other animals. It is also during this stage that puppies will develop fear, and anxiety of new things in their environment. At 6 to 8 weeks their senses are not even fully developed yet. We take our puppies from their nice warm whelping box with their mother and siblings. As we are taking them home, we expose them to loud sounds and smells that are foreign to them. This can be very scary for a pup. As a trainer, one of the most common complaints I hear from my pet parents is that the first few nights of having a puppy at home is the worst. This is because our pups are scared, and don’t understand what is going on.
It’s our responsibility as pet parents to make sure that we slow things down and help our pups build positive emotional responses to all the new things they are going to come into contact with. We welcomed a new Corgi puppy into our home 8 months ago. I researched my breeder and knew that my puppy would be raised in a home with kids and be handled on a regular basis. My pup would be going to work with me to help train my students and their dogs, so I wanted a good head start on socializing. There are training games that allow us to help our puppies have a positive experience with new things in their environment. One way is to have a supply of super yummy treats on hand when exploring new things and teaching them the Look at That game. This game was made popular in the book Controlled Unleashed, by Leslie McDevitt. The idea is to teach your puppy a cue that tells them to look at something you designate and then back to you for a reward. Using this game, you can help your dog form those positive responses to everyday things such as other animals like cats, or Guinea Pigs, or horses. Even things such as Mirrors, umbrellas and skateboards and let’s not forget the vacuum. For things like surfaces where we need our pups to be comfortable on a texture they feel under their feet, try a game like Kibble Scatter. Nature is one of the best snuffle mats you can find. If your puppy is nervous of walking on slick tile or on rough concreate try scattering a few treats and make it a fun game for your pup to go and find the treats on the ground. Perhaps after playing Kibble Scatter, you could run around a little bit, encouraging your dog to chase you. Grass, tile, concrete and mulch will all feel different on their feet, we want them not to be afraid of any texture they could step on. Another big obstacle I hear about and actually have dealt with first hand with my Corgi pup Yadi, is sounds. Our puppies hear things much better than we do. There are often times when they hear things that we do not. Fireworks are the cause of many dogs becoming lost, severely injured and even killed.I live very close to a major University and after a sporting event they set off a rather large number of fireworks. Our Yadi, got very upset and started running back and forth in the house with his ears pinned back and his eyes very wide. His body language was screaming how scared he was. Thankfully he was in the house because every BOOM!! sent him running further way from me. I downloaded the sound of some fireworks and would sit with him while hand feeding him and let the sound play on the lowest volume of my phone. When we snuggled together, I would play the sounds while rubbing his belly or scratching his back until I was able to slowly increase the volume. Hopefully the next time he hears those booms they will not cause the same reaction in him. My goal is for him to come running towards me for a treat or some snuggles.
The other important thing to think about is what you wear versus what your pup might see on other people. When I was teaching puppy classes in a retail pet store, there was a young guy that had really long dreads in his hair. Whenever he would walk by my class ring, the puppies would start barking at him and stop focusing on their parents. We used the game to Touch to teach the puppies to go up to him and touch his hand for a treat. With this game, we were able to help the puppies learn that he was nothing to be concerned about. This is also a good thing for people that wear hats or sunglasses that make your puppies uneasy. If you have any questions about any of the games I’ve talked about here, or for help with socialization issues, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org