From the Mailbag: Trimming a Dog’s Nails

I woke up to this message from an old college friend this morning:

Do you have tips for dogs that are super anxious/nippy when getting their nails clipped? 

This is actually a question I get quite often. Nail trimming can be very uncomfortable for a dog, whether it be with actual clippers or with a grinder. Unfortunately, a lot of dogs aren’t socialized to a nail trimming at a young enough age, or they have a bad experience and are now afraid of getting their nails trimmed. If you think about it, a cut quick is a great way to encourage a dog to avoid getting their nails cut again.

So, how do we get our dogs happy and content getting their nails trimmed? Well, first understand that I’ve done over a 1,000 trims and have yet to meet a dog that likes to get it’s nails trimmed. What I’m talking about is working towards an acceptance of nail trimming, and ways to make it as comfortable as possible. I’m going to break this down into two areas: desensitizing and outsourcing/outlets.

DESENSITIZING

This works much easier the younger you start to desensitize your dog, but even old dogs can learn new tricks! The trick here: BRIBERY! Dogs react pretty well to high value treats like hot dogs or string cheese (with Pickle we’ve had to use brisket!), so when desensitizing to anything, come prepared!

  1. Build a trusting baseline by getting the dog acquainted with the clippers/grinder. Have the dog sniff and investigate the clippers, and reward them with treats. Easy. With a grinder, you want to get them used to the noise, so turn it on and reward calm behavior with treats!
  2. Touch the clippers to the dogs nails without clipping. You’ll need to make sure the dog it comfortable having its’ paws touching and handled. Lift the paw, bend the leg, touch the nails with the clippers, etc. All calm reactions should be rewarded. Remember, GO SLOW. If your dog becomes nervous or uncomfortable, back off. It doesn’t help to make them more stressed.
  3. If you’ve made it this far, move on to clipping the nails. Start by only cutting off the very tips, and work slowly. It’s better to leave a little extra nail than to cut their quick. With every clip or every pass of the grinder, Fido gets a hot dog!

I can’t stress enough the importance of reading your dogs body language. This needs to be a positive experience to be effective, and causing stress and discomfort is probably what led you to have issues in the first place.

OUTSOURCING AND OUTLETS

This is where I admit that I don’t cut my own dogs nails. I don’t like cutting dog nails, despite having a lot of experience doing so. But my own aversions to cutting their nails hasn’t eliminated the need for our dogs to need trims.

My solution is to fold. First, always have a good groomer on call. A good groomer will have the knowledge and, sometimes more importantly, the equipment to safely cut even the most stubborn dog’s nails. I am forever indebted to a former coworker who taught me so much about dogs (and will inevitably tease me for not doing my own dogs’ nails despite all of her tutelage).

The second solution for us was to actually teach our dogs to “dig” on command as a way to file down their nails. Well, teaching them “dig” also taught them “NO dig”, which was important after we planted our garden. But it’s also a great way to keep their nails short! I had a former client, a massive chocolate lab/pit/grizzly mix whose owner would go to the tennis court around the corner and play fetch for 20 minutes a day. The running on the rough surface would file the nails down and they’d never need trimming.

(NOTE: We still have to keep track of their dew claws, which don’t get filed down by digging or exercise. Don’t forget those!)

Nail trims are an essential part to a dogs well being. Nails that are allowed to grow too long can make it very uncomfortable for a dog to walk, and nails that go long enough run the risk of bending back and growing into the paw pad. Long nails can split and crack more easily. These things can become quite painful for you dog, and no one wants that! Keeping up a regular routine of nail trims will keep your dog running happy!

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Dear Puppy Parents

Dear Puppy Parents,

I know what you’re going through. The excitement of adopting a brand spankin’ new puppy, hot off the assembly line. You weave in and out of aisles at the boutique pet store, stocking up on gluten free foods and blankets with higher thread counts than your own sheets. You seek out the brightest, squeakiest toys. You swear your pup will never be allowed on the bed, because your bosses dog’s trainer said that was too invasive of the dog. You posted adoption photos of the puppy on Instagram and watched with tear filled eyes as it gathered 72 Likes. All the while the anticipation building, knowing soon your little one would be blessing your home with the pitter-patter of puppy paws.

The drive home is the slowest drive you’ve ever taken. No fast turns, you don’t want to disturb the snoring bundle of snuggle that is now in your lap. The puppy wanders into your home, sniffs the toys, bounds through the living room into the kitchen, darting around the couch and plops into your lap for well deserved rest.

Your baby. They’re home.

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The embodiment of love. 

A day goes by. There has been an accident on the carpet. It’s okay, you think, they’re a baby. Another day. Fido hasn’t eaten breakfast or dinner. Could they be sick, you wonder. Another day. They haven’t slept through the night yet, and three straight nights of having to get out of bed to potty your dog at 3 AM has started to manifest in an itch under your right forearm. Fido starts to nip your fingers when you’re playing with their toys. Another accident. A chewed table leg. A week passes and still only blank stares when you request a “sit”. A week later you’re curled up in the corner of the living room, sheltered behind the couch that Fido hasn’t been able to climb yet, the menacing image of splintered furniture pieces and shredded flip flops waiting for when you’re brave enough to emerge.

Please. Remember the advice of one Douglas Adams: “Don’t panic.”

I promise everything is going to be okay.

Puppies need time and guidance from us. They are babies, still learning and still trying to adjust to the new, scary world that is around them. They need to learn how to eat kibble and things that aren’t their mother’s milk, they need to learn that the carpet is not a potty pad, and they need you to show them the proper way to interact with society. Though these things may seem daunting, and they are, in the end you have to remember that, well, you have a puppy. A cute, loving, loyal ball of floof that was brought into your life to bring joy and happiness, not dark clouds and misery.

I’ve helped raise two puppies of my own, helped raise a dozen foster puppies, and have counseled countless new puppy parents on how to raise their new babies. Yet, for me, raising a puppy can be the scariest thing ever. It took awhile to calm down and see the bigger picture of what they need from me. Between the 3 AM wake up calls, the two bouts of kennel cough and several encounters of giardia that Pickle has been through, I’ve had to remind myself that “holy shit, you have a dog, the living, breathing embodiment of love and she cares about you more than anything.”

Three things you can do to alleviate some of your stress is to (1) buy pet insurance for your puppy, (2) research good vets in your area, and (3) track down a good, positive reinforcement trainer who also does puppy social time. The guidance you can receive from these resources is invaluable, and having insurance means you don’t have to worry if something does happen (kennel cough isn’t scary when you can walk into a vet and can get antibiotics).

But here’s the thing. I can give you a list of resources and tips on how to handle your puppy, but in the end, I always end by telling new parents the same thing: have fun! You brought a new member into your family for a reason, and it was to raise and nurture and well balanced dog that will be part of your family for 10, maybe 15 years! Make sure you are taking time to play in the back yard, go for walks in the park, go hand them to your friends in a bar, and take time to snuggle. Don’t worry if Fido makes it onto the bed. If you’re okay with it, then no trainer has any right to tell you otherwise. I say, as long as it’s dog approved, even table scraps are fine for a well mannered dog.

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Socializing can be the most fun, and also most important, part of owning a new puppy! Extra bonus is how tuckered out they’ll be once you get home! 

This is the time to spoil your pup, to build a long lasting bond that will extend beyond the next decade. The time and effort you put in now will pay huge dividends into the type of relationship you develop with your dog down the road. You have an excellent opportunity to shape your puppy into the dog you want them to be, but don’t forget to enjoy the goofy, fuzzy baby that has stolen your heart with every stare. Enjoy this time, because it will flash by in an instant and you won’t be able to get it back.
Sincerely yours,
A Fellow Puppy Parent

PS: Don’t forget your towel 😉

Scent Training for your Puppy

Fostering puppies can be a very rewarding experience. Providing an in-home experience to an animal to relieve it from living in a shelter can enhance not only their life, but yours!

When taking a dog into your home, you should look beyond the simple feedings and walks, and seriously consider some quality training for each dog you care for.

Enter Piper.

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Piper is our latest foster pup. We’ve had her for just over three months now while she awaits her forever home. Piper is a 9 month old Redbone Coonhound Mix, with the typical energy and stimulation needs as any other puppy of her age. After doing some research, turns out Coonhounds are a sensitize, yet stubborn breed that need appropriate training or they can become bored and destructive. To compound our issues, however, is that Piper has a history of seizures that are more prone to occur if she doesn’t get the proper physical and mental stimulation during the day. Add on the fact that a puppy that lounges around all day doing nothing is bound to wake you up at four in the morning needing to go to the bathroom, and we have been set up with a 45 pound pain in the rear.

Solutions needed to be found. Piper’s energy levels had started to put a strain on our patience, and the lack of sleep with her waking in the middle of the night was making it rather difficult to get anything productive done during our own work days. We needed to incorporate some more mental games to help get Piper through the day. Enter scent training! Being a hound, Piper has a VERY active nose, and her tracking instincts are obvious anytime we enter a dog park or let her out into a back yard. If we can harness those instincts into something constructive, then we could give her tools to become a better puppy!

Training a puppy can start at any age. A dog is never too young to start learning basics like “wait” or “touch”. And there is a lot to be said about proper socialization for your pup from an early age. Hound dogs are born with tracking instincts, so it’s never too early to start with their scent training either!

Setting the Stage:

Starting scent training is very easy. Find an area in your home, maybe a side bedroom or the kitchen, where you can scatter the puppies kibble. Spreading the food around the room means your pup needs to use its’ nose to sniff out where the food is. After awhile they catch on that the food is in different places, and you’ll see their nose rise in the air searching for new food piles!

The trick is to keep it simple for the first week or two. You can condense the piles to make it harder to find, and start hiding kibble under blankets, in boxes, etc. Be creative! But make sure to move at your puppy’s pace so they can learn without becoming frustrated!

Piper 1

Incorporating Scent:

Your pup will inevitably catch on to the kibble hiding game, and they’ll be turning over pillows and waste baskets to find the morsels of food you obviously hid around the house! To make it more of a challenge, you can start replacing food with scents.

Hopefully you’ve been doing clicker work with your pup to start getting them acquainted with the rewards of a job well done! If you haven’t done so, here’s a pretty good guide on charging a clicker.

Grab your clicker, along with an Altoid tin (or some other small metal container, I like metal because it’s durable against mouthy dogs like Piper), some high value treats (like string cheese), and a strong, dog friendly scent (I prefer peppermint since it usually stands out against other smells).

Poke a few holes in the top of an Altoid tin, place a drop of the scent inside the tin to lure the dog, and place the tin around with the different piles of kibble. Whenever the pup finds the kibble, mark it with a clicker, and reward the puppy with a special treat (something really stinky to get them excited!). After a while, you will find that your pup searches out the scents instead of the food, because they know a higher value reward is on the way. Every time your pup finds the scent box, click and reward. This may take some time, but patience will set the stage for more fun games with your pup once they get the hang of it!

Take it Outside:

As soon as your pup gets the hang of finding the food or scents in the house, take the fun outside! In the back yard, in the garage, heck even in the car, you can replicate the same exercises by hiding food or tins of the scent around the area you are in, and when you pup finds the target, mark it and reward!

Hide-n-seek:

Ever wanted to teach your dog to find you at the dog park or around the house? Scent work translates great with these “find it” games. Hide yourself in a different room of the house, and when your ready, tell your pup to find you. As soon as they sniff you out, flood them with praise and reward! This is an excellent way to keep your dog engaged at the dog park to avoid them running around ignoring you!

The beauty of these games is that they’re easy to incorporate into any regular training routine and work really well on most of the basic obedience needs of your pup. In reality, we should never be feeding dogs out of basic food dishes. They’re boring! I’d rather see people scatter kibble on the floor and make their pups hunt for the pieces, at least that way they can’t eat too fast! Scent hunting gives an amazing amount of mental stimulation that dogs desperately crave, and with a dog like Piper, you are tapping into a natural instinct that focuses in on one of her most basic urges. This ends up being a win for everyone!

Piper 2

Although hound breeds are more prone to want to track scents and trail targets, scent work can be done with any dog! I have used these games with Pickle in the past and she loves them! The important part is to have fun!

For more in-depth steps on how to teach scent training, there are countless Google and YouTube pages that are helpful! Happy sniffing!

 

My Dog Won’t Come at the Dog Park. What do I do?

The latest example in the ongoing saga of Pickle being a brat happened last week at the dog park. Everyday I take Pickle and a small pack of her friends to a dog park in our neighborhood to get in all the ball chasing and butt sniffing they can handle for the day. An hour passes, and I’m leashing up dogs only to discover Pickle is no where to be seen.

Let the games begin.

Pickle on the opposite end of the park, gnawing on a tennis ball. I approach her, treats in hands, and in usual Pickle fashion she bolts away from me. It’s not unusual for me to spend 10 or so minutes to get her attention and leave, we’ve been through this before. But today, Pickle is acting worse. She’s not letting me within 10 feet of her without running away. 20 minutes pass, no luck. 45 minutes pass, she’s still making me chase her.

90 minutes pass, and Pickle is still 10 feet away from me, only now she’s too tired to stand and she’s contently gnawing on her ball.

I ran through all the scenarios. I thought about leaving her (I didn’t, I was frustrated!). I almost had to cancel my afternoon walks. I thought about calling my partner to help corral her. I was visibly livid to any other dog owner watching me pace back and forth trying to get Pickle to notice the treats in my hand.

Pickle was having a grand time, but made the mistake of squatting to pee, and I was able to get hold of her harness. Ordeal over. But what now? I felt lost, like all the good progress she had made eroded before my eyes. Question now was how to fix it.

Say Please By Sitting:

Luckily for any owner going through this, there is hope! There are some simple games you can play with your dog that will help to create a better relationship with your pup and make them want to be with you and not run away when you bring out that leash.

Here is one example of a video from Dr. Sophia Yin. In the video, Dr. Yin rewards her dog for sitting and staying focused on her. Note they are training indoors. By upping the level of distraction, you are preparing to take train the pup outside with escalating distractions.

Taking it Outside:

Once your dog has mastered the leash work indoors, you can start working outdoors either on the street or in a park. Starting with a standard 6-foot leash limits your dogs ability to lose focus. Slowly working towards and longer leash gives your dog more freedom and forces them to concentrate more. Here is an article highlighting the essentials.

Now what?

Keep training! The most important part about any training regiment is that you, as the puppy-parent, stay consistent. This method is rather fun and builds a great relationship with your dog through play. They are learning despite themselves, and it pays huge dividends!

We’ve been working slowly with Pickle and trying to build her confidence before going to a heavily packed dog park again. In the first couple days it looks like she’s learning to trust us. Through patience and hard work you too can get a well trained pup and have happy experiences at the dog park!

It’s Time We Talk About Your Dog

How, without sounding judgemental, do I help give advice to dog owners I encounter in public?

Dog owners can picture it. Passing on a hiking trail you see another owner struggling with a young dog, struggling against the leash, strangling itself it’s pulling so hard. The owner is flush, sweaty from the  wrestling match they’ve been doing with their pup the entire walk.

I’ve been on both sides of that encounter, both the passerby, and the poor soul holding onto the rambunctious pup. But as a passerby, and as someone who spends their days with dogs, I want to help! I want to offer my tiny bits of unsolicited advise and hopefully trigger some sort of action in this owner’s mind.

But as we pass, I see the will slowly fading from their face. As I smile, they flash back a desperate gaze, screaming “let’s just get home” through their eyes.

And I just smile.

Every time I wonder, is their something I could have said that would make that poor owner’s day easier? But, more importantly, if I did have something to say, how would I say it? How do I come off as being helpful, not judgemental or insincere?

Is that even possible?

I react rather quickly and critically when people try to give me advice on handling my dogs. My brain immediately goes to “this is my job, who are you to tell me how to handle a dog?”, and that’s wrong. I’ve found that once I take another owner or professional’s advice, I am able to apply way more techniques into my work. As the old saying goes, “the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again while expecting different results.”

And of course, you never know the things you don’t know.

I assume others will react with the same resistance. That alone is enough to make me hesitate and avoid conversations with owners that I could potentially offer a bit of advise, or could even offer me a little insight into their situaion and how to hadle it myself.

Maybe that’s selfish. But hey, there are lot’s of cute dogs I could be petting!

So I’d like to know from dog owners: In what way could I approach you that would make you feel safe and open to discussing your dog? Would you e open to advice?

 

Canine Cuisine for your Dog

Notice that your dog is becoming bored with the everyday, store bought kibble? Does your pup have a history of tummy issues or allergies from eating overly processed food? Turns out, there’s an alternative! Whole foods can make for a healthy and happy dog, and dogs ca benefit from a little home cooking every now and then!

We’ve talked about good and bad for your dog. Now it’s time to take those new found goodies and put them to good use! Remember though, if switching your dog to a whole food diet, it is best to consult with a vet to make sure your dog is getting all of its essential nutrients. 

Here’s a short list of great recipes for treats, meals, and even a dessert!

DOG TREATS:

Chicken Jerky

Simple, chewy, protein packed alternative to raw hides.

Ingredients

  • 2 to 4 chicken breasts

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Remove any excess fat from the chicken. Turn the chicken breast on its side and use a paring knife to slice the chicken breast into 1/8 inch thick strips.
  3. Set the strips on a baking sheet. Bake for 2 hours.
  4. Check the chicken before removing from the oven. It should be dry and hard, not soft or chewy. Allow the chicken to cool completely before serving.
  5. Store the jerky in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks.

NOTE: Substitute sweet potatoes or other veggies in recipe for vegetarian alternative!

Frozen Yogurt Pops for Dogs

Great low fat treat for your pup on a hot day!

Ingredients

  • 6 oz. container of plain, non-fat frozen yogurt
  • 1 cup of no-sugar added fruit juice
  • 1/2 cup of carrots, minced

Directions

  1. Add the yogurt, fruit juice, and carrots into a medium-sized bowl. Stir until the ingredients are smooth and well-blended.
  2. Drop the mixture into the ice cube trays by spoonful.
  3. Freeze until the ingredients are solid.

DOGGIE DINNERS:

Store bought foods can be filled with fillers and additives, and honestly be very boring for dogs. Cooking your own dog food can take a little while, but I like that both of these recipes can be frozen and kept for up to a week. (And hey, they’re pretty good if you want to have some, too!)

Turkey and Vegetable Dinner

Simple recipe for your poultry friendly diet. Rich in lean protein and veggies for a balanced diet!

Ingredients

  • 4 cups of water
  • 1 pound of ground turkey
  • 2 cups of brown rice
  • 1 cup of carrots, chopped
  • 1 cup of green beans, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of fish oil (optional)

Directions

  1. Cook the ground turkey in a non-stick skillet over medium heat until the meat is cooked through.
  2. Add the brown rice, turkey, and water to a large pot and bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook an additional 15 minutes, or until the rice is soft and tender.
  4. Add the carrots and green beans and cook for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.
  5. Allow to cool before serving.
  6. Store extra dinners in the fridge for up to five days.

Beef Stew

Gravy! Little more labor intensive, but a rich beef flavor and veggies pack a tasty punch!

Ingredients

  • 1 pound of beef stew meat
  • 1 small sweet potato
  • 1/2 cup of carrots, diced
  • 1/2 cup of green beans, diced
  • 1/2 cup of flour
  • 1/2 cup of water or organic vegetable oil, plus 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil for frying

Directions

  1. Cook the sweet potato in a microwave for 5 to 8 minutes until firm but tender. Set aside.
  2. Slice the stew pieces into smaller chunks, about the size of a nickel.
  3. Cook the stew pieces in a tablespoon of vegetable oil over medium heat for 10-15 minutes or until well-done.
  4. Remove the beef chunks from the pan, reserving the drippings.
  5. Dice the sweet potato.
  6. Heat the drippings over medium-low heat. Slowly add flour and water into the dripping while whisking to create a thick gravy.
  7. Add the meat, sweet potato, carrots, and green beans into the gravy and stir to coat.
  8. Cook until the carrots are tender – about 10 minutes.
  9. Serve cool.
  10. Store remaining stew in the fridge for up to five days.

DOGGIE DESSERT:

Because even Fido deserves to indulge once in awhile! For a fresh take on dessert, layered fruit parfaits are great (fruit, non-fat yogurt, repeat). But I like the iea of making a cake for your dog. Here’s a great recipe for, I don’t know, their birthday?

Dog Birthday Cake:

Ingrediets

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 6 cup ring mold.
  2. Combine the egg, peanut butter, oil, vanilla, and honey, if desired, in a large bowl; blend well. Stir in the carrots and mix thoroughly. Sift together the flour and baking soda and fold into the carrot mixture. Spoon cake batter into prepared pan.
  3. Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes. Let cake cool in pan for 10 minutes; then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

(Candles on top are optional!)

Hope you ad your pup can get some use out of these recipes! If you have any favorites that you’d like to share, please visit our Facebook and Twitter pages!

When Should I Socialize my Puppy?

I am a strong advocate for puppy socialization. I am a firm believer that the more experience a puppy can get in that crucial socialization window (between 8-20 weeks of age), the more successful the puppy will be in life.

But socializing an 8 week old puppy can be tricky. There immune systems are young and vulnerable, they have not been fully vaccinated. So exposing them to new dogs and new environments will leave them susceptible to illnesses.

But here’s the thing. I would rather have a puppy that is properly socialized and gets kennel cough (easily treatable) then have a dog that was kept in a bubble as a puppy and comes out afraid, aggressive and dangerous. Pickle has lived through kennel cough (twice!), and a stomach parasite, and she’s fine. She has also become skilled at reading dog signals and doesn’t pick fights with even the most persistent of pups. I’d call that a worthwhile trade off.

But why take my word for it?

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Hardware and garden stores make fun trips for young pups!

Experts are now pushing owners to socialize their puppies in safe, low risk situations, like puppy classes:

“Puppy socialization classes offer a safe and organized means of socializing puppies. Each puppy should have up-to-date vaccinations and be disease and parasite free before entering the class. Where possible, classes should be held on surfaces that are easily cleaned and disinfected (e.g., indoor environments). Visits to dog parks or other areas that aren’t sanitized or are highly trafficked by dogs of unknown vaccination or disease status should be avoided.”

Really, it takes a little common sense, but there is no reason a puppy should be sheltered until they are fully vaccinated (which happens sometime around 20 weeks!). You are wasting valuable time to adjust your dog to the world, and leave them vulnerable to behavior issues later on.

Let’s take a different approach to this. Think for a second about the number of dog that are in shelters/rescues across the country right now. How many of them do you think were surrendered (by very well intentioned owners) because that dog bit someone? How many dogs a year are euthanized because they came from puppy mills and were never socialized to the outside world?

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Even at a young age, socializing with older, respectful, fully vaccinated dog is okay for your puppy!

My point is, even owners with the best intentions can get it wrong. Being overly protective of your puppy is great and will probably save you a little money on vet bills. But what will you do when your puppy bites and seriously injures a child because they have never seen one before?

If you are still at a loss for what to do, here are a couple hints:

1) Introduce your puppy to familiar, vaccinated dogs. It will reduce risk, but still allow your dog to interact and learn lessons from the older dog.

2) If your puppy is small enough, carry it in a bag (with it’s head out to breathe). Many pet stores sell ones like these, which we used to socialize Pickle before she was vaccinated. People will get to see, pet and give treats to your puppy, and they are away from danger the whole time!

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Travel carriers are great for puppies that can’t walk on dirty sidewalks!

3) Play pass the puppy! Find a dog friendly bar, invite a couple friends, and tell them to go make friends with your puppy. No one in their right mind would refuse the chance to hold a new puppy! Kira and I still have friends that we made this way!

4) Carry your puppy through a plaza, hardware store, pet store, anywhere that dogs are allowed. The more exposures the better! Carrying them will again keep them out of harms way and you can manage their level of exposure.

5) Have a puppy party! Pickle was home for approximately 24 hours when we had 10 or so friends over for a Seahawks party. She adjusted to people coming into the house, being handled, exposure to loud and sudden noises, the whole shebang, all while being in the comfort of her own home! If you have friends with children, I’d encourage they come as well. Teaching a puppy to be respectful to children (and vice-versa) is great for a little puppy!

Socialization is all about positive experiences, so make sure your puppy is happy and comfortable with all the new situations. Starting the socialization process early will give you more chances to expose your puppy to new people, places and environments. There are ways to safeguard against your puppy being unvaccinated, and taking a few simple precautions can open a door of possibilities for where you can take your puppy. If you are willing to take the time to socialize your dog, you will create a much happier and more stable relationship with your dog!