Category Archives: training

Misconceptions of Puppy Socialization

I’ve explained before that socialization is a crucial piece of a dogs development. Properly introducing your dog the world around us will lead to your dog being a well-balanced, confident, relaxed dog and will create a healthy and long-lasting bond with you, the owner.

New puppy owners commonly become to focused not the idea that socialization is only about interacting well with people and other dogs. This a huge mistake and an unfortunate misconception of socialization. Socializing a puppy is about getting them used to the world around them, and the other dogs and people you interact with are only a small piece of the world they live in. Puppy owners must remember to acquaint their pups with the environment around them as well as the living things within it.

What do I mean by ‘the environment’? Think about your current living situation. If you live in a small apartment in a major city, you are surrounded by noisy cars, buses, shouting, music, construction, doors and windows opening and closing in neighboring apartments, you name it. If you don’t live on the first floor of your building, you have stairs, elevators, delivery workers, carpets, perhaps even hardwood or concrete floors.

Now look inside your apartment. Maybe you own a blender to make morning smoothies, or you like to watch the football game and jump and scream. Vacuum cleaners, slamming doors, water running in the sink, even the coat rack in the corner.

These are things that many people tend to take for granted because we are around them everyday. But they are brand new to a puppy, and the sound of rushing water or a running fan can be quite alarming when heard for the first time. The environment you live in is full of foreign sights and sounds that a puppy must be introduced to in a slow, positive way. They must be socialized to become familiar and comfortable with them.

So how in the world are you supposed to socialize your puppy to everything in the environment? Take advantage of the fact that you live within that environment. You will have the chance to introduce your dog to hundreds of different things every time you leave for a walk, and it’s your job as the owner to take advantage.

Here are some things to remember when socializing your dog:

Keep it Positive: Remember to keep every new experience positive for your puppy. Get treats that drive your dog crazy and praise them when they are relaxed with new situations. Read your puppies body language carefully. If they are cowering, hanging their heads or tucking their tails then take a step back and give your pup space. Follow every socialization session with games, lots of praise and loads of delicious treats!

Textures: Think about everywhere your puppy will walk. Concrete, grass, sand, asphalt, hardwood, tile, carpet, your dogs need to be socialized to all these surfaces. Dogs can become uncomfortable on new surfaces and properly socializing them can limit any anxieties.

Visuals & Sounds: Busy crowds, festivals, fireworks, traffic, wheelchairs, skateboards, bicycles, door bells, all these are fair game. A major city has lots of firetrucks, garbage trucks and street music. Rural areas have livestock and wildlife. Depending on your neighborhood, your puppy could be facing lots of stressful situations.

Places: Hardware stores, playgrounds, parks, pet shops, vet offices, construction sites, dog friendly bars. Take them anywhere they are happy and comfortable.

Maneuverability: Moving a dog through elevators or up and down stairs can be tough. Exposing them to as many places as possible will make them more confident when navigating new situations.

Socialization is a long and windy road, but the hard work you put in now will pay huge dividends to your puppy becoming a respectful, confident, well-adjusted dog. Remember that socialization goes far beyond the interactions with other dogs and people, and though those are important, exposing your puppy to the environment will make their lives less stressful, and your life much easier!

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Understanding Challenging Puppy Behaviors

A trainer friend of mine joined me for a cup of coffee earlier this week, and we got to chat about all kinds of doggy things.

During our conversation, we started talking about challenging dog behaviors. She shared a story that I’m sure many of you could relate to, I know I did.

In a nutshell, her two dogs were enjoying some backyard time when they came across a possum playing dead in the backyard. As my friend tried to shoo her dogs away, she had to figure out a way to rid of the possum. Her older dog ventured back into the house, and her younger pooch, being little more hesitant, eventually complied. My friend then grabbed a shovel and removed the possum from her yard, safely removing the little animal and keeping her dogs from attacking it. All seemed well, and my friend felt content she had solved the situation. That is, until she walked back into the house. The younger dog was standing over her down jacket, the stuffing spread all over the living room. The dog had shred the jacket, and stood over it proudly, stuffing still stuck to his lips. My friend had every reason to be upset, but as a trainer, she realized that the torn jacket was mostly her fault.

How can that possibly be, you ask. Well, she realized that her dog had built up an urge to tear apart the possum in the backyard. When he was taken away and ushered back into the house, the possum was gone, but not the urge. He had to scratch that itch, so he took it out on my friend’s jacket. My friend hadn’t helped her dog to meet that urge, and he found a way to do it himself. What’s the take away here? Dogs have urges, and even if we don’t like those urges, they will find a way to satisfy them. Whether we like it or not, dogs will chew, dig, chase, tear things apart, and hump. These urges are biological and a dog’s brain is hard-wired to meet those needs. IMG_20141012_094742_resized I wonder now how many dogs are deemed as troubled or are labeled as having behavior issues because us humans are not doing our part to help them meet their natural urges. You know what sucks? Having your slippers or nice pair of leather boots chewed up by your puppy. Know what doesn’t suck? Giving your dog a chew stick (bully sticks, approved toys). Seems simple, right? Yet when we see a dog humping a person’s leg we get angry. I know if Pickle starts humping another dog, I get pretty embarrassed, even though I know it’s just an urge. How else is she supposed to get it out?

I also know Pickle loves to tear things apart, especially boxes and papers. She doesn’t eat the pieces, so when we get a package in the mail we give her the empty box. It wears her out mentally and physically, and she is satisfying a need in a safe way that keeps us happy. IMG_20141205_100915_resized And digging, let’s not get started on digging. If Pickle had it her way she’d be doing it any time she set foot on a soft surface. But that was bound to lead to her tearing up the carpet (which wouldn’t be so great with our landlords). How do I solve that? Well, don’t tell, but anytime we see a pile of mulch or dirt in someones yard, I sick Pickle on it. She digs until she’s tired, tries to sprint off, and we walk away. Addressing a need.

So think of it from your dog’s point of view. Imagine something that is so wonderful, so enticing, so hard-wired into your brain that you just had to do it no matter what anyone told you. You would find an outlet, right? Then why do we hold our dogs to a different standard?

It is up to us as owners to understand our dogs needs and to address them in a way that’s suitable to both man and beast. If you are concerned your dog is having too many issues getting these urges out, contact a trainer or consider getting some extra socialization help. A little bit of work can go a long way to making your pup a happy pup!

Book Review: Animals Make us Human

Animals Make Us Human
Creating the best life for our animals 
By Temple Grandin & Catherine Johnson
(Amazon, $13.24)

I received this book as a Christmas present and couldn’t resist sharing it and raving about the information inside!

Temple Grandin, who has a PhD in animal science and is a professor at Colorado State, has a unique perspective about animals. Writing as a person with autism, Grandin has taken her position as a scientist with autism to create several works about animals and how they interact with humans.

Animals Make Us Human is a great, in depth view on how we humans can strive to maximize the happiness of our animal companions. Using years of scientific data and citing dozens of experiments, Grandin dives into everything from keeping a lion in a zoo from pacing in its cage to keeping a dog happy when you leave home.

Of course, this is a dog blog, and I was totally engage with the ideas around dog training and behavior management. Grandin challenges the traditional approach of training dogs in which humans are taught to become the “dominant”, or “alpha” figure in their dogs life.  According to numerous studies cited in the book, dogs don’t quite act like wolves in the way we once thought. Grandin takes the “Cesar Milan” approach and spins it into a new light, agreeing that even though some situations (doggie daycare, for example) may warrant having an alpha presence, these strategies aren’t necessary in everyday training.

The problem occurred with studies done on wolves in captivity, taken away from their natural setting and put in “forced packs”. These dogs, unstable and insecure, created a pack pecking order to maintain structure. This resulted in more fights and lashing out then with normal, natural wolf families. The change in environment and familiarity with their mates caused drastic changes in the way they interacted.

As a former daycare worker and as a dog owner, I loved that Grandin was able to compare two opposing sides of methodology without completely denouncing either. She respectfully presents both sides of the coin and tries to help the reader understand that old methods are born from old understanding, and as we become more knowledgable, the methods change.

Gardin dives deeper into the idea that as dogs become further removed genetically from their wolf brethren, they lose their ability to express submissive behaviors, resulting in more aggressive communication between dogs. The escalation of emotion leads to more fights between unfamiliar dogs. For example, malamutes, who are genetically much like their wolf descendants, exhibited all the submissive signs that wolves do when they greeted another dog. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, which are clearly very much removed from a wolf, exhibit none of these traits, and are thus more feisty (putting it mildly, that is).

Understanding the ideas behind dominance and submission are crucial when training a dog, but so are understanding there particular drive behaviors. Finding an outlet for a dog’s seeking and play drives, and learning how to handle their fear, rage and panic emotional triggers, are critical to developing a dogs well being.

The best way to handle all these drives, according to Grandin, is through proper socialization (and I obviously agree). I loved the quote Grandin used, from Patricia McConnell, “Socialization is not the same as enrichment. You need both.” I couldn’t agree more! And proper socialization can be the preventative cure to all kinds of later life issues. What I didn’t know about was a second socialization stage, between 18 and 36 months, when a dog becomes socially mature. This is a great opportunity to have your pup around positive adult-dog influences to steer them into the right direction through their teen years.

There is so much information about dogs in this book that I can get carried away. I’d also miss out on mentioning how Gardin talks about creating happy lives for your cats, for pigs, horses, birds, and captive animals in zoos. She talks about ways to stimulate their deepest instincts to help give even a caged lion a happy and content life. Believe it or not, an animal raised in the wild, yet put into captivity, tends to react better to being behind the glass in a zoo. You’ll have to read to find out why!

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in animal science and animal psychology. Scratch that, I would recommend this book to anyone who has ever cared for an animal and wants to better understand the way they think. Not every animal is dealt the best hand, but with a little help from us humans, we can totally give them the happy and content life they need. Grab your copy today to find out how!

Socialization for a Happy Life

Socialization is hugely important to a puppy. It is their way of learning how to deal with living in a human world, filled with all sorts of curious noises, sights and smells. Socialization helps your puppy be comfortable in all kinds of otherwise stressful situations. But there are lots of caveats when it comes to socialization: when should I start, how should I go about it, where should I take my puppy? Hopefully I can point you in the right direction, and help you to give your puppy a good start to their new life!

WHAT:

Socializing is teaching your puppy about new sights, sounds and smells that overwhelm them in their early days. A passing bus or a strange man on the sidewalk can be frightening to a dog if they have never seen or heard them before. Socialization is a process that teaches a puppy that these things are okay and will not hurt them, and help them to become comfortable with the world around them as they grow into adulthood.

Dogs naturally go through a period when they are young where they are open and curious about the world. This is a great time to expose them to new things. When they are slightly older, however, dogs become instinctively cautious, approaching new experiences with hesitation and more thought. Naturally, this helps them to avoid potentially dangerous situations that they would have faced outside of their life with you.

Socializing helps to harness your pup’s curiosity when young, and help them be safe and happy when things get a little rougher.

WHY:

Well socialized dogs prove to be happier and more relaxed as pets. This is because they are able to adapt to a wider range of environments and situations. Poorly socialized dogs have a tendency to react to new experiences with either fear or aggression. Trust me when I say that a fearful dog is not always a peach to own, especially when it comes to meeting other dogs and people.

Though the amount of socialization is up to the owner, the more you socialize your pup, the better their odds of being relaxed and happy with new exposures. More safe exposures add up to a much happier relationship between you and your dog!

WHO:

You and your pup. And the mailman, sidewalk strangers, the old woman at the bus stop, 15 of your closest friends and all their kids, your neighbor Jim, even the bus driver or the lady handing you food at the drive thru. When it comes to people, you want to get your puppy exposed to as many types of looks, personalities, ethnicities and ages of people as possible. Especially people with hats, scarves, hoodies, any kind of unique style that may throw your puppy off later.

When it comes to dogs, a little discretion is important. Puppies are very susceptible to disease and illness, and their little immune systems cannot cope with a lot of the sicknesses that older dogs may carry. Make sure if you bring your new puppy around dogs they are dogs that are fully vaccinated and healthy, and of course make sure they are okay with puppies. Remember, puppies are super rude, and not all older dogs will be okay with that.

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(Author’s note: Dog parks do not constitute good socialization. For one, if your puppy isn’t FULLY vaccinated, DO NOT TAKE THEM TO THE DOG PARK! Your pup could contract Parvo, kennel cough, or any of the other dozens of illnesses that dogs carry. Second, puppies are rude and don’t have very many boundaries. Don’t put them in a situation to piss off a mature dog and get bit. Just don’t do it.)

Our trainers used to say “a puppy should have 100 new exposures per day”, and even if that sounds a bit overwhelming, every new moment to a puppy is a new exposure.

WHERE:

Everywhere. Seriously. When we got Pickle, I took her everywhere. I took her on car rides, carried her around the neighborhood (read below to see how), brought her to friend’s houses, took her on trips to Grandma’s, to the hardware store, EVERYWHERE!

Our best strategy (and the one we owe Pickle’s sweet demeanor) was taking her to Chuck’s Hop Shop, a dog friendly bar in our neighborhood. When she was young we would hold her in our laps and limit her interactions with dogs, but we encouraged everyone to hold her, even the bartenders. Pickle adapted to all the sounds and smells, and became very comfortable with being handled by dozens of people and a short time period. This did wonders for her socialization!

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WHEN:

Puppies handle new exposures best between 8 weeks and 12 weeks. They are really curious and their senses have come alive! Of course they may be young for random dog interactions, but there are ways around that (keep reading).

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The trouble happens around 16-20 weeks. Puppies enter a phase called their “fear stage”. They become more cautious of new things and it becomes harder to introduce them to new exposures. The more work you do when they are young the easier your life will be during this time.

HOW:

Here’s the big one. How is it possible to safely get your puppy 100 new exposures everyday, and fit them into a small window where they will appropriately help the pup?

First, throw a puppy party. Have your friends and family come over to your house with the sole purpose of showering your puppy with love, attention, treats and love. Encourage soft wrestling and face playing, grabbing at paws and ears, and making sure the puppy is comfortably okay with these things. When Pickle first came home we invited people over for a Seahawk game, and our little puppy got more face time than ever before. Right off the bat she was becoming comfortable with loud noises and sudden movements, and with the quirkiness of humans.

Being outside is a little tougher. Before Pickle was fully vaccinated, I did a lot of carrying (did wonders for my biceps). The ground has a bunch of bad bacteria that puppies could become sick if they sniff or ingest. Pickle spent a lot of time in my arms as we walked, or in my lap if we visited a dog friendly bar. Luckily, she was so little and cute that she spent a lot of time in other people’s arms as well, so the human side of her socialization happened really young.

For doggie interaction, we signed her up for a puppy play class, where she could run around and romp with dogs her own age. Even 30 minutes a day was enough to wipe her out and teach her better habits when playing with other puppies.

IMG_20140926_105647 When she got a little heavier, Kira bought her a little duffel bag type carrier that I could put her in when we went on walks. Pickle could lay down and soak in the sounds and smells from the city, or she could poke her head out of a hole in the top that allowed her to meet people on the sidewalk. I highly recommend any one with a small enough dog get one. Funny how many places I could take her when people thought I was just carrying a gym bag!

After Pickle was fully vaccinated, we started going on longer walks and having more exposures. She could meet strange dogs, teaching good introduction methods (we’re working on it) and having her on the street, closer to the smells and sounds of traffic and strangers. She also became more visible, so there were many more pets and hand outs from people passing by, which made Pickle happy. It helps that I am a dog walker, which puts her around dogs for at least 2 hours a day, 5 days a week.

Lastly, remember not to push your little one to hard. If your pup expresses a lot of stress during a new experience, either tone down the amount of exposure (turn down noise, remove a stimulant) and/or praise the crap out of them. For example, if you are at the park around lots of screaming kids, monitor how your pup is handling it. If they seem stressed, flood them with treats and comfort, and if that doesn’t work, sit further away from the commotion. The goal is to develop comfort, note generate fear.

Socializing your puppy will help them to adapt to new places and sounds. They will approach new experiences with confidence, not hesitation. It will also teach them to handle places like the dog park in a safe and appropriate manner. Owners will experience a better relationship with their dog and will be able to approach more situations with safe and happy expectations. So get out and get friendly!