Puppy Parenting. Puppy Socialisation

Published by Theo Stewart on

Due to lockdowns all over the world, proper puppy socialisation has been left a bit late by many people.

Chloe could by my Working Cocker Pickle’s sister – but unlikely as she lives the other side of the world in Seattle.

She is four-and-a-half months old, the same age as Pickle when he came to live with me.

Here is Pickle, angelic when asleep!

And here is beautiful Chloe:

Our online puppy parenting session

In our online session we covered all the usual Puppy Parenting points including toilet training, excitement, nipping and the rest. 

Oh, and drying feet on the way in from outside. Unwilling to have feet dried is a common problem so it’s ‘willing’ that we work on. (Myself, with sixteen wet dog feet when I come in, I use a line of bath mats for my dogs to walk over).

At present when they want Chloe somewhere, they just lift her and carry her there. When she’s bit older, however, she may object. She will also be heavier.

We looked at why it is better to motivate Chloe to come with them when asked. This is useful home recall which is where all ‘coming when called’ behaviour should start.

Loose-leash walking technique

The thing we spent most time on was walking and puppy socialisation.

Chloe pulls on lead and it seems traffic, people and other dogs overwhelm and scare her. They live on quite a busy street.

We divided things into three areas for the immediate future: 

  • Loose-leash walking technique
  • Habituation, acclimatising, desensitising, socialisation – getting used to the outside world.
  • Proper walk in open space on a long line.

First I explained the technique for teaching her to walk nicely in the house and garden on loose leash. That should be no problem at all.

Traffic-watching, people-watching and on-leash-dog-watching.

Chloe’s not ready to walk beside the busy road. They will stand outside the house, puppy on lead and well back from the traffic, traffic-watching, people-watching and on-leash-dog-watching.

Each thing that goes past will trigger something small and tasty.

Open space

For proper ‘walks’ they will take her by car to an open space, hook her long line onto her harness and allow her as much sniffing as she wants. There should be people and dogs – but not too many nor too close.

Puppy socialisation isn’t about getting up close and personal to as many people and dogs as she can. It needs to be controlled and should really be called ‘habituation’ or ‘acclimatisation’.

For instance, we wouldn’t acclimatise to darkness someone who was scared of the dark by locking them in a dark room

The crucial thing is that Chloe must feel safe. Just as with the traffic, she should be at a comfortable distance from dogs and people with good things happening. At present when she’s too close she tries to escape. She runs away to the end of the long line. That won’t do.

Chloe needs to be able to trust her humans to protect her, not to take her too close to anything she finds scary; to help her feel safe.

How we go about it

My way of doing this is to go somewhere not too crowded but not empty of people and dogs. It needs open space so we’re not trapped in narrow lanes. I want the dog or puppy to see person or dog from a comfortable distance.

I make sure puppy has seen them ‘Look, a dog!’ in a happy voice. Then instead of walking on directly towards them I arc away, watching carefully for my own dog’s body language to tell me when she’s comfortable.

Then I may feed. I may throw a ball. I may have a  game of tug. Something good is triggered.

So this is what we need to do when the puppy hasn’t been acclimatised ( ‘socialised’) early enough – before the fear period sets in which is up to around fourteen weeks of age.

Update a week later: This week Chloe has been doing well with leash technique in the yard using your method as well as coming when called. We’ve also been paying much closer attention to balancing out stressors with decompressors (lot of sniffing on the walks, got a wood chew, encouraging our daughter to be a bit more low-key). I think she is calmer in the evening for it……Outside she is seeming more comfortable seeing other dogs; in fact she voluntarily walked toward a mini schnauzer puppy this week and though excited she didn’t seem scared! Big dogs still a bit scary so we walk a bit away per your advice.

The meeting itself was excellent — really appreciated how much information and tailored advice you were able to fit into an hour. 
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ and is always written with permission of the client. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog it can do more harm than good. Click here for help

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