Socializing Your Puppy, What You Need to Know
What Makes A Good Puppy Program?
Our puppy program is an excellent model that produces results for our clients and their dogs. The program is based on Dr. Ian Dunbar’s Sirius Puppy Program. (https://www.dogstardaily.com/training/bite-scale) (https://www.siriuspup.com/)
The main objectives of our program is for the puppy to learn proper bite inhibition and develop a good comfort level in order to work with other dogs and people present, socialization. We do this by conducting our puppy classes as an off-leash play based method. The puppies play for short bursts and then the owners are instructed to catch their puppy. It looks a bit like organized chaos with a lot of laughter. This method does many things at once. Owners start learning how to get their dogs attention in a high distraction environment, puppies start to learn obedience cues all while they are biting each other, romping and having fun. We focus on handling and husbandry, teaching owners how to de-sensitize their dogs to having their paws, ears and tails touched and short periods of restraint. This creates dogs that are much easier for their owners to handle as well as the vet and groomer.
There is also an emphasis on showing owners how to be a strong leader, from their dog’s perspective, and shaping good canine manners while addressing all of the standard puppy issues such as house breaking, jumping, chewing, nipping and crate training. We also identify potential temperament issues and help owners with these issues such as shyness, fear and dominance.
This class is especially helpful for fearful dogs. We have seen time and again a shy or fearful youngster come to class and just hide under their owners’ chair. By the last class, almost always, these dogs are starting to play, have interacted with all of the other humans in class, and demonstrate vast improvements from week one. We think our program is sound and so do our clients with most moving on from puppy class to basic obedience and leadership.
A good class is designed for puppies 24 weeks and younger with the ideal age being 8 weeks to 16 weeks of age. Because the class is designed for the youngest puppies, it is important to get as many vets on board as possible. Just one class like this can make the difference between staying in a home forever with the original owner and ending up in a shelter due to bad manners or behavior.
Veterinarians, How Can We Get Them on Board?
When I was studying to become a dog trainer, I spent a lot of time volunteering and working in various shelter environments, that sad place where dogs with problems are dumped, many of them have fear based aggression. Most dogs in shelters and rescues are there for a behavior or temperament issue that an average pet owner is not equipped to handle and too many dogs are being euthanized every day due to lack of resources and space and most importantly owner education.
It was this part of my studies that sparked the passion I have for puppy socialization. It is absolutely fascinating to learn how a dog’s mind develops and works. These youngsters have a critical learning period that closes at around 24 weeks of age. During this critical period is the time when they learn bite inhibition with other dogs and people as well as develop their comfort level with strange people, dogs and environments. This means that a puppy’s temperament and overall view of their world is pretty well cemented by this age. Unfortunately, this is also the period when many vets tell owners not to take their puppies out of their house and yard to avoid exposure to diseases such as Parvovirus. There has to be a happy medium to mitigate the risk of illness with the benefits of a mentally healthy and stable dog.
How can we help veterinarians realize that proper socialization is as important to a puppy’s mental health and quality of life as are vaccinations and regular vet checkups? Our vets are one of the first humans that our puppies interact with outside of the home during the critical learning period, making them the front line for educating owners about local classes that can help puppies get the best possible start from a temperament and behavior perspective.
The number one reason more veterinarians do not educate owners about puppy programs is the risk of contracting Parvo, a treatable condition. While Parvo is real and I would never disregard the fact that there is risk, that risk is very small compared to the benefits that a well socialized and trained puppy has of living out their lives in a stable manner in the original owners’ home and not end up in a shelter.
New studies are being done and results are being published that demonstrate puppies who attend a series of puppy classes are more trainable, have less aggression towards dogs and people and are overall more well-adjusted. It looks as though the veterinarian community at large is starting to pay this vital component of puppy development the attention it desperately needs. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/canine-corner/201905/do-puppy-classes-have-effect-later-dog-behavior)