Puppy Socialization & Training

By Dr. Lindsay Lane, Managing Veterinarian

Who doesn’t love puppies? They’re adorable, snuggly, playful and did I mention adorable? But now let’s maybe dive into the while not unexpected, certainly the unwanted personalities and traits that puppies tend to portray. The chewing, urine/stool soiling, destructive little balls of mischief who we all tend to underestimate. Hopefully this blog will set up and your puppy up for a successful beginning!

Socializing your puppy and starting training early sets both you and your puppy up for a relationship of success. Socialization is often misunderstood when I talk to clients, and there have been numerous studies done on the topic to try and find the best time frame and techniques to do so appropriately. The best time to start puppy socialization is before 5 weeks of age and through about 14-16 weeks of age; basically, from birth! Now a lot of new puppy owners don’t have that luxury, even with getting from a breeder and a lot of rescue dogs are adopted later in their life. But you can still focus on socializing and training to help your dog be the most adjusted and happy pet they can be!

Socialization can easily be defined as exposing your puppy to everyday things, people, scenarios and experiences. Getting your puppy used to other animals, children, touching their paws, legs and even a good snuggle, just to name a few, can help get them adjusted to everyday occurrences. These interactions and exposures should be done at a slow/limited exposure to minimize the puppy’s fear response. When you are socializing or training, the last thing you want to elicit from your puppy is fear! This is taking two steps backwards and you will have to work twice as hard to get that well adjusted puppy. There are great resources available to help you also understand even the most subtle of cues for body language to help you identify your puppy’s emotion too. This is incredibly important as I remind clients everyday – your dog doesn’t speak “human”!! Understanding your puppy’s emotion will help you realize their response and willingness to learn and partake in your socializing and training sessions. One resource that I use and recommend almost daily is Dr. Sophia Yin’s website; she has numerous handouts and client resources for body language, training, socializing and interacting with your pet.

Training is when you are teaching your puppy/dog a specific behavior or action. Your sit, stay, recall, “watch me” etc. just to name a few. These sessions, just like your socialization are also recommended to be done in a slow, stepwise fashion to ensure the puppy learns your cues for a specific action. I always recommend training using positive reinforcement. When explaining that, I will ask my clients if they would work for free; if the answer is no then why would you expect your dog/puppy to? There are plenty of different opinions and research that have been done to prove the best way to train a dog/puppy. As veterinarians we tend to follow research and typically recommend training methods that elicit a willingness not a forced approach to learn. Positive reinforcement doesn’t always have to be treat based either, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Often I tell my puppy clients that part of their homework with having their new puppy is to find out what they will work for, and use that in your training sessions!

Bottom line is no puppy comes to you 100% perfect in behavior; they are a blank slate most of the time. It is up to you and your interactions with your puppy to shape and create a confident, well trained dog that is perfect for your family. The veterinarians at Rocky Gorge are committed to helping you make that the best relationship you can and can offer behavior appointments as well as resources and suggested trainers who can help you outside the clinic/home.

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