Puppy’s-Early Socialization/Handling

We cannot stress enough how important early experiences and handling are vital to a puppy. The article below is a good example of how things breeders can do early on to help their puppy’s later in life.


Undermining Evolution/Socializing Puppies

By Nan Dittrick
Permission to use article

They’re eight weeks old. Look at those ‘spotty bodies” hopping around the yard. Totally, completely, irresistible. You find yourself discouraging the perspective new owner rather than trying to sell a puppy. Even at twelve weeks the puppy will continue to be the center of attention in his new home. It’s the call at six, seven, eight months that makes your heart tighten. “The Puppy is so strong, no one wants/is able to walk him.” “He dug up the yard.” “When he’s in the house he chews EVERYTHING.” “We have a crate, but ” “We took him to obedience school, but ” “He’s a beautiful dog, but ” By now, the ENVIRONMENT, the biggest and best trainer of all, has made certain that “Puppy” evolved into the perfect canine. As a pet dog trainer this is usually when I receive the calls. Often, my Puppy Love Behavior Camp is the puppy’s last chance. Recently I had a wonderful opportunity to raise a litter of puppies and decided to try out my theories. I discovered that you can combine training and maintenance in a well timed program that will interfere with the evolutionary process. Your puppies have a far better chance of staying in their new homes when you redirect the course of nature.
Puppies are programmed for survival. Fortunately (or unfortunately for the developing dog) the puppy needs very few of his ingrained characteristics to survive in domesticity. My plan was to shift or undermine any behavior that would help a puppy survive in the wild but be detrimental in his new home. So much of what “goes wrong” for our dog stems from him evolving as a canine. Two main themes should underline all puppy socializing: first, human hands are good and second, direct access does not work.
The new born puppy pushes and claws for his food. The faint hearted and weak do not live to reproduce more fainthearted, weak puppies. Lying on his belly, he learns that food is at ground level. Clawing and pushing for food with his nose to the ground will not win the hearts of this puppy’s new owners. In fact, as the puppy matures, it is this very basic ‘hard wired” behavior that develops into jumping-up, grabbing at hands and clothing, chewing and other obnoxious actions. Even though the puppies are still nursing, I will also hand feed at two weeks. My goal: puppies who will look up for food and take it carefully from my fingers. As a result, all puppies develop “soft mouths without any aversive being employed and are conditioned to an acceptable “begging” behavior.

We must be very confusing to dogs. We hover over them – an aggressive message, our hands pushing and patting – a dominate message. It’s a wonder to me why they don’t bite our arms off at the shoulder and be done with us. Desensitizing to human bands is an important beginning in socializing puppies. Dogs do not come into the world knowing that a “pat” is a loving gesture. In dog speak, all that petting and patting we lavish on them, is aggressive. I think at first they simply tolerate it then finally learn to associate it with everything being “O.K.”. However, some do not, becoming” band shy” or nippy.

Our second theme, non-direct access, lies at the heart of what makes us Leader of the Pack. The environment, always available to train the puppy, teaches that survival means grab at what you want. If you don’t, one of your litter mates will. This survival “trait” is hardwired in the puppy and, even though his basic needs are being met, he still wants direct access. By putting ourselves between the puppy and what he wants, we become an essential in his life. A perfect venue for addressing these issues, “hands are good” and “non-direct access”, is meal time. Soften some puppy kibble in a small metal(the shininess catches their attention) food dish. Hold a piece of softened kibble against the front of the puppy’s mouth. When he begins to mouth it direct his head upward as he eats. Keep the food high enough so he will have to sit to reach. Remember, he is programmed to search for food at ground level. Now is the time to instill in him the notion that sitting and looking cute make food happen. Talk to him as you feed so he will associate the sound of the human voice with the good things in life. As he gets better at looking up when he sees your hand and hears your voice, let him see you take the food out of the shinny bowl. Now you are not only a good thing, your are interesting. Keep in mind, we are competing with the environment for the puppy’s attention, be fascinating and dramatic as you retrieve the food. I found that with just a few repetitions the puppies were looking up when I called. Things to remember: it matters not what words you use, it is the TONE of your voice that counts. If you CONSISTENTLY use the same tone when food is being presented they will learn quickly. My sister likes to say numbers for commands because she can be very consistent with tone, there is no emotional meaning to interfere. Make certain the food is the consequence of looking up at the sound of your voice and the sight of the dish. Separate the behavior, looking up, from the delivery of food. If the puppy looks away, restart the procedure until there is clearly a period of looking up. The length of time should be increased as the puppy improves at the “game” and will help instill the notion of non-direct access. As you feed the puppy, familiarize him with the human hand. Gently pull on his lips and tongue. Always direct the food toward the front of his mouth and encourage him to work the food out of your fingers with his front teeth. The puppy knows only sucking at this point so take advantage of the opportunity to teach him the best way to get food from your hand. If you start the puppy in this manner he will never grab treats or have a rough mouth. This will be a great help when you begin teaching staking. I did supplemental hand feeding of the puppies once a day for a week. By mid-week they were ALL sitting and taking food carefully. I continued to hand feed for the remainder of the week because I enjoyed it so much.

At three weeks the puppies are ready for more “hands on” contact. We can combine several socializing goals in one maintenance procedure. As the puppies are weaned and spend more of their meals IN their food, it is necessary to bath them. Bathing will offer an opportunity to address desensitizing to touch, showing the puppy an appropriate behavior in response to touch and a clear association of humans with the familiar comfort of being washed. Using a cloth dipped in warm water, take each puppy to a table or counter where they are high enough to comfortably work on them. Wipe them gently with the warm, damp cloth. Hoover over the puppy offering your neck for him to snuggle. Talk to him in the same tone as when feeding. The puppy again associates hands and your voice with feeling good. Hovering desensitizes him to the view he will have of people the rest of his life. Offering your neck shows him an acceptable place to kiss, lick, nibble a human. None of my puppies tried to bite at faces or fingers as they matured. Having learned from the beginning an acceptable greeting ritual, they were content to nibble an ear lobe or pinch my neck with their front teeth. It is instinctual for them to want to get to your face, rather than attempting to extinguish the behavior , just redirect. By the fourth washing, replace gentle handling with “casual” handling and no talking. It must not feel rough to the puppy, just matter of fact. Watch how Mum “handles” her babies for a lesson in being casual. If the puppy seems frightened return to gentle handling, offer your neck and talk in “food” tone. Most of my puppies were accepting of the “casual” handling, positioned like a lump of clay, grunting as I brusquely dried them. Two of them objected; one tried to slither away, the other growled and tried to bite! My immediate thought was to change my plan and address these two renegades. However, as I contemplated my next move I realized I would undermine my “hands are good” message if I attempted to discipline the puppies. I decided instead to “dominate” the puppies making certain the message was non-aggressive. Holding the puppy on her side using one hand, fingers extended to keep the head flat, I kept her at arms length so as not to appear “hovering”. The instant she stopped struggling (almost immediate for one, about 5 seconds for the other) I took my hand away quickly, and allowed her to sit. I then dominated again with very little struggle from either.

I dominated all the puppies at wash time. Initially they struggled, which they should, but soon learned yielding to pressure meant release. This was a valuable tool when teaching them appropriate nail trimming behavior. All puppies were accepting of being dominated, several could be counted on to put up some struggle every time. Mostly I would “make up”(stroking, inviting an ear nibble) to the puppy after dominating but made certain there were times I did not. After all, this is often what real life brings to a dog. As the puppies matured, I would dominate them whenever the spirit moved me and for no apparent reason to them. This is common pack behavior, the leader’s indiscriminate, non-aggressive dominance of the individuals. They were quite accepting and certainly well prepared for the injustice of the vet’s office, dog shows and first class at obedience school.





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