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Puppy Socialization the Right Way: How to Avoid Tragedy using Obedience Training for Puppies

The Tail of Two Puppies

This is a true cautionary tale because if you have a puppy or are thinking of getting a puppy this could really happen to you.  Much of the first part of the story is about what not to do to socialize your puppy in the early months.  The stories are true only the names have been changed (mostly because I can’t remember them).

How could this possibly go wrong?

Image of Maggie the Border Collie

Image of Maggie the Border Collie

I used to teach group obedience classes on a part time basis.  In one of my classes was a young couple with a fourteen month old border collie named Maggie.  Maggie was constantly on edge, startled with every noise and backed up barking whenever anyone approached.  I asked the owners about her history.  They told me that they had gotten Maggie at about eight weeks old and worked hard at making sure she was socialized right away.  The wife told me that she took her to work with her several days a week and introduced her to a lot of people.  When I asked her where she worked she informed me that she worked at a bar and that Maggie stayed with her behind the bar all night.

What could be more social than a bar?

There you have it, lots of new sounds, lots of new smells and lots of new people. Socialization, right?  Wrong.  This kind of environment is flat out overwhelming for a young puppy.  This is almost more overwhelming for a puppy than it would be for a baby as a puppy’s sense of hearing is about twenty times more sensitive than a human’s.  Their sense of smell is hundreds of times more sensitive than a human’s.  There was no way for Maggie to decompress.  Just think of a bunch of drunks going “Aw look at the cute puppy! Can I hold her?” all night.  The poor thing was constantly exhausted and her nerves were stretched to the limit.  That was Maggie!
Unfortunately her poor owners thought they were doing the best thing for her. They were told to socialize her but no one told them how to do it. Yes, Maggie could be helped but it was just unfortunate that her owners were never helped before it got to this. They would have made the effort.

Migo: Destined for Greatness using obedience training for puppies.

Image of Migo the Golden Retriever puppy in training for Therapuetic work

Image of Migo the Golden Retriever puppy in training for therapeutic work.

Next is Migo, an eight week old golden retriever puppy destined for greatness as a service dog for a young boy with autism.  Migo flew into Colorado on the lap of his breeder and was placed in a foster home where his new foster mom, Joan set very structured boundaries.  Migo went to small carefully monitored puppy classes focusing on obedience training for puppies and appropriate puppy playtimes.  Migo learned to walk nicely on a leash first off. Then Joan introduced him to the neighbors and brought him with her when she met her friends at the coffee shop.
At home Migo had structured routines but not a rigid schedule.  He learned that the kennel was his space for down time and he could go in there when there was too much going on in the house or he just needed a nap.  If there was going to be a lot of company Joan let Migo meet everyone but after a little while she put him in his crate with a chew toy before he got overwhelmed or overly tired.

Meeting life head on

As Migo got a little older Joan took him out to more and more places being sure to watch his reactions to what was going on in his environment.  If something seemed a little stressful to him, Joan gave him a little time to figure it out and made sure Migo got plenty of rewards for brave behavior.  Then she would take him away from the area for a little while and bring him back a little later or on another day.  Joan always tried to end these outings on a positive note and get him home before he was exhausted.  Her goal with these excursions was to push him a little past his comfort zone and reward him for calm brave behavior.

Time and patience pay off big.

By the time he was a year old Migo was a remarkable dog even for a teenage golden retriever.  He was calm and collected under fire.  He had a very dignified gentlemanly bearing unless he was playing ball with his family.  Then he looked like any other one year old golden.

It’s not one size fits all though…

To be fair, Migo had another advantage over Maggie.  He was the result of a carefully planned breeding whereas Maggie was the result of someone who had a couple of dogs who 'got together'.   Still, while Maggie would never be a Migo, she would have been a much different dog from the start had her owners been given the support and information to socialize her in the manner she needed for who she was.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laurie Yakish is a dog trainer and dog behavior specialist working in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She is certified through Animal Behavior College but more importantly Laurie was mentored by Gary Wilkes who pioneered clicker training and many other groundbreaking behavior modification protocols. Laurie is an active member of IACP (International Association of Canine Professionals). Dog obsessed since she was four years old, by seven she was frustrating the daylights out of her mother by stealing snacks out of the cupboards to use as treats to train her dog Pepper to play high jump.

You can learn more about Laurie and her unique brand of dog training and obedience training for puppies by visiting www.dogtraininglauriesway.com

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