Puppy Training Tips: Socialization and Handling
Four Types of Puppy Training Necessary for Socialization and Handling
Gab Jimenez, B.A.
Does your dog enjoy having his nails trimmed? How about cleaning his ears? Is bath time a blast for the two of you? If you answered no to one or more of these questions you are not alone. Most dogs do not enjoy these necessary activities, some to the extent that a muzzle or even sedation is required. These problems can be avoided, but it is crucial to start early.
Puppies should not be separated from their mother until after 8 weeks at the earliest, but handling should be started before then so the puppies can start to accept human touch. Always check with a breeder on what type of socialization and handling they have been doing with the puppies and ask about specific techniques they use. If a breeder can not tell you how they teach puppies to enjoy handling, or they don’t think its important, walk away and find another breeder who does. If you are rescuing a puppy from a shelter it is likely you will be getting a puppy with little or no handling experience; this just means you will have to work harder to condition your shelter pup to enjoy handling.
Teaching your puppy to accept handling is more than just loving and petting him (do a lot of that too!). You puppy will quickly learn the difference between pleasurable petting and massages and being held for nail trims and ear washes. While he may learn to love petting he will know, because of your body language, when the handling is not going to be fun. He may act fearful, avoid you, or even growl and snap to show how scared he is. This is why you must train your puppy to have positive associations with specific types of handling, not just petting. Below are 4 scenarios that you need to teach your puppy to enjoy in order to prevent future fear and aggression.
1. Grooming: Whether you will be grooming your dog at home or taking him to a doggie salon, there is a lot of conditioning to do. He needs to learn that clipping his nails, getting a bath, trimming his fur, and being brushed are all good things. Before you ever take him to get groomed you must first condition him to accept all the different tools including brushes, dryers, scissors, and clippers. After putting all this hard work into your puppy make sure you find a groomer who will be patient and never force your dog to do something he doesn’t want. One bad grooming experience can traumatize your dog and create even more work for you, so be picky and be prepared to groom your own dog because there may not be a good place near you.
2. Veterinary Care: Every dog must visit the vet; puppies spend a lot of time early on getting poked and prodded at vet’s offices. After back to back visits with a lot of uncomfortable procedures your puppy may find the vet to be a frightening place. For my dog, the last straw was being neutered; after that he was so scared he refused to go through the front door of the vet. After switching vets my dog has come a long way and happily walks through the front door of the office, but it took a lot of hard work to get him to that point. You can prevent a fear of the vet from occurring by making extra trips just for your puppy to be given yummy treats by staff. Most facilities welcome it and encourage clients to call ahead and make sure its clear for a visit. You can even just park in the lot, let your pup out to sniff, give some treats, and go back home without even going inside. After your puppy learns the veterinary office isn’t scary, you also need to teach him to accept and enjoy handling from the staff. Take time to teach your puppy to like being poked and prodded, even in more sensitive areas like the paws and base of the tail. It also helps to have friends and family practice handling your puppy this way so he is accustomed to being restrained by strangers.
3. Emergency: Accidents happen when you least suspect them; it is important that you prepare for handling that may be necessary in an emergency. When a dog is in pain due to an injury they are more likely to react and bite. Even a normally docile happy-go-lucky dog can bite if he is experiencing a lot of pain. There is no way to train your dog to not bite if he is in pain, but you can teach him to accept and even love wearing a muzzle. Muzzles have a negative connotation, but they are an extremely important tool to have in case of emergencies. All dogs can bite; be prepared to keep you and others safe by having a muzzle for emergencies. Making the muzzle fun ahead of time by associating it with peanut butter and other yummy treats will ensure that you and your dog can stay safe in an emergency.
4. Everyday Tasks: There are minor daily tasks that require you to touch and handle your dog; jobs like wiping muddy paws off can go from simple to complicated if your dog dislikes them. Conditioning a puppy early on to love daily acts that involve restraint will make everyone safer and happier. Practice scenarios such as reaching for your puppy’s collar/harness and putting on and off the leash so your puppy learns to be calm and accept these gestures. Many dogs learn that when a hand reaches for their collar the fun will end, in our puppy training courses we teach puppy’s a fun collar-grab game that makes them come closer when a hand reaches for their collar (this will help avoid games of “catch me if you can!”). Other daily chores with your dog should include full body checks and teeth brushing; start these routines early with your puppy will ensure you notice any health changes and help you keep him active and happy.
Practicing handling in these four scenarios is critical to preventing unwanted fear and aggression later on. If your dog is already an adult you can still practice handling, but if they are scared in any of these situations training will need to be done in order to turn the negative association into a positive one. If your dog or puppy is reacting to any type of handling with fear by barking, growling, and or biting consult a professional dog trainer or behaviorist. It is important to help your puppy learn to cope with all the physical contact he will be receiving throughout his life; if you work hard enough your dog may learn to love vet handling as much as tummy rubs.
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