The theme the last few weeks at Miss Belle’s has been puppy socialization, when to start training and the dilemma with vaccinations. Pet owners often feel overwhelmed by the amount of information available and it seems like a lot of the information is contradicting. On one hand, great information is a good thing. The internet provides an unlimited amount of information just a mouse click away. On the other hand, it is hard and sometimes an overwhelming task to sift through and discern which information is “good” information. I have even found that there are times when dog training professionals are misinformed, especially when it comes to puppies, socialization, and training.
False Idea: Puppies need to wait until their older to start training.
The root of this idea stems from many generations of training. Training methods many years ago were harsh and would be extremely difficult for even some adult dogs to handle, much less puppies. The methods that we use at Miss Belle’s and many other trainers are using now (thankfully) are gentle, kind. The idea of being gentle and kind doesn’t solicit the idea of “fluffy” dog trainer either. These methods are reliable.
“By 7-8 weeks puppies have fully function brains (as shown by EEGs) and are capable of learning anything, keeping in mind their short attention span. More importantly, learning at this age is permanent.” – Pat Hastings
Concern: Puppies could be exposed to a disease when training.
I understand the concerns of disease prevention, but with this topic there is an element of common sense. You would not want to take your puppy into a pet super store or to a dog park, where numerous dogs are walking about without having their health status or vaccinations regulated. But in a controlled environment where dogs are regulated this is less of a concern.
More dogs are dying each year by being euthanize due to behavior (many associated with the lack of proper socialization and training) versus a disease. According to author Terry Ryan in Coaching People to Train their Dogs, they have gathered data from coast to coast showing no cases of parvo-distemper disease in puppies attending the early socialization classes. In that particular data that was accumulated, the puppies completed 22,147 weeks of puppy socialization class exposure with no associated illness.
Puppies have “window times” of learning opportunity.
We have found that puppies have “window times” of learning. Science has shown us, that from 3-16 weeks a puppy’s brain is biologically ready to make long-term change in response to social input. And this “window time” is temporary and should not be ignored or forgotten!! Limiting the time of socialization till after 16 weeks increases the risk that dogs will develop unwanted or sometimes even dangerous behaviors.
Puppies learn faster when they are young.
What we’ve come to know is that at six months of age there is a shift in the dog’s brain. I have not only read this in books, but I have also witnessed it as I train puppies. At my training facility in Iowa, I gave all day training for puppies. We worked on socialization, free play, and basic cues (sit, down). I had puppies that were 12 weeks old and puppies that were almost 6 months of age. The puppies at 12 weeks of age learned a behavior in one week. The puppies that were 6 months of age learned the same behavior in three weeks. It’s not that the dogs aren’t able to learn, but it takes longer.
Puppies learn to speak dog from their mother and litter mates
Puppies are usually taken from their litter without having much time to learn from their mom and from their litter mates, so it is not uncommon to see dogs that have no understanding of what other dogs are attempting to communicate.
Can humans teach puppies dog body language?
There are very limited things that we can do to teach dogs their own language. Imagine you needed to learn a second language. You would learn the language much quicker if your teacher spoke the language fluently. This is true for the dog world as well. Dogs need to play with each other to learn bite inhibition, how to properly greet, how to use his/her body to deflate a fight and maintain the peace, and the list goes on. The amount of knowledge puppies learn from interactive play is probably more than even behaviorists or trainers have yet realized. It is important that puppies have the opportunity to play with puppies, and equally as important to play with older dogs who will teach good things. Be careful to select the playmates with good behaviors, otherwise your puppy may learn behaviors you wouldn’t necessarily want. This interactive play needs to be a positive experience for your dog, keeping in mind the fear imprint period is between 8-11 weeks of age.
Michelle’s Passion: I have been there
The topic of socialization is the very topic that reaches the core of my heart passion strings. I met the dog of my dreams, my beloved bloodhound, Ellie. I rescued her out of a horrible situation. Long story short, after one year we were forced to euthanize Ellie. It was a very heart breaking decision, but at the end of the day we weren’t safe and neither were the other dogs. I do partly blame genetics, but I also feel that the lack of socialization she received greatly influenced the outcome of her life. The first time one of my dogs play bowed to her, Ellie attacked her. Ellie had no knowledge of dog body language.
There are many positive dog trainers that are providing this interactive play time as part of their classes. There should be a lot of praise, encouragement and rewards during this time. At Miss Belle’s we offer a class for young puppies called Puppy Preschool. We encourage puppies to walk on different surfaces, hear common noises, see people in hats, try out some climbs and the teeter tot, and yes, interactive play time. Our Puppy Kindergarten class has this as well.
According to Pat Hastings, “Under-socialized dogs are shy, fearful, become defensive, discriminate threats inappropriately, and may even bite out of fear.” For an under-socialized puppy that has been exposed to fearful stimulus during the fear imprint stage (8-11 weeks) this will always be a fearful stimulus throughout his entire life without extensive desensitization. So for those of you considering doing something like ear cropping, transitioning to a new home, or shipping a puppy this is not the ideal time.
Puppies need to have challenges which would include things to climb on, chew, carry, or sharing tug toys with others. Play will help in their development both with agility, coordination, strength, and skills to function as an adult.
When should we start?
An easy answer would be 8 weeks of age. Obviously, there are different things that can affect the start time for example if the puppy is ill, etc. Also, there can be factors that your veterinarian might consider concerning your pet’s health that would prevent attending class. As long as a puppy has at least one vaccination of DHPP, I am comfortable allowing him/her in a controlled environment for interactive play, socialization, and very short training sessions. Miss Belle’s Puppy Preschool starts at 8 weeks of ages in a very controlled environment. Puppies at this age learn so quickly and are a ton of fun to work with. It is important for trainers to ensure that all puppies are healthy in class, and always disinfect all equipment after class.
Have fun with your puppy! Enjoy this special time and be sure to socialize. Allow for proper puppy play, and start with short training sessions!!
Written by: Michelle Huntting, B.A., CPDT-KA, ABCDT
To find more information visit, www.missbelles.com
Resources for Blog:
Puppy Development by Pat Hastings and Erin Ann Rouse
Coaching People to Train Their Dogs by Terry Ryan