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Puppies

Puppy Growls

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The Puppy Growls

Puppies are definitely a favorite part of this job.  We see puppies representing a wide range of personalities; from quiet and shy to bold and fearless.  Puppies are full of potential and with consistent work and dedication, ready to mold into your perfect companion – they just need to be shown the way.

Recently our practice has had quite a few new puppy owners state that their puppy growls when they “insert verb here.”  We most commonly hear that growling occurs when the puppy is picked up so, unless otherwise stated, we are discussing picking puppies up.  However, the training techniques can be applied to other situations as well.

When a young puppy growls, an owner’s reaction can range from putting the puppy down, scolding the puppy, and alpha rolls.  Afterwards some owners avoid the issue all together or take it personal.  If we look at puppy growling as communication, we may have a better understanding. Growling tells us the dog may be mentally or physically uncomfortable with what we are doing.  For a majority of small dogs, being picked up routinely is going to be a fact of life.  Rather than punishing a growl, and risk the chance of the puppy hating being picked up its whole life, ask yourself, “How can I help this puppy enjoy being picked up?”

To begin, prepare a big treat for the puppy. Something that he will need to chew or that may stick to the roof of his mouth.  It can be peanut butter on a spoon, a treat stick, gooey cheese, or a ball of canned food.  Regardless of the treat used, make sure it is something the puppy likes.  Have your treat ready in one hand and using your other hand, pick up the puppy by placing your hand under the puppy’s chest. Be sure the puppy has access to the peanut butter spoon or treat while he is being lifted so that he is being rewarded during the process. When the puppy is done chewing, place him back down.  As the puppy becomes more relaxed about being picked up, you can change the process by picking up the puppy first then giving the treat immediately after.  Soon the puppy will build positive associations with being picked up.

The puppy growls can be easily worked through with equal parts patience, work, and your puppy’s favorite treats.  Using food or favorite treats can change your puppy’s negative reaction into a positive experience.  For adolescent or adult dogs the same training techniques can be applied.  If your dog tries to bite, shows severe anxiety, or suddenly has adverse reactions to a normal routine, you should seek the help of a veterinarian to rule out underlying medical conditions and/or discuss a referral to a Certified Veterinary Behaviorist.

Socialization Success!

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Socialization Success!
Last time we described what socialization is and how it can help you have a well adjusted adult dog. This time we will talk about planning socialization to expose your puppy to new experiences gradually and safely. A little bit of planning, food, and toys can make socialization successful and fun.

What is your goal?
Paint the picture you’d like your adult dog’s behavior to reflect. When visitors come over do you want your dog to bark once or twice then sit politely while they come inside? While walking, do you want an adult dog that walks calmly and confidently next to you? Make a list and pick thee traits you would like to see your puppy grow into. Puppies are little sponges and things that we may find cute with puppies are not so cute with adult dogs. Teaching puppies good behavior from the start is easier than breaking bad habits in adults.
An example that comes to mind is the puppy lunging to greet a new person at the end of the leash, and for our example we will say a Labrador Retriever puppy. This puppy stands on his hind legs, stretching with all his might to potentially touch, and flicking his tongue in the air hoping to kiss them! It is a sight that is hard to resist. However when our lab puppy grows up, we will have an eighty pound dog trying to jump up to kiss our visitor’s face, and pulling us around in the meantime. Now our lab friend has a heavily reinforced habit that now needs to be broken.

Work with your puppy’s personality!
Puppies, just like children, have different personalities. Some parents worry that a shy child will never come out of their shell to make friends and a boisterous, outgoing child you worry about being too direct or even rude in their mannerisms.
Outgoing puppies will need more emphasis on good manners. These puppies are more likely to greet everyone by pulling against the leash and jumping, which is an acceptable way to greet their mother and littermates, not people.
More reserved puppies should never be forced to interact with anything they are frightened of! A common story is a young puppy on a walk who suddenly becomes frightened of a trash can set by the curb. Strategies for this situation include backing up to a spot your puppy feels comfortable then rewarding your puppy when they connect with you (such as eye contact, following your body’s movements). Ask for a sit and other tricks your puppy knows as you get closer to the object, or even play with your puppy’s favorite toy. It is okay for your puppy to “check-in” on the trash can, but not fixate on it. The goal is to get closer to the object while the puppy is having fun getting food for tricks or playing with their toy; rather than fixating on the object they find scary. You might not get your puppy to interact with the trash can on the first exposure but having fun things happen in its presence help lessen the puppy’s stress. The bigger the deal you make of it, and fawn over a puppy the more likely they are to act scared of it again. If time is a factor, just walk around the trash can in a wide arc or even cross the street.
I also want to make note of socialization with other animals here. Not only do you need to keep in mind your puppy’s personality, but the other pet as well. Case in point, two dogs. The older dog “tolerates” puppies until they jump or bite at him. He growls and walks away when puppy antics get too much for him. The younger dog loves puppies! He will slow down to allow them to catch up in a game of chase, and roll over for them to climb all over him. The moral of the story: Not all adult dogs enjoy puppy antics, so respect the older dog’s space!

Crowd Control
Everyone loves a cute puppy! Even though people mean well you may have to do a bit of crowd control. Have a plan in place before you have people greet your puppy. Have people wait to pet a boisterous puppy until the puppy is sitting or after doing a trick. Ask people to kneel and allow shy puppies to approach them instead of them trying to go to your puppy. One of my favorite handouts regarding this is Dr. Sophia Yin’s “How to Greet a Dog and What to Avoid.” This handout details how we as people should greet dogs and some common inappropriate manners as well. Don’t be afraid to say something if you feel someone is greeting or interacting with your puppy poorly.

Make it fun!
If we find something boring we will be less likely to do it. Turning socialization into a game will also help get the family involved, including children. You can make socialization into a scavenger hunt, a bingo game, or even a Dr. Seuss rhyme! Remember to include people, places, other animals, and objects in your game. Can your puppy meet a child with a baseball bat, a uniformed man with a hat, and blonde woman with a cat? How about a blue umbrella, a ferret in a box, or a cat in a hat? How about a wheelchair, crutches, or even a trombone? How about gravel pathways, a groovy play ground, or even an upward climbing stair case? These are examples of things that some dogs cower away from, so think outside the box.

Set your puppy up for success.
There may come a time when you’ll want to test your puppy’s mental fortitude. For example; “Can my puppy handle the extended family reunion where everyone brings their dogs, and ends with fireworks after the bonfire?” A puppy that can take a full day of new people, dogs, etc. is definitely on the road to confidence. However what if your puppy isn’t ready for this kind of day, and if not, will you be prepared?

Using the family reunion above, be prepared with treats, interactive food toys, and your puppy’s crate. If your puppy needs a breather the crate serves as a great place to take a nap, play with an interactive food toy, or just reset. If you plan on leaving your puppy while you mingle make sure they are calm before you leave. Have your crowd control plan ready and monitor play with older dogs. In the evening, when the fireworks start, make sure you and your puppy are away from the action with their favorite treat ready. If your puppy is calm you can move closer, but always remember to let the puppy set the pace. A good rule of thumb; if your puppy is too nervous to eat you are too close! Sure this year you might miss the fireworks, but the possibility of sitting with your dog by the bonfire next reunion is well worth it!
Most Importantly…
Get out there and have fun with your puppy!

SOCIALIZATION

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Socialization
The holiday season is a common time of year when families introduce new four legged family members into the house, especially new puppies. Puppyhood is a critical time in your dog’s development. Training and socializing is laying the foundation for a great adult dog and the more you put into that foundation the better your adult dog will be for it. This is by no means a complete instruction for socializing your puppy but a guideline to point you in the right direction and spark a bit of creativity.

Most of us have grown a lot in how dogs and puppies learn. My family used the “stick the puppy’s nose in it” potty training technique, and I don’t think we even heard of socializing our dogs. Any socialization we did was purely accidental. Today, behaviorist and trainers sing the praises of socialization and it is now part of our mainstream puppy vocabulary. However, this is the area in which new puppy owners need the most help.
Socialization is defined as “a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position (Dictionary.com, 2012).” Simply stated, expose your puppy to the world while teaching your puppy how to interact in an appropriate manner. You will be building a solid foundation of knowledge about the world that your adult dog will use in his daily interactions. We don’t want our brave, boisterous puppies to jump all over people when they walk in the door. Nor do we want our shy puppy to be scared of everyone that walks in the front door. Both are examples of what we may deem inappropriate interactions with house guests, and it is our job to teach our puppies the appropriate response.

Socialization can be considered controlled exposure to a stressor, which can be good or bad. Being introduced to stressors at a young age allows the puppy to learn how to deal and cope with stress. It is our job as puppy parents to help our puppies see these stressors in a good light without overwhelming them. Overwhelming a puppy during socialization can be just as detrimental as not socializing at all. Socialization does not guarantee an adult dog will not develop behavioral problems; however socialization is the best preventative medicine against them.
Researchers say that a puppy’s socialization period is from 4 weeks of age to roughly 12 to 16 weeks of age. Puppy raisers can vacuum near the whelping box, drop pans, and have people come over to play with the puppies to begin the process. After adoption some people wait until the puppy has had all of their vaccines before they even begin to socialize. However, most puppies do not receive their final vaccine until 16 weeks of age, which is the end of the socialization window. So one must be careful where they take young puppies. Dog parks or dog friendly malls that do NOT check vaccines on dogs entering might not be wise place to take your puppy. Puppies can be carried to meet people but avoid dog-dog interaction or heavily used doggie potty areas to lower your puppy’s risk. Training centers, boarding facilities, etc. that require current vaccines are a safer option for dog-dog interactions.

During puppy appointments here at Veterinary General, owners often describe socialization with their puppy as playing with household dogs and meeting people that come to the house. These puppies do well with familiar friends and family, but not necessarily new people as they grow older. They may also become anxious or overly excited when they leave the home. Traveling with your puppy to new locations will also get them used to car rides and give them more exposure to world. So, how do you socialize your puppy?

Next installment we will look at how to plan your puppy’s socialization visits to set your puppy up for success! Below is a quote, even though it is about parenting children, I feel it fits our interactions with our puppies.

“In some ways being a parent is like being an anthropologist who is studying a primitive and isolated tribe by living with them…. To understand the beauty of child development, we must shed some of our socialization as adults and learn how to communicate with children on their own terms, just as an anthropologist must learn how to communicate with that primitive tribe.”
-Lawrence Kutner