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How to Socialize your puppy and

How to Prevent Separation Anxiety

 

Balancing Act

 

Properly socializing your puppy versus teaching your puppy that it is okay to be alone is a balancing act.

INDEX

 

Dealing with Fear or Shyness

If your dog already has separation anxiety

Books to help you with Socialization and Alone Training

Socialization

Alone Training

  1. Socialization is giving your puppy supervised periods for exploring new surroundings, people and things in order to build his confidence.

  2. Socialization should have been started by your puppy's breeder.  It is your responsibility to continue your puppy's socialization.

  3. What puppies learn from the age of 2 to 4 months sticks with them forever.  Furthermore, the ease of socialization ends at around 4.5 to 5 months of age (however, this does not mean to stop socializing your pup once he reaches 5 months - if you don't use it, you lose it!  It is important during the first few months you have your puppy to invest in developing a confident companion. 

  4. You must socialize your puppy even if he has not yet had all his vaccinations.  Just be careful where you take him.  Do not take him to a dog park or pet food store where many unknown dogs have been.   Until his vaccinations are complete introduce him to dogs that you know are healthy and good with puppies and take him to places where few dogs have been, but where he can meet all sorts of people.

  5. Attending a puppy kindergarten class is a very good idea.  How I handle the issue of vaccinations versus the safety of exposure to germs in the class is as follows:  If my vet is vaccinating every three weeks (let's say the vaccination is given on a Monday and the puppy class is on a Thursday), I would take my puppy to the class on the same week as the vaccine was given and also on the next week.  I would attend the class without the puppy on the third Thursday since the puppy will be due for a vaccine on the following Monday.  On a percentage basis, your puppy is more apt to be protected either by the vaccine or still by the immunity transferred by his mother on the week of the vaccination or the week following the vaccination than when the next vaccination is about due.  I recommend following your veterinarian's advice on vaccination scheduling. 

  6. Around 8 to 9 weeks of age (sometimes up to 11 weeks of age), your puppy may experience a fear period where things will tend to spook him more and the things that do spook him can remain ingrained.  During this time, continue to socialize him, but avoid potentially frightening  or overwhelming experiences. 

  7. Socialization includes introducing your puppy to the veterinarian in a positive manner.  Take your puppy to your veterinarian once in a while when he does not have an appointment.  Weigh him, let the receptionists and vet techs greet him, give him tons of treats for just being there.   Do the same with your groomer or kennel. 

  8. Make sure your puppy gets to play with well-behaved children as often as possible.   Have well-behaved children hand feed your puppy treats.

  9. Introduce him to lots of different types of people.  For example, men with beards, people with hats, people on crutches, people in wheelchairs, people on skates, babies in carriages, kids on bikes, people in uniforms, and people of various races.   Have all these people (except the babies in carriages, if too young to do so) hand feed your puppy treats.  Help your puppy learn to sit while they are handing him the treat (you can gently hold your puppy in the "sit" position if he is too excited to remain there on his own).

  10. Encourage your puppy to walk on various surfaces such as slippery floors, icy sidewalks, gravel, concrete, grass, and puddles.

  11. Teach your puppy to go up and down stairs and over various obstacles (do not use obstacles that he actually has to jump over.   It is not good for a puppy to jump and land until he is older and his growth plates have closed).

  12. Carefully introduce him to other dogs (only dogs that you know are healthy and good with puppies) and other species such as a cat that is comfortable around dogs.  You can also expose him to horses, cows, goats, etc. but keep a safe distance away from these larger animals. 

  13. Unfortunately, socialization has a "use it or lose it" aspect meaning that if you in the past socialized your puppy to children and then stopped seeing young children completely for a period of time, then he may become increasingly fearful of children because he has seen them too seldom lately.  Pressure is always in the direction of increasing fearfulness and avoidance, never the other way. 

  14. For detailed information on "socialization" read The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson, pages 60-77.

  15. We love socialization!!!Return to Index

  • Besides the importance of socializing and bonding with your puppy, it is just as important to achieve a balance between being with your puppy and being able to leave him alone.

  • You want to teach your puppy that alone does not equal isolation resulting in fear and panic. 

  • First, teach your puppy that it is okay to be alone when you are elsewhere in the house.  Occasionally put him in the place you plan to leave him when you are gone (such as his crate) while you attend to business in another part of the house.  Begin with short separation periods of five minutes or so and gradually increase the period of time. 

  • If your puppy is crying or barking, do not return to him until he has stopped.  When you return, remain calm and open the crate door.  Do not praise or coddle him at this time. 

  • Make your puppy's crate a great place by sometimes feeding him there and by secretly hiding toys, treats, and toys stuffed with treats for him to find (leave the door open so he can get to them when he does find them). 

  • Before you leave, hide a toy stuffed with treats in his crate, but keep the crate door closed and him outside of the crate.   Once he realizes what is in the crate, he will be excited about going in and will barely notice your departure. 

  • The manner in which you leave and return to your puppy is a factor in how he perceives your absence.  If you are emotional and feel guilty about leaving him alone, he will sense this and will become anxious when you leave. 

  • Some dogs learn to key in on your "leaving" behavior, which can be anything from putting your shoes on, grabbing a certain bag, putting on a certain outfit or jacket, grabbing your keys, taking a shower in the morning, or many other things that they could use to determine that you are leaving and they are not coming along.   It helps to often do these behaviors when you are not really leaving so they do not learn to associate them with isolation.  Keep your puppy guessing.  Are you coming, going, here, gone, or just gone for a very brief period? 

  • Make "coming and going" a gray area.   This means do not be emotional, do not pet him,  do not give him treats from your hand, and do not play with him prior to leaving him.  Instead, keep your departure low key.  Also, do not purposely excite your puppy,  play with him, or give him treats when you first arrive home.   Keep your arrival low key and wait until you have been home awhile before playing with him. 

  • Make "here and gone" a gray area.  This means that your puppy is sometimes not with you even when you are home.  Gate him or crate him.  To get him used to this, provide him with a fun game such as licking peanutbutter out of a Kong toy or hollow bone.  Only provide him with this fun treat during alone training so he learns to love being alone for these short periods.

  • When your puppy is left alone for short stress-free periods, leave the radio on.  When you are gone for longer periods, do not leave the radio on.  Gradually increase the time that you call "short and stress-free" when the radio is on until this time eventually equals the longest period of time your puppy is left alone. 

  • Remember that although your puppy needs to be okay with being alone, dogs are pack animals with a sincere desire for companionship.  They simply cannot endure long periods of loneliness, isolation, and neglect day after day.  Do not get a puppy unless you are devoted to spending time with him.  

  • Also be aware that a puppy cannot "hold it" all day in a crate if you work from 9 to 5.   Puppies should not be crated during the day for more hours than they are months old plus one (for example, a 3-month old puppy should not be crated for more than four hours during the day).  At night, if the puppy is sleeping, he may be able to be crated for longer. 

  1. For detailed information on "alone training" read The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson, pages 49-56.

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Dealing with Fear or Shyness:

Avoid purposely exposing your puppy to frightening objects and sounds during his 8th and 9th week of age (sometimes up to 11 weeks of age).  At around this age puppies tend to go through a stage when they may be permanently influenced by fear (the fear period).   Continue to socialize him, but watch for things that he is oversensitive to.  Your dog may experience a second fear period around 8 or 10 months of age. 

Take it slow.  Go at your puppy's own pace.  Do not push him beyond what he is able to handle.  Be patient.

Do not coddle, pet, or sympathize with a scared puppy - this serves to praise a puppy for being scared.   Instead, act confident, laugh, and talk happily.

If your puppy is hesitant, don't force him or soothe him.  Be enthusiastic and act as you want your puppy to act.  Set the tone for your puppy.

Socialize in quiet calm settings at first.  Wait until your puppy is older and braver to take him to places that are more noisy or busy.  For example, make sure your puppy is okay walking in a quiet neighborhood before taking him downtown, make sure your puppy is okay at the far end of a parking area away from the commotion before taking him to an area where people are pushing shopping carts by him, make sure he is okay in a small and quiet pet food store prior to taking him into a large and busy pet food store.

Take your shy puppy to puppy kindergarten, but do not include him in puppy play sessions with rough and tumble puppies.  Let him play with calmer puppies. 

Introduce your puppy to loud noises and potentially scary things gradually and carefully.  If a fire truck with sirens on is coming down the road, move your puppy as far from it as possible and play with him.   Do this before the siren gets close. 

It is natural for puppies to feel stress and to be startled by or to shy away from things that are new or overwhelming to them.  Never drag your puppy over to the thing that frightened him.   Instead, help your puppy learn to deal with whatever scared him.  To do this, walk your puppy by whatever scared him at a distance he feels comfortable with.  You are to ignore the scary person or thing and act confident as if it's no big deal.  Do not coax or comfort your puppy.  Gradually decrease the distance that you walk by - it may take many many days. Reward him with food or a game if he's not scared.  Eventually, you may be able to have your puppy approach and sniff the scary thing. 

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If your dog already has separation anxiety:

  • Never ever correct your dog for destruction or accidents when you arrive home and discover them.  Just because he looks "guilty" to you, does not mean that he knows that he should not do it or that he even could avoid doing it.  Remember, separation anxiety is due to an extreme anxiety and the destruction or accidents are just symptoms of the anxiety problem.  The guilty look is an appeasing posture taken on by your dog when he sees you and the pile of pillow foam in one place.  In the past this scenario has made you react in anger and all he wants to do is to avert your wrath.  So your dog is actually acting appeasing due to a pile of pillow foam on the floor, he is not thinking back in time to how the pillow foam actually came to be (when he got so anxious about being alone that he ripped into the pillow to make himself feel better).

  • If your dog has serious separation anxiety, do not use a correction - it will not work.  In fact, it will quite possibly make it much worse.  If you are angry enough to scream at your dog who just destroyed your expensive couch, go outside and away from your dog to do so.  Scream at yourself for leaving him in a situation that he could not handle and in a place where he had access to the couch to chew.  Then sit down and figure out how to prevent the same thing from happening again.  You need a good plan that does not include corrections. 

  • If you are sure that anxiety is the cause of your dog's inappropriate behavior when he is left alone, then you must teach your dog a new reaction when you walk out the door. 

  • To teach your dog a new reaction when you walk out the door refer to the following two books: Dogs Home Alone by Roger Abrantes and I'll be Home Soon! How to Prevent and Treat Separation Anxiety by Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D.

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--- Anxiety ---

It's emotional,

NOT planned or spiteful!

I miss you so much!  I really need you!  Help!  I'm freaked out!  I have separation anxieity!  I'll chew, dig, scratch, have accidents, be sick, chew and lick my feet, bark, howl, whine, try to escape.  Boy I need help.  Please help me!!!

  • Oftentimes it helps to work with a qualified in-home trainer or behaviorist when addressing the issues of separation anxiety or a fearful or shy puppy or dog. Click to find a trainer.

Books to help you with Socialization and Alone Training:

  • Body Posture and Emotions.  Shifting Shapes, Shifting Minds by Suzanne Clothier

  • The Cautious Canine, How to Help Dogs Conquer Their Fears by Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D.

  • The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson

  • Dogs Home Alone by Roger Abrantes

  • Good Owners, Great Dogs by Brian Kilcommons with Sarah Wilson

  • How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With by Rutherford and Neil

  • I'll be Home Soon! How to Prevent and Treat Separation Anxiety by Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D.

  • Management Magic by Leslie Nelson, Gail Pivar and the Staff of Tails-U-Win!

  • On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas

  • Scaredy Dog! Understanding and Rehabilitating Your Reactive Dog by Ali Brown

To order these books visit 4mdogbooks.com or DogWise.com or Amazon.com

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