We have all read at least something about the importance of socializing a puppy. The need to get pupper out and about, while being aware if not slightly paranoid about the ‘fear period’. Well, that isn’t too far from the truth. One of the most frequently asked questions I get is, when do I start training pup? And my answer has always been and will continue to be, right after you take possession of your pup – that is when it starts. With no pressure, some selective extinction, and positive reinforcement you can head so many bad behaviors off at the pass. Allowing, aka fostering, annoying puppy behaviors only serve to set your pup up for a lifetime of some unbearable habits. Somehow people with toy breeds find this cute, but for us, our Drents will be too big, too strong, and too smart to allow these habits to persist.
From age 6 to 16 weeks pups are super impressionable. We, your breeder, do the best we can with the two weeks we have of that time with visitors, oddball sounds, water, and so on. What have you planned for the following 8 weeks? This is a critical investment period. Just like putting money on Sun Microsystems, or Facebook at their Initial Public Offering…it doesn’t take a lot to really become something noteworthy and lasting. What is the investment that you have made? If you have spent your ‘money’ on Coors Light, there is still time to turn it around if you are ready and willing. But it will take some sacrifice and a bit of discipline on your part.
By and large there are nine factors to consider: Socialization, Adaptation, Exploration, Puppy Play, Social Dominance, Separation, Fear, Training, and Imprinting.
Take a moment to study this super sweet chart, it will serve as your road-map to either stay on course, or to find a successful path.
I am guilty as charged with oversimplification and incorrectly calling the bulk of puppy development ‘socialization’. Some old habits just refuse to let themselves go. None the less, Socialization is currently defined as allowing your pup to adapt and explore its environment. Ideally you set everything up to be as positive as humanly positive. Keeping a sack of hotdog nubbins handy can really be useful of making these, sometimes surprisingly challenging situations, into positive fun experiences. In this Play Socialization period pup is learning how they are supposed to behave. Are you teaching pup to sit quietly before feeding time or before greeting a new person? Or is this time of chaos, clawing, and yipping? And all it takes it to wait until pup settles and then offer pup its bowl, in no time at all, pup will sit quietly for feeding time. This is the foundation you are allowing to be built, these are the coping behaviors pup is learning at the same time pup is building confidence and learning basic decision-making skills.
Adaptation is how your pup reacts to the different stimuli you have presented to him. It is the other side of the coin so to speak, it is what we see, the reaction from the socialization. This window begins to close around 12 weeks. If you have missed this, there is still merit in designing positive experiences which involve vacuums, the terrifying fire hydrant across the street, bikes, and so forth. Use those high value treats to get pupper to accept that Dyson, the cardboard box you have randomly placed in the middle of the living room, or what have you. Take it slow and incrementally. Show pup its okay, and it might even be fun. You will not regret the time spent.
Exploration, this is when your pup starts to socialize itself. They have the confidence to step out and explore on their own. This too happens between 7 and 12 weeks. Expect pup to not want to be too far from you. After all, who doesn’t want to be too far from their security blanket? Your job here is to simply support them, and help ensure their exploration is safe, fun, and positive. Also expect pup to try to consume the damnedest things during this time – be on the look out and be ready to fish the craziest stuff out of pup’s mouth. This is also when they start to explore chewing, and you will need to be able to redirect pup to what is acceptable. Shouting ‘no’ across the room is simply not adequate. Offering pup an acceptable alternative is an absolute necessity. Your pup may be very trustworthy, but allowing them unsupervised access would be a rather poor decision. Encourage his exploration, but also be ready to redirect.
Puppy Play, yes, it is also important to let your puppy to be just what he or she is. A puppy. Yep, that’s right just play with your puppy. This is much more important than you may realize, this seemingly unstructured time helps to build trust, and with trust comes affection. This is the foundation of what makes a Drent super awesome to own. They love to please their boss. Use this time to help shape boundaries. With very little effort this play time will serve to support the manors you have been working on in the other areas of his early puppy development. You get to control the intensity of 'what right looks like', so do so. Use treats, and toys. Relax, have fun. But keep your head.
Social Dominance takes place between 10 and 16 weeks and this is when pups begin to identify where they are in the pecking order. Recognized by most, are the three categories of the social hierarchy: Aggressive-Dominate, Sub-Dominant, and Inhibited-Submissive – there are other subcategories, but that would be a whole other thing to write about… Most dogs tend to be somewhere in the Sub-Dominate element of the social dominance spectrum. Meaning they are confident, capable, and able to display both dominate and submissive behaviors based on different situations. The Inhibited Submissive pups are not able to assert themselves and tend to be the target of the more dominate dogs.
Whereas the Aggressive-Dominate dogs learn their behaviors while playing with litter-mates, and will continue to practice their behaviors, generally through play, with you. It is important to recognize the signs and do your part to temper these behaviors early on. Behaviors like mouthing, nipping, or biting need to be redirected and focused in more appropriate ways. Generally, through constructive play, and having a positive redirect is all you need.
Separation, a dog has to be okay with not being by your side constantly. This is where crate training pays its dividend over and over. Get that puppy Kong loaded with peanut butter (and freeze it) or freeze carrots, and/or pups’ favorite toy and have pup sleep in its crate, even if this is right next to you as you write an article, or Facebook with your friends. At first this may only have to be for a few minutes at a time, and work towards extending it as they get comfortable. Also, you may need to shorten the time as you move pups kennel further away from you. Just play with the variables. Set pup up for success. You want to avoid traumatic events, leaving pup in the crate for extended periods, and you want to really avoid allowing pup out while it’s crying. If you must, use a distraction if pup is squalling and move quickly once it has stopped – you want to avoid having them make the connection that their protest was the key to them getting let out. A nice sharp clap of the hands can be just what the doctor ordered. Don't be afraid to put pup on a schedule. In short, like all thing’s puppy, when in doubt create positive experiences. You will not regret it.
Fear. More or less between 8 and 10 weeks is the famed and feared ‘puppy fear stage’. In short, don’t force a puppy. Do what you can to control and shape the situation to make it positive. Do your best to not coddle, as this only serves to reinforce their fear reaction. Your best bet is to practice ‘extinction’ aka, ignore the fear response, and devise a way to get a positive response. Break the situation down into steps. Sometimes those steps may need to be further broken down. Be sure to then reward each step that has been conquered. If you can’t make it positive – just stop. It should go without saying putting the pup into a situation where you have little or no control is just a bad idea – don’t do it.
Training. Yes, you have to train your puppy starting right away - even Drents. Everything you do or don’t do is training him something. You do have to understand that puppies have attention spans which aren’t that spectacular. However, once you come to realize puppy training is all of the things you have read thus far. From getting them out and about, play, familiarization with their crate, waiting until they settle before putting their food bowl down, doing the recall game, and of course potty training. Puppy training works best when it tends to be play centric, rewards for the desired behavior are regularly offered. Negative reinforcement with young pups needs to be refrained from. If they are doing wrong guide them to what is right, and praise once the correct behavior is offered.
Imprinting is really what all of this is about. With a constant and consistent message of what is appropriate, and welcome will become imprinted upon the pup. This is why correcting some bad behaviors in older dogs can be nearly impossible. It’s like a stain on a favorite shirt, it isn’t coming out, no matter how many times it is sprayed and washed. So, don’t be careless with how and what you do with pup. Be deliberate, take advantage of the malleability of these early weeks shape the dog you want to live with for the next ten or so years.
Great, so what kinds of things should I be doing? Well there are 12 things which should be done before week 16 comes to a close:
1) Meet 100* strangers: 40% Men, 40% Children, 20% Women, and of as many different races and ethnicity as possible.
2) Body handling: Make sure that puppy enjoys every inch of his body being touched and poked and prodded.
3) Meet 100* dogs: all breeds, sizes, ages, sexes, and reproductive status. Just make sure the dogs are healthy and friendly. It is perfectly fine for a dog to gently correct your puppy for being rude, but we do not want the dog attacking or over-correcting your puppy.
4) 10 Different floor surfaces: From wet grass to metal exam tables to rickety old decks. Think about all the different textures puppies will experience in their lives.
5) New environments: Parking lots, busy streets, children’s parks and playgrounds, vets’ offices, pet supply stores, cafes, etc.
6) Household noises: From dishwashers and pots & pans to vacuums and blow dryers, as well as thunder, fireworks, and cars whirring by on a busy street. Don’t forget babies crying, children laughing, and people shouting! YouTube can be your best friend...
7) Children’s toys: From remote control toys and noise-making toys to balloons and kiddie pools.
8) Things with wheels: strollers, bikes, skateboards, shopping carts, etc.
9) Costumes & appearances: everything from hats and helmets to beards and masks, lab coats and hooded jackets to high heels and big boots, canes and walkers to umbrellas and people carrying boxes/big bags e.g. mailman/UPS/FedEx. Have you chatted with your mail delivery person? Maybe it is high time to meet the actual mailman with your puppy. Don’t forget the treats!
10) Household objects: computer printers, stairs (both open stairs and solid stairs), step stools and ladders, trash bags (both black and white – it does make a difference), exercise equipment, lawn signs…
11) Smells & scents: From grass to gasoline at a gas station or window cleaner, perfume, pizza… whatever you can think of. Obviously you don’t want your puppy breathing in chemicals, but you also don’t want your dog to freak out when he does a ride-along at the gas station, when you wash the windows, or when you get dressed up for a date. New smells can freak a dog out.
12) Dog stuff: Leashes, collars, harnesses, crates and gates, food dishes of various types, car rides, and TOYS! Toys of all types. Yes, you actually have to teach them what toys are appropriate, or they won’t know what to do with them.
*100…really, it’s a nearly impossible goal for normal working people. The point is, push yourself to get pupper out and about. Be smart, be safe with where you go. Just be sure to make the time, because soon the 16 week door will close, and you will not be able to reopen it.
I'm just a guy suffering with an infatuation with gundogs since childhood. Forty some years later this is what you get.