A while back a client came to Dog Obedience College of Memphis for help in training her dog to walk nicely down the streets of Germantown instead of pulling her the entire time. As we were going through some preliminary dog training questions, she was proud to mention that her dog had been to puppy socialization classes and was great with other dogs, which is always good to hear.
However, over the course of the next few days of training we made a rather large discovery. Her dog was afraid of both parked and moving cars. Now, I’m not sure about where you walk your dog, but when I take mine around Midtown Memphis on a nice day, there are cars everywhere. So you can see where this hiccup could be quite the problem. The fear of cars could take a long time, if ever, to fix whereas the preventative steps would have only taken a few hours at the most.
How to overcome a dog’s fear of objects will be a future post, this one will focus on how to prevent those fears from developing in the first place by utilizing dog socialization.
What do you think of when you hear the term “Puppy Socialization” ? If you are like most people, then you think of puppy socialization classes and doggie play time right away. However, there is much more socializing to be done than just a few classes of puppy play if you want a well rounded confident dog. Now don’t get me wrong, getting your puppy used to being around other dogs is very valuable and I highly suggest it, just don’t stop there.
Many of those unwanted behaviors and issues that dogs develop can be attributed to a traumatic or fearful event during early puppy-hood . Basically socialization is about getting your dog comfortable with a wide variety of objects, sounds, places, people, surfaces, etc., that he/she will encounter throughout life. And although you won’t be able to cover every little thing, the more you do cover, the more your dog will be confident enough to overcome obstacles on his/her own. As time consuming and daunting as that task sounds it’s worth it and actually isn’t very difficult, in fact in can be fun.
The key to success with socialization is to make every experience as enjoyable as possible for your pup. And be sure to expose your dog to as many different situations as possible.
For instance, take your pup to a sidewalk on a semi-busy street and throw a line of treats on the ground and then when a car is approaching let your pup gobble the treats up. Repeat this a few times in varying locations and you’ll be well on your way to having a dog that isn’t scared of walking down a car filled street.
This same exercise can be done with a number of different places, objects, and surfaces. Yes I said surfaces! I have seen my fair share of dogs that hit their stomach out of fear the first time they feel a slippery floor. To avoid this future fear, find a slippery floor (grass, dirt, gravel, wood, etc.) and throw treats across it and let your dog go. Repeat a few times and then move on.
Find a wide variety of objects (blowing signs, statues, balloons, groups of people, etc.), then put a line of treats leading up to and all around that object, if possible. Let your dog eat all the goodies up and repeat. Your pup will be so focused on getting all the treats that he/she won’t have time to think about the object and how it could be scary.
Although it may seem as if you are just throwing treats anywhere and everywhere you possibly can, what you are really doing is showing your pup that there isn’t anything to be scared of. Your dog will be so focused on the treats that he/she will overcome whatever fear may have been brewing and will instead replace it with a good association.
One important item to remember, try not “comfort” your dog if he/she appears frightened of something. A lot of peoples’ first instinct is to pick their puppy up and hold them while telling them everything is okay. Basically by doing this you are just letting your dog know that he/she was right to be scared. Your pup will be far better off if you would just let him/her check things out and decide on his/her own that the object isn’t actually a threat. Of course, if you have treats handy, then use them to help your pup explore the object in question.
And finally, don’t force your dog into confronting a fear by pulling them towards or through it, this doesn’t work and can even make it worse. Just think, if you are afraid of spiders and I put you in a room filled with them, are you going to get over your fear or freak out?
For advice on socializing your dog or information on how to help your dog’s confidence grow to overcome a fear please fill out our Contact a Trainer form, call (901)310-5826, or email info@DogObedienceCollege.com.