Raise Your Pup the Service Dog Way
Many folks are surprised by how well behaved most Service dog puppies are at a very young age. As a leader for Guide Dogs for the Blind, Inc. for seven years it was not uncommon to take nine Lab, Golden and Shepherd pups to the mall for an outing. By the time the Guide Dog puppies reach the age of six months- most are very controllable on lead, calm in public and bomb proof around distractions.
Is it magic? Is it punishment? Is it breeding? It is not magic or punishment and yes well-bred dogs generally, do have good temperaments. What Service Dog pups in training get that most non-dog-oriented families do not provide for their pet puppy is massive SOCIALIZATION. Guide Dogs For the Blind Inc. learned long ago that a puppy that is left home is often not able to take the stress of a working life. Most good working dogs go from work to rest mode easily and quickly. This means that a working Guide Dog in the city may have to cross four lanes of traffic, go into stores, take a bus trip across town and then sleep under a desk for four hours at a time. These dogs are resilient and readily accept changes in their daily environment. I never met a working Guide Dog that was undersocialized as a puppy.
How much socialization is enough? Rather than give folks a number of outings that must be done each week, I advise people to begin life with their new pups as if the pup were in a service dog program. A service dog is any dog being raised for disabled person. This includes all Guide dogs, hearing dogs and wheelchair assistance dogs. These pups are raised and socialized by volunteers that devote a year of training to get the pup off to a good start. Service dog puppies usually arrive at 8 weeks, they get one maybe two days to settle in and then in the car they go. When a new guide pup arrives, the first few outings are of course quick and easy on the new pup.
Age appropriate outings are the key to properly socializing your new puppy. All outings need to match the level of stimulation that the pup is able to handle. Tami Shankle puppy raising advisor at GDB calls these first outings “In and Outs”. Take the pup in the car, stand in front of the grocery store, the hardware store, and let the pup be handled by strangers, then put the baby dog back in the car and go home. Professional dog trainer Mona Lindow-Webb suggests that all puppies meet and greet 100-150 people a week from eight to twenty weeks of age. From eight to ten weeks short “In and Outs” are enough for most pups. The main difference with GDB pups is that they are often put in the car several times a day. Most pet folks think one outing a day is major training. Not! Guide Dog raisers know that six or seven outings a day is great mental and physical stimulation for their new charges. Often you do have to work up to that many outings- again age appropriate training. GDB raisers know that a tired puppy is a good puppy, another benefit of socialization outings. Service dog raisers do have a small edge when it comes to ease of socialization and this is legal public access. All states in the U.S. generally allow Service Dogs in training public access, which means they can go inside the shopping mall and all business establishments. As working dogs they will need to know how to behave in stores and restaurants while with their handicapped partner.
Is it appropriate for you to ask permission to enter businesses with your new pet puppy? No- not ever and here’s the reason. Occasionally while socializing the guide Dog puppies I would be asked to leave a business by a storeowner that did not want a dog in his building. As a raiser, I was not handicapped and always complied with all requests to leave. Handicapped Guide Dog or Service Dog users with working dogs have the legal right to enter any store, building, restaurant, or even a medical facility. Often these folks with legal rights are refused access due to anti-dog sentiment or just plain ignorance. Pet dogs don’t ever really need to visit the inside of a resturant or business. Your pup will be well socialized without having to visit every type of situation that a working dog encounters. Besides, your creativity in finding novel situations to expose your puppy to will make up for the lack of public access.
How much and where you socialize does depend somewhat on what best selling author and productivity expert David Allenwww.davidco.com
calls “outcome focus”. What is this new puppy going to do in the next ten years? Is this a pet that never leaves the neighborhood? (This pet must have good manners, learn not to bite people and perhaps not bark at the mail person or garbage truck, become basically a friendly well-behaved dog that can handle everyday stress- a Canine Good Citizen.) Is this a dog that will go to dog shows, to be shown in conformation judging, the beauty contests of the dog world? (This guy must be confident, walk well on a leash, like treats, and not stress while traveling- kind of a Canine Good Ambassador.) Is this puppy your next competition obedience, agility, and tracking companion? (This pup must also be confident; love to learn, become very “work” focused and not stress in new environments- the Canine “A” student of the puppy class) Is this you’re next hunting dog or camping buddy? (This new buddy must get used to long trips, waiting in a blind or boat, running or hiking and be unflappable in new environments- the Canine Patagoniac.) The list could go on and on. There are all sorts of dog sports and activities, including search and rescue, drug detection, herding, lure coursing, protection work, therapy dog, earth dog, water dog, carting, sledding, family bed warmer and with a few dogs (the Canine Valedictorians!) doing a little bit of everything
The common denominator for all of these doggy activities is a dog that does not stress in new environments. The more you want to do with your puppy the more socialization and outings you need to plan. If your pup is destined to be that class “Valedictorian” you must expose them to everything they will experience in the future in the eight to twenty week period.
We have covered from eight to ten weeks, short “In and Outs”, daily visits with friends and perhaps young kids. From twelve to twenty weeks is the most critical time to socialize your new pal on a daily basis. Build on each week, introducing new environments, people and objects as you go along. Put that puppy in the car several times a day and take them out and about. Baby eight week old pups can’t handle stairs too well, but they can hop down from one stair, and soon from two and then three. I use a clicker and treats on all my outings to help build confidence. It is easy if you become as dog trainer Morgan Spector says a “splitter”. Split the behavior you are working on into the smallest part you can reinforce. It is easy to click and treat for puppy putting one paw on a step and then click for the back paw going up that big incline. Click for bravery when the pup gets out of the car while watching a baby stroller go by. (And be sure and not click if the pup becomes scared, ignore a reaction, wait and click the pup for a sit after that stroller has gone by.) Click for attention while you cross the street, click for sit and feed treats while toddlers pat the puppy.
Wait a minute- is this training or socializing we are talking about now? You guessed it; they are one and the same between eight and twenty weeks. Socializing or taking your pup out and about gives you the opportunity to teach the pup to behave appropriately in any given situation. This is best done by reinforcing all behaviors that you want to see again and again. Want that pup to lay down when you stop and rest at a park bench? Be ready to sit, and reinforce what professional dog trainer and author, Sue Sternberg calls “doing nothing”. Wait until that little head finally hits the ground, no- wait longer, ignore the pup, and when he is finally settled pat that head. It will happen, especially if you plan for it. Planning your socializing is the key to a great dog.
Where is it that you socialize when raising a puppy like a Service dog? EVERYWHERE- take them in the car anytime you can. Put a crate in the car if you need to in case pup can’t join you for every errand. The goal is to inundate the puppy with new situations, but also keep that puppy confident about all people and places that you visit. The best way I have found to do that is with the clicker and treats. The clicker can mark the exact time that puppy stretched to take the treat from the scary stranger with the big hat. The stranger becomes a nice person, in fact all people become the source of all good things. If clicker training is new to you find an Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) trainer in your area to get you started. Many are listed on the internet, start with Karen Pryor’s, www.clickertraining.com. She has a link to positive trainers that use the clicker all over the world. It is important to find a positive trainer for your baby- the opposite(punishment) also works and is still commonly recommended by old time dog trainers. There is no place for punishment training with pups of any age and really no need for it.
To give you some suggestions for outings here are a few places I have recently socialized a Lab puppy. The park, in front of the school, in the library quad (sat and read while the pup slept), walks in front of the gas station, a construction site (just watching at 12 weeks), the feed store (most pet dogs are welcome on lead), a wooded trail, a noisy track meet, a night walk in the neighborhood, a quiet meadow, a skateboard park (again just watching all the noisy kids), retrieving in a messy muddy place, rides in the car to store and back, to the feedstore to see the pot-bellied pigs, to the Vet to be weighed only, downtown area with lots of people, in front of the Farmer’s Market, another night walk, playing with a friend’s puppy, and last but not least-a good Puppy Class!
Things or objects (all animal, vegetable and mineral substances) are different than places and the list is huge, everything from the vacuum to skateboards, to chickens and other animals should be on your socialization list. Have you ever watched a puppy the first time they see a fire hydrant? They might hackle, some will bark- other scoot way around it as if the hydrant might be some kind of “new” dog ready to pounce at any moment. Make a list, again if your pup is a pet, they still need to be adaptable, and not scared of unknown objects. This short introduction to socializing may not be enough if you have a sensitive puppy or one that is past the prime socialization age of eight to twenty weeks. If you need specific ways of dealing with introducing your super sensitive pup to different environments or objects read and follow the advice in Jean Donaldson’s book, The Culture Clash. It is available from Dogwise at www.dogwise.com.
Most folks still worry about Parvo and other doggy illnesses- in fact if you listen to your Veterinarian a few still recommend keeping the pup home until after the Rabies vaccine. If you want a recipe for disaster that is a good one. Don’t listen to your Veterinarian if this is what they are telling you. It is an old paradigm that needs to change. So does most of the vaccine advice but that is another article! YES your pup could still get Parvo but do they? Not in my experience or that of most dog trainers. No trainer, breeder or Service dog raiser that I know (and I know a lot) keep their pups isolated at any time. The Vets do get paid to minimize the risk. But, at what expense? A dog that is anti-social with its own species, scared of all noise, including the car and barks at or worse, bites – that is what you will get if you follow most Veterinarian’s advice and keep Mollie home. Undersocialized canines are what Jean Donaldson calls “time bomb dogs” you never know when they will go off. These dogs are a potential liability to society and much worse than the disease Veterinarians are trying to prevent. It is your responsibility not only to your dog but also to your neighbor to raise a healthy, emotionally balanced dog. If you are reading this article I’m betting that you want to raise a great dog, don’t let the very small chance of disease stop you. Veterinarians see only one side of this issue-trainers see a lifetime of problems awaiting owners of undersocialized dogs.
You do need to use common sense when socializing a young puppy- don’t take puppies to a dog show, or the beach or even the park before they have had their twelve week vaccine. Even the Guide Dog puppies are out and about at eight weeks just not in high dog trafficareas. There are not that many dogs in front of the grocery store- the chance of your pup contracting Parvo is slim to none. Most dogs out and about in most all neighborhoods are now immunized. The disease itself has changed in the past few years; it is a lot less virulent. And the vaccines are better at giving immunity at younger ages. The Parvocine brand vaccine confers 90% immunity at 12 weeks. If there is a question pick your pup up if you want to, don’t let their little paws touch the ground. Personally I don’t like carrying heavy Lab pups around, they have to walk when out with me. I haven’t had a Parvo case in 6 years, the pup that did come down with it was vaccinated three days previously, and he recovered easily.
Raising a pup the Service dog way is really a mindset to commit to daily socializing and training with your new puppy. A well run weekly puppy class is an important part of any good socialization program. Puppy class teaches pups dog to dog skills, bite inhibition, how to listen in a noisy, fun environment, obedience skills such as sit, down and come and starts the generalization of all learning. A good puppy class will insist on the use of treats and should have one maybe two ten-minute sessions of free play each week. Basic puppy care may be taught and many classes include a weekly question and answer session. APDT trainers use positive methods, call and ask questions before you join a puppy class. Find a different class or start your own if the club, or individual trainer has a “no” treats policy or uses pinch collars or choke chains on young puppies.
One exercise that I teach in all of my puppy classes I call “Smart Start Puppy Handling”. This exercise originally came from the sled dog folks and is a good handling exercise to practice at home. All Guide Dog for the Blind, Inc pups in training learn this simple two-part exercise at an early age. There are different versions of this exercise in various publications. This is NOT a dominance exercise or related in any way to the alpha roll. Smart Start puppy Handling is the start of communication between you and your puppy.
The first part of this exercise begins with the pup lying on its right side, legs facing away from your body. I kneel down and gently place the pup on its side. I put my right thumb in the collar and left hand over the dogs’ body holding the right or bottom front leg. The puppy may squirm and wiggle or even act as if you are torturing him. Not to worry, some pups are just more physical and/or vocal than others- keep gently holding the pup until you see and feel the pup relax. As soon as the pup relaxes, get a partner to click and treat and let the pup get up. The timing is critical, as you want the pup to realize that all it takes to be released is relaxation. This is the start of a puppy learning to learn. I have folks practice this exercise at least two or three times daily for six weeks and continue twice monthly (or more) throughout the first year.
Part two of “Smart Start Puppy Handling” involves sitting on your knees and placing the pup in your lap facing forward. Again put you fingers in the collar and handle the pup with your opposite hand. Handle the ears, the feet, the mouth, and the head. Stand the pup up and handle the tail, pick up the back feet. You can treat the puppy anytime that youngster is calm and accepting of your touch. If you feel teeth, say AHHH! Very loudly and expect the pup to pull back off you hand. That is the time to treat, when the pup reacts to your voice and stops biting. Next sit the pup and start again with the other hand. This exercise makes simple grooming procedures so much easier on your puppy.
All pups react differently to these two exercises but all will become relaxed and easy to handle if you are consistent and time your releases to the pup’s relaxation response. This is just one example of a puppy class exercise. I often bring agility equipment like the tunnel or different surfaces to class. Puppy class is a fun safe place for pups to experience new activities. If your pup is not as outgoing as others make sure and talk with the instructor about how to build confidence in your puppy. Some pups have the opposite issue and must learn to play nicely with others. Good instructors will tailor the class to meet the needs of all participants.
With the end of puppy class at about 16 to 20 weeks you are well on the way to a super socialized well-trained companion. Behavior never stays the same and training never ends but if you socialize as if your new pup was a service dog in training, your puppy will become a safe, loving and great family pet. I bet more than a few of you reading this article have that next canine valedictorian in your household. Grab a leash and have fun on your next outing!
Liz Harward, CPDT
Blue Sky Dog Training
APDT Member #004392