Saturday, March 14, 2015

Puppy Socialization and Training - A Winning Investment

Puppy socialization and training is an essential component of a dog’s life. It lays the foundation of communication between the owner and the pet, as well as defining boundaries and expectations. Without training, a pet is far more likely to be euthanized due to behavior-related issues that the owner finds intolerable. Considering the stakes at hand, it’s troubling that only a small percentage of owners take their dogs to puppy classes. The owners who decide to train their dog themselves (or not at all) have many reasons, but the impact of missing this golden opportunity is far-reaching.

“I took my last dog to class, so I know what I’m doing. Why should I spend money to have someone tell me what I already know?” Training methods change. As the years go by, innovations in science and teaching methods have developed better ways to communicate with your pet. Additionally, if your last class was 15 years ago, a brush up goes a long way! I took Algebra in high school, though now I’d probably flounder, since I only use a few select principles in daily life. A refresher of principles and clean training habits are as good for you as they are for the dog.

“If I take my dog to training class, he’s going to get exposed to Parvo, and he’s not fully vaccinated.” Once upon a time, every vet gave you this advice. Again, times have changed. According to Veterinary Behaviorist Dr. Meredith Stepita’s study on “Frequency of CPV infection in vaccinatedpuppies that attended puppy socialization classes, the fear of Parvovirus (CPV) is less of a worry compared to the threat of euthanasia. As she has previously stated “Approximately 250,000 animals are euthanized annually as a direct result of behavior problems”. Conversely, her study indicated that “vaccinated puppies attending socialization classes were at no greater risk of CPV infection than vaccinated puppies that did not attend those classes.” Typically early puppy classes require one prior DAP vaccine, a clear fecal test and no signs of illness for the safety of attendees.

“I’m busy right now, so I’ll get him into classes later.” Classes for adult dogs and socialization engagements are terrific, but can’t make up for early interaction. Dogs have a short, ideal socialization period ranging between the ages of 8-16 weeks. During that time, puppies are very malleable and accept new experiences readily. Controlled exposure to new people, other dogs, sounds, places, distractions and textures at this age prevent future fears. Trainers work with owners to detect signs of fear or aggression which can be more easily dealt with early on. Once your pet is past the socialization period, you’re no longer socializing, you’re applying desensitizing and counterconditioning (gradually introducing things your dog fears in small easily tolerated sessions, while offering high value rewards). This type of training is a much longer and harder road.

“My dog doesn't need to be socialized with other dogs. I have two other dogs at home and she does just fine.” This would be like saying I’m fine with all people, based on the fact I get along with my own family members. If I never went out of the house (except to go to the doctor or a stroll around the block), meeting new people who had a different appearance, customs or spoke with an accent could become scary and very stressful. I might not understand how to act around them, therefore leading to awkwardness and miscommunication. It’s much the same way with dogs. They need to be around other dog breeds, sizes, and body types so they can learn to understand and interact appropriately.

Though most puppies will meld into a group class immediately, some may not be the right fit if they’re very reactive or fearful. These dogs would need one-on-one training prior to being stable enough to enter a group situation. The benefits to the “average dog” makes any inconvenience or cost of a quality training class seem like a trifle. No longer is puppy class just about teaching “obedience”, rather it’s about cementing a lifelong partnership through learning and discovery for dog and human alike.