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Proper Puppy Socialization

by Jason Givens

I read David Lauber’s article in the last issue with interest. He gave guidance toward introducing one’s young pup to birds. His methods were well thought out and demonstrated a very positive, yet controlled way to introduce a pup to feathered game. As a professional trainer myself, one of the things that I see most is improper introduction of various experiences to a young dog. This is generally called “socialization,” and it is the single most important thing that you can do with your dog. David explained how to introduce your dog to birds; I’m going to offer some ideas to introduce your pup to the rest of the world.

First off, there are several concepts one must understand when training a young spaniel (these methods are designed to bring the best out in a spaniel, but may also be employed with other breeds. Generally, the more hard-headed a dog, the less chance these things will work). The first idea to work toward is getting your dog to learn how to learn. This is where the saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” comes from. If a young dog learns how to do things for you, it will be much more likely to want to do more things for you as it grows up. If that same dog is locked in a kennel until hunting season, it will not learn anything and will be difficult to train. The second idea is this: Dogs want to do things that are fun for them. Therefore, get them to believe that doing what you want them to do will be fun for them. This sounds like a simple thing, but much of today’s current dog training practices are completely opposite of this. For many trainers, dogs are taught to avoid doing the wrong thing. This is very popular with the current Electric Collar systems on the market today.

Michelle showing 9 month old Landis that it isn't all bad to come back when called to get a hot dog slice.
Photo by: Author
Now, let’s put these ideas to work. Let’s take our young pup out to socialize. Go to a park, or a friend’s house. Go somewhere other than your house. Pup has to learn about new places with strange sights and smells. When you get there, let pup out and let him explore, off lead, if possible. Be quiet! Do not call pup to you 100 times in the first few minutes there so that you can show him to everybody. Give him time to explore. After a bit, call him to you, give him a treat, and then let him go off and play again. When calling the dog to you, while using a treat, and I mean a good one, such as cut up hot dog slices, make it worth pup’s while to stop whatever he is doing and come to you. Once he has gotten the treat, praise him and then release him. I like to say “okay”, which means that he is free to go back to exploring. What you have now done is tell him that if he comes when called, he will get a reward of praise and a treat, and then will be released to go explore again. He should soon figure out this is a win/win situation for him.

Next, have a friend or even a stranger call him. Let that person give pup a treat and praise him. Give some treats to kids as most kids love feeding dogs. Spaniels should like everybody. If you want a guard dog then get a different breed. We have now told the pup that strangers are good people, too, so he doesn’t have to be afraid of them.

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