Puppy Life Skills 2: Confidence
Puppy Socializing 8 – 20 Weeks
You have been exposing your puppy to new environments, new smells, new challenges. Each one should have been age appropriate. None should have frightened or stressed your puppy. Each ‘adventure’ should have been a happy one, ending in a good nap (latent learning).
Puppies habituate to things very quickly, so the third or fourth exposure is no longer socializing.
Don’t worry if your puppy is Wary. This is normal. Give your puppy the opportunity to think about a new situation before engaging. If your puppy is afraid of something that we know is safe it can be hard to wait for the puppy to feel confident enough to accept the challenge – but that is what confidence is – the ability to ‘choose’ to accept a challenge.
Many breeders use wariness as an indicator of a puppy’s intelligence.
Wariness is not fear – but it can quickly become fear. If you push the puppy too fast, or try to force the puppy, then normal things will become dangerous.
From 5 weeks old a good breeder is putting challenges before a puppy – and letting them solve the problems on their own. Even if the breeder must wait 10 minutes for a puppy to accept a challenge and figure it out. They never push the puppy. They never ‘do it for them.’ They never ‘rescue’ the puppy (unless it is in danger of becoming afraid.)
If a puppy is still concerned then a puppy has 2 choices: Fight or Flight. If you don’t want an aggressive or reactive dog then ‘walk away.’ Teach your puppy that flight is the only acceptable response to fear. When the puppy is in training then you can turn ‘run away’ into ‘reorient to me’.
Confidence in People
About 14 weeks we start seeing how well you socialized your puppy. If it is afraid of people then you’ll start seeing aggression and fear reactions. If everyone has been good to the puppy, given it treats, and let the puppy come and see them then your puppy will be happy to see everyone.
Do I let strangers pet the puppies? That all depends. Not if we are on a busy street. Not if the puppies are not having a good day. Not if the puppy is wary, shy, or fearful. I also don’t let the people pet the puppies. Instead, I give them a treat to give the puppy. I often wait until 14 weeks before puppies are exposed to strangers. (and cars/streets/etc) By 14 weeks my puppies think every human on earth is wonderful and wants to give them treats. I always let puppies walk to the person. If the puppy says ‘no’ then I will not force the puppy to greet the people – even if they are family.
Confidence in dogs
This can be more difficult. I have German Shepherds who have been taught by their parents since 5 weeks old to be calm, quiet, and patient. Then when my dogs see a puppy acting out they become upset. One of the worst things I could do is to correct them – especially with a leash jerk.
All this teaches a dog is that you will hurt it every time it sees a dog. Eventually (about 6 – 9 months) your dog will hate seeing other dogs. The problem will escalate.
But, it is important to make sure that your puppy is around crazy puppies, big dogs, little dogs etc by 14 weeks. But – not without preparation. Teach ‘leave it’, don’t chase, don’t bite, teach it to be calm, etc before puppies meet. This gives your puppy the skills needed so you can control the encounter.
If things go wrong and the other dog disciplines your puppy and it starts to scream ‘do not rescue it.’ Take it to a quiet corner and comfort it. Sit quietly. Remain calm. Let your puppy learn that the correct behavior/response is to be calm.
One of the best ways to introduce dogs is to drop treats on the ground. If the other dog is big then make two areas on the floor. Let the dogs eat treats while they are close together.
Confidence in Environments
Starting at 5 weeks old puppies need to be taken into all sorts of environments. Let the puppy explore. Forget your agenda. Forget training. If your puppy looks worried then toss a ball, or drop treats.
One thing that is important to remember is that any ‘hyper’ behavior is not fun, it is anxiety. If your puppy is acting crazy or hyper then stop the play every few minutes to calm the puppy. The puppy is over threshold. Puppies need to learn good manners in every environment.