By Kasey Herrera, Master Trainer and Behavior Specialist
Introducing Your Pup to New Sights & Sounds
“My pup has issues when we go out and about. She seems to be afraid of the strangest things and people”. Many dogs that seem perfectly fine at home can still have some underlying fear issues that aren’t apparent until we put them in new situations. This can simply be a developmental phase for puppies and can be worked on with exposure, socialization and calming. In adult dogs many people think that this issue is hopeless, and unfortunately, keep their pups at home. You certainly can get them through it.
We always start by understanding the dynamic between the human and their pup. If we are trying to console a nervous, unsure, scared pup with affection, the way we might console another human, we are actually fostering the pup's current state of mind. By giving affection during this time with “it’s okay baby…” (while petting) You’re actually telling your pup “yes… you should be afraid of that scary (insert scary item or human)”. We give our dogs affection with petting and sometimes words (baby talk) and that is telling them “Yes that’s what I want you to do”. So, by giving affection at this time we are encouraging the behavior.
Instead, we need to let our dogs know that they can look to us for calm and balance. That no matter what the issue is we will always take care of it. The way we tell them this is by calming. We want to calm our dogs by first calming ourselves. BREATHE. Taking a deep breath physically slows our hearts, brings oxygen to our brains, and whether we want it to or not will calm us down a notch. Deep breaths while doing a settle hold with your pups will calm them. A settle hold is about physical pressure, not restraint. It’s as if you are a human thunder shirt. If you were to push against one side of your pup they will push against you. Push on the other side and they will do the same. Now put pressure on both sides and you will see them relax as they can’t push against both at the same time. This is done without affection, just a hold. Once you feel your pup relax, even just a bit, we can then and only then, give low level affection. The calm will start to come quicker and last longer each time you practice. First, start to practice with low to no distraction and when your pup is already in a calmer state. Once they learn that to touch/hold means calm, then we can start to use settles out in the big scary world.
We never want to force our pups into a situation that might make them seem unsure. If your pup isn’t comfortable meeting a person, don’t push them to do so “it’s okay… It’s just uncle Bob”. Uncle Bob may be really scary to your pup. and by forcing them forward can negatively imprint on them. Humans have varying energies; calm, excited, negative, insecure and our pups can pick up on that immediately. Instead of forcing them to engage with a person, you engage with them first, then give your pup the option to go up on their own. It’s best if you let your pup smell the person before they try to pet them and sometimes they may not even get to pet your pup and thats okay. At least they moved forward to smell and that is engaging and should be encouraged.
When getting your pup used to strange things (flags, awnings, busses, parked cars) we use a calming matter of fact attitude. Once your pup is calm, “okay, you’re fine, lets go”. Again, do not force your pup to go up to the scary thing, but rather take your time, do several pass-bys and your pup will often start to want to inspect it slowly on their own. For more information about understanding how to get to the calm, what is balance and proper meet and greets, visit us at 2SpeakDog.com and check out our many different workshops and classes that speak specifically to these issues.
Article originally published by our friends at Canine Adventure as part of their newsletter series.