Puppy Socialization: the Physical

I have been a terrible pet parent, and I have not been spamming the blog with puppy photos and puppy stories. I apologize, I’ve been crazy busy, and in the end it’s more important to spend those extra minutes with the puppy rather than writing about her.

But today I’m going to officially spam about the puppy.

Meet Undómiel, who is 12 weeks old now and already gi-normous. Her paws are dinner plates. She’s going to be bigger than Laev.

I went to Denmark to pick her up, so she could fly home in the cabin with me.

Our first day together, we visited a Viking reenactment village, and she walked on her harness and leash (first time to wear either) or rode in her puppy sling, because that was the day she turned eight weeks old and infants aren’t good at walking all day. In fact, that was the first communication she and I worked out; by the end of the day, she was trucking along and exploring Jelling with me, and then she stopped and jumped up at the sling. I put her in, and she promptly went to sleep. We had a system.

Doberman puppy asleep in red carrier with head propped atopThat sling experience made the next day’s ride in the airport carrier a lot more acceptable. She hated, hated being crated, but if I opened the top of the carrier so it felt like the sling instead of a crate, she was fine with it. Even when she slept, she wanted her head out; if she slipped back inside, she’d immediately wake and prop her head up again. That open top and the day of sling-carrying saved a lot of screaming on the plane.

We haven’t done a lot of formal training yet. I’m not worried about teaching a “sit,” that’s easy to add. What I wanted her to understand first was concepts — that she could control a training session. Move until you hear a click, and then try that again. So our first sessions were just my clicking her for climbing on platforms, turning away from me and the food, and experimenting.

That dovetailed nicely with one of my general socialization goals. I’ve said before that for all my faults, I raise fearless puppies, and while Undómiel had a solid start, I wasn’t going to rely solely upon that. We talk a lot about socialization, because it’s important. Really important. And one aspect of socialization, because it’s not just about being petted by people, is feeling comfortable in all sorts of environments and on all sorts of surfaces.

I started with stationary platforms and then went to the Fitpaws donut, seen here before with Mindy/Penny.

Undómiel loves this donut. Loves. I have video, but I really ought to edit it down for easier consumption, so I’ll share it later.

This surface training came in handy the first time I really saw her unnerved, at our first vet visit. We were fine until we entered the clinic, at which point she froze up and started trembling — clearly she remembered something unpleasant and that was going to be a thing.

I’ve talked long before about giving a dog something positive to do to combat fear and helplessness, so I won’t go over all that again now, but it’s what we focused on while waiting for the doctor. There was a rolling, spinning stool in the exam room and we used it for paws-up games, which required her to really focus on what she was doing (it moves beneath you!) and let her take control of the situation to turn it into a treat-earning experience. By the time the vet entered, she was back to normal, and she didn’t mind the exam or shots nearly so much.

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We’ve also started baby Mondioring training, which includes not only beginning bitework but additional socialization and confidence-building experiences. One of her very favorite activities is recalls through a puppy obstacle course of physical and mental obstructions.

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And we went to a puppy class at the Humane Society of Indianapolis, where Undómiel met and mastered the tiny teeter.

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Yesterday we went for a walk along the canal, and because it was over 90 degrees, it seemed like a good day to practice climbing on fountains.

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I would not ordinarily pre-load treats into my target/cuing hand, but I had the camera in the other, and it’s pretty evident in her other work that the food is not a lure but a reward. Big distinction. Note that when she’s on top of the fountain my left hand is close and available to steady her until she looks quite comfortable. First I feed generously for simply being there, and then for walking forward. It’s hard to hear the clicks over the water, but they’re coming for her taking a step forward. Treats are rewards after the click rather than lures, so she can concentrate on what she’s doing.

Please don’t mind the pine cone, it was holding up my phone. 🙂

Because I consider these types of physical experiences a vital part of socialization anyway, I was delighted to find that they applied toward the new Dog Parkour titles. On the day Undómiel turned 9 weeks old, we shot a short series of qualifying videos and she earned her first title: Parkour Dog in Training (PKD-T).

(Note that IDPA is very safety-conscious and there was nothing to risk a 9-week puppy in these exercises. As I said, they’re all things I would be doing with an infant anyway. She is not eligible to even attempt the next level of exercises with jumps and until 18 months old, in keeping with current best practices for avoiding sports injury with young dogs.)

You can see her qualifying baby parkour videos here (explanations of my choices for each exercise are in the Youtube descriptions):

Doberman puppy Undómiel sitting in stream looking at LauraAnd today we went for a walk at the park, where we practiced exploring more water and offering behaviors in the water. She started by extending a paw over the water and ending by offering sits in it. My goal is that water hazards will not be a challenge for her in her career!

We have of course also been working on meeting people of various heights and colors and volumes and dress, learning that people sometimes are fun and sometimes are boring but are never worrisome.

In short, while the blog has been pretty quiet, the puppy has been pretty busy. She has learned to offer behavior until she achieves a click. Next task: teaching cues and stimulus control!

About Laura VanArendonk Baugh CPDT-KA KPACTP

Laura was born at a very young age and started playing with animals immediately after. She never grew out of it, and it looks to be incurable. She is the author of the bestselling FIRED UP, FRANTIC, AND FREAKED OUT. She owns Canines In Action, Inc. in Indianapolis, speaks at workshops and seminars, and is also a Karen Pryor Academy faculty member.
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