It is extremely important to socialize a puppy before the window of socialization ends. Studies have shown that puppies experience critical developmental periods during the first 20 weeks of life. These studies further show that if a puppy is not exposed to certain stimuli during relevant time frames then a higher risk of developing behaviour problems may exist. For the first 7 to 8 weeks of a puppy’s life the breeder is responsible for providing an environment that will help the puppy learn to cope with sights, sounds, people and other puppies. When puppies go to their new homes at 8 to 12 weeks of age, owners need advice and instruction from veterinarians, trainers and breeders so that they can continue this path of socialization. The following is a simple and approximate break-down of these critical periods:
• Weeks 3-8: puppies learn to interact dog-to-dog.
• Weeks 5-12: puppies learn to interact with humans.
• Weeks 10-20: puppies learn by exploring novel environments.
Puppies and dogs benefit from regular social experiences all their lives but puppies from the 3 to 20 week period are most responsive to social input. Puppies that don’t see humans until they are 16 weeks old may never develop proper dog-human relationships. Also, puppies that leave their mother and litter mates prior to 7 weeks old will probably not interact normally with dogs. The 5-8 week time frame is especially crucial for bite strength and control as pups learn this from their mothers and litter mates. Pups also learn the language that will allow them to be unafraid of and communicate effectively with their own species. This is too important to ignore.
Some veterinarians and owners restrict socialization until after the puppy is 16 to 18 weeks of age or until all vaccinations are complete. Unfortunately, keeping the puppy isolated or limiting socialization during this time frame greatly increases the risk of developing unwanted or even dangerous behaviours. Waiting until puppies are older, larger, with attitudes and hormones surfacing can make training and socializing a challenge for most pet owners. I would advise that you seek a viable compromise with your veterinarian to allow a young puppy to interact with other dogs who have been vaccinated and in an area that you know is relatively safe like in your own home or backyard. Give your puppy as many safe positive experiences with new things and people as possible. Consider it an investment in a happy future with your dog.
What is Lure and Reward Training?
Lure and reward training is exactly what it sounds like – luring the dog into doing something and then rewarding the dog for doing it. The lure is anything your dog will follow such as food or his favourite toy. The reward is usually the lure itself such as the food or toy used in this example.
Lure and reward training also uses a positive reward marker that marks or captures the dog’s behaviour at the instant it is being performed. Usually the positive reward marker will be something like “Yes” or “Good Dog” at the exact time the dog performs the behaviour he has been lured into doing.
Training with Lure and Rewards
All animals, including humans, do things they find rewarding and positively reinforcing. Getting a pay cheque or an allowance is rewarding. Going to a restaurant that serves great food and has great service at a reasonable price will usually make you want to visit the restaurant again. Dogs can’t work for money or go to fancy restaurants but they can be offered treats and rewards to encourage, motivate and quicken the pace of learning appropriate behaviour. Not only does this make training more fun for the dog, it also makes it less stressful and more humane.
Many dogs seem to like praise and are motivated to work for it, but relying on praise alone will not make a dog work consistently. Dogs learn by the immediate results of their actions or by discoveries from important events in their lives. When training a new behaviour, a correct response needs to be reinforced for it to have a strong probability of happening again. A reward serves as immediate gratification for the action being performed.
It is important to note that you are not bribing the dog when providing rewards. A bribe is something that is given before a behaviour to persuade or induce the behaviour or action. A reward is given after performing worthy behaviour.
A Final Word On Training
Imagine yourself learning math while someone screams at you and pulls your hair everytime you get a wrong answer to a question. Would this help you learn math any quicker or get you to learn the right answer? Probably not. If humans can’t learn this way why would anyone think that dogs can?
Dogs should not be forced to learn with shock collars, leash pops, prong collars, choke chains, yelling, hitting or being “stared down”. The “do it because I said so” method of training or the use of punishment is completely unnecessary. Dogs that are trained under these methods may have a few correct responses but are ultimately learning to avoid pain or punishment and are most likely responding out of fear. They are simply doing things to avoid punishment. Adding any of these methods to training is cruel and inhumane and may result in a stressed, fearful dog or a dog that becomes aggressive in order to protect itself from these inappropriate methods.
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