Monday, March 4, 2013

All Aboard for (a good) PK!

I only just finished up my PK classes a few weeks ago and the new ones are supposed to start in a week or so but no registrations!  I still hear from folks that they are told by their vets that they should keep their puppy away from other dogs until after they’ve had all their shots.  Some people are even told to keep the puppy indoors until that rabies shot.  This saddens me because I know that those puppies are not getting off to the best start in their lives with their humans.  They are very possibly a bundle of fears and behavior problems in the making.  Let’s add insult to injury… I know one vet that told my client she still had to wait a week after the last shot before taking her pup outside.  That pup, and a large-breed at that, spent 9 full weeks inside a small 3-room apartment before her first venture outside at the age of 17 weeks!  and to this day, 4 years later, she jumps at every sound and cringes when cars pass.


So what happens after that “magical” last set of shots?  People run their pups outdoors, to various houses, down busy streets, to the dog park and (finally) into group classes.  Not only is the puppy often overwhelmed and unable to cope, the human has no idea what s/he is doing and usually makes matters worse by forcing the puppy into situations s/he is simply not ready to handle and with absolutely no coping skills!


Of course, waiting until after the pup is 16 weeks (about the time the last shots are administered) does not guarantee a poorly adjusted dog but in my long experience that is very often the result.  On the other hand, a Puppy Kindergarten does not guarantee a balanced, well-adjusted dog.  Some PKs are, in my opinion, very poorly run and can actually do more harm than good.  I’ve seen some PKs and puppy playtimes in some of the big box stores and I know I am seeing future behavior modification clients.


There is a common misconception that socialization means throwing everything and anything at the puppy to get him “used to it” – yikes!  Well, I’m not a fan of snakes (sorry, I know, they are just another animal but they give me the creeps) and throwing me into a room full of them is NOT going to get me used to snakes.  Au contraire!  More likely, my fear and aversion will be increased.  Yet I see this done to puppies all the time and, sadly, by the very folks that doggie parents trust to guide and teach them how to raise their puppies – their “trainer.”  That’s right – “trainer”, not trainer.  Anyone can call herself a trainer, there is no regulation in the industry – ah but once again, I digress.  Let’s stick a pin in that bugaboo for another day J


On to the PK/PP (no, not pee pee, Puppy Playtime).  So what have I seen/heard?  I am so very glad you asked.  (Yes, I sometimes hear you in my head)  Puppies are left to fend for themselves in a play situation they are not prepared to handle in the name of socialization.  A fearful or shy puppy will not learn socialization when thrown in with a school-yard bully.  And, yes, there are pups that behave much like that school-yard bully you remember from the old days.  Those pups may not steal the shy pup’s milk money but they can, however unintentionally and unwittingly, steal a shy/fearful pup’s ability to gain confidence and to learn to interact with other pups.  Don’t believe the “trainer” that tells you to leave your pup to fend for himself or that providing comfort and reassurance and SAFETY will feed or reinforce the fear.  OMD how that expression annoys me!  Sorry, these folks don't understand learning and behavior and have no business training you or your pup.


A good PK will gently and gradually introduce your pup to sights, sounds, people and other pups in a manner that is not threatening or intimidating.  A good PK will let your pup move at his/her own pace and provide safety and security.  The shy or fearful pup is NEVER forced into any interaction.  That pup is permitted to find a safe corner or behind a gate from which to watch the other, more outgoing puppies play.  Perhaps that puppy’s human will be feeding treats or gently petting as the puppy watches.  The other puppies will be prevented from overwhelming that pup.  In my experience, in time that puppy’s natural curiosity and desire for social contact will emerge and s/he will make attempts to interact.  This is a crucial time for the pup and a good PK trainer will seek to make the interaction safe and gentle, perhaps with one other pup of similar disposition or with an older pup or dog that is gentle with shy puppies.


Another aspect of a good PK is introduction of many different people, again, never forcing a puppy to interact.  The people may wear hats, wigs, glasses, uniforms and carry strange objects.  Sound and object habituation is another important part of a PK.  But, where’s the training?  Shouldn’t a puppy be trained in a PK class?  Yes… and no.  Much of that depends on the age of the puppies in a PK class.  If the PK class is a socialization class designed for puppies as young as 8 weeks, then socialization and play should be the focus with only what I call “foundation” training as part of the curriculum.  Foundation behaviors that can pave the way for better, easier and faster basic training when the time is right.  Name response, choose me, hand-targeting, sit, call out of play, red light/green light (lol – no, not quite the game you remember but my own version of a foundation game with your pup.)  If the PK class is for older pups – over 14 weeks, then that is really more of a basic class since the window for the critical socialization period has already ended.  We have so little time to do what we can in that critical window.  A good PK can give your pup a huge advantage in life.  Don’t hesitate to find one and enroll your pup as early as possible.   As per the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior - “Behavioral issues, not infectious diseases, are the number one cause of death for dogs under three years of age.” 


So, all aboard for a good PK and, please, let’s get our vets on board too!  Education is key and, for more information, check out the AVSAB Position Statement on Puppy Socialization.  If you are interested in seeing a good PK curriculum (WARNING, shameless self-promotion coming,) check out the Smarty Paws course outline for PK class for a program that starts your pup off on the right paw!  J


Now you KNOW!


Happy Tails J

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