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Gail Fisher's Dog Tracks: Ahead of the curve on training puppies by about 30 years

January 18. 2014 1:30AM

Four years ago, I wrote a column on the importance of introducing a puppy to new people, places, activities, and the like.

This relates to the topic I wrote about last week, the inheritability of temperament, including shyness. A shy puppy needs to be introduced to new things extremely carefully to acclimate the pup to new things. Here's what I wrote in 2009:

I hate starting off a column by dating myself, but there's no way around it. If I want to talk about "the curve" and being ahead of it, I have to use dates. It was way back in the late 1970s (over 30 years ago - gasp!) that I started offering socialization and training classes for puppies as young as eight weeks. Then in 1993, All Dogs Gym, started dog daycare, and accepted puppies that same age.

Over the years, when talking to puppy owners about the best age to start training or daycare, they often ask why we recommend starting so young, often saying that their veterinarian recommended completing the "puppy shots" (around 16 weeks) before exposing their puppy to other puppies.

We would cite scientific studies demonstrating the importance of socialization in the critical weeks between eight and 16. Unsocialized dogs are often shy with fewer coping skills, are fearful in new situations and with new people. We would relate our own statistics over the years - that fewer than one-one-hundredth of one percent of puppies attending our programs have been sick with Parvovirus. The decision is, of course, the owner's - to choose between a virtual guarantee of a temperament issue if they wait, versus a tiny (albeit possible) chance of their puppy getting sick attending class or daycare.

Then, a year ago (July, 2008), the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) finally caught up with our recommendation, issuing a position statement that puppies should begin socialization before their vaccine series is complete, starting socialization as young as seven or eight weeks. They cite as their reason the fact that the number one cause of death for dogs under the age of three is behavior issues, not infectious disease.

According the AVASB President, Dr. E. Kathryn Meyer, "Puppies go through a sensitive period of socialization when they are uniquely prepared to benefit from exposure to social opportunities. From the time the owner adopts the puppy until 3 to 4 months of age, it is critical that the owner get the puppy out to meet other animals and people, and experience many different kinds of environments."

"(Unsocialized) puppies may also fail to develop coping mechanisms and grow up into dogs that are unable to adapt to new situations. This can severely inhibit the dog's quality of life as well as the owner's enjoyment of the pet," Dr. Meyer added.

We were 30 years ahead of this curve! But wait, there's more. This past May, veterinarians at the North American Veterinary Conference Post Graduate Institute in Advanced Clinical Behavioral Medicine created a list of recommendations for choosing a dog trainer. Based on science, their document supports trainers who use praise and rewards rather than punishment. The conference was led by Dr. Karen Overall and Dr. Kersti Seksel, board certified veterinary behaviorists. Dr. Seksel said, "In general, trainers who tend to rely on choke and yank training or electronic collars tend to be punitive in their methods. They punish the dogs for what they don't do, rather than rewarding the dogs for doing something right."

To quote from an article by Steve Dale: "The veterinarians who crafted the recommendations also urged avoiding trainers who use chain link choke collars (also called training or correction collars) and prong collars (also called pinch collars, blunt metal prongs are fitted around the dogs' neck). Flex or retractable leashes are not suggested as training tools to be used in training classes.

Overall adds, "For example, we know how dogs learn best, and this equipment may actually discourage learning, not to mention potentially hurt the dog. Dogs that are chronically yanked and popped may have recurring laryngeal nerve paralysis and other physical injuries as a result, not to mention seriously damaged psyches."

"The tools veterinarians do recommend for trainers include using treats (to motivate), head halters, full body harnesses, flat buckle collars (the kind you affix your dog's ID tags to), and of course, praise. Clickers are generally acceptable, depending on the owners' ability to "click train."

Yay - again, we were ahead of the curve, as this describes both the equipment and the training approach we've been using for the past 13 years (Now 17)!

Gail Fisher runs All Dogs Gym & Inn near Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.

If you would like a topic addressed in this column, email or write c/o All Dogs Gym & Inn, 505 Sheffield Rd., Manchester, NH 03103.


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