Socializing the Working Pup

Narsil 5 months riding around in a wagon. Narsil will climb anywhere asked or unasked.

As promised, a brief article on the extra socialization, training, and exposure I do for young pups I raise (service or police). Much of this information can and should be transferred to the average pet dog. Other portions are not needed, some may hinder.

First, the amount of exposure I do for a working pup is different. I try to expose them to EVERYTHING. Its a constant game of what new can I do today with the pup. It occupies my mind even past the 16 wks. Umbrella, tarp, horses, barns, statues, climbing, going under, dark, pots/pans, garbage truck, people in hats. This list never ends. I do almost daily field trips to new locations. They are short and fun, unless I have a super confident pup then we may hang out for longer (Narsil was this dog-the world was hers to conquer). Less confident pups get short trips that are very fun (food or toy filled (the new pup and Ronan before he I started work with him). All pet dogs can benefit from lots of exposure. I don’t think there is to much as over exposure for a confident pup. A less confident pup benefits from the exposure as long as its planned and executed well.

Second, every working pup, service or police, works for their food in some way. This starts day one. They may work from it through a feeder toy (Kong Wobbler), through field trips, through confidence exercises like climbing and crawling on new places, through walks, and through puppy obedience. This creates a dog that from the very beginning understands that in order to eat he has to work. It builds real nice food drive because from the get go hes had to put effort into getting it. It also creates a dog that will take food everywhere, as hes done it as a puppy. I personally think this is a really good step for pet owners. A highly food driven dog is much easier to train in the long run.

I teach both service and police dog pups to ignore other dogs and people. I don’t have them interact with every single dog or person. That’s not their job. Their job is to focus on me or the work they are doing. Lots of focus exercises, redirects, quick turns away, and explanations of why they cannot meet. This in my opinion, teaching a dog to ignore the world around him, is the single most missed training in in young dogs “socialization.” This teaches impulse control (for excited social dogs not meeting everyone), builds trust (for more nervous pups that don’t want to interact), teaches focus (for distracted pups), and helps prevent aggression/reactivity (pup must focus on handler and ignore the triggers). Think about it, you don’t greet every person you meet. If forced to you might develop some unwanted behaviors around people, I know I would!

Confidence building. This extra step can be good for pet dogs but I take it to the extreme. I teach police dogs to climb anything, go under everything, jump up, go anywhere. I use food or toys. I usually start with feeding my puppy food in a cardboard box full of plastic jugs. I’ll lure and feed these pups up onto, under, and into places of all sorts (stairs, dark cabinets, ladders, odd surfaces). I’ll do recall games through obstacles. The end goal is a dog that will go anywhere just by asking or because he wants to, no fear or hesitation. These are good for pet dogs. Maybe not the crazy recall type games I do, or how challenging I will make the climb, crawl, etc.

Creating a problem solving puppy. I do this through shaping behaviors. I generally start with a game called 101 things to do with a box. I place a cardboard box on the floor and with an end behavior in mind, usually feet in box, I will slowly shape the behavior I want. I do not lure or throw anything in the box but rather reward for small steps in the beginning. I will shape other random behavior also, like a place command, or a retrieve. I’ve really found that if I can get the puppy problem solving young, starting neural pathways young, then its much much easier later in life to continue that growth then to start it. These training sessions create what I call a sharper/brighter puppy. They are more willing to try, to problem solve on their own, to catch on quicker.

Finally, with both service and police I will imprint some important behaviors. This does not have to be within the 16 weeks, its preferred but I usually focus on exposure then move to this. With service dogs I will imprint touch, retrievals, pivots, nice heeling, and a handful of other general behaviors. For police dog I imprint bite work, work on grips, build drive for toys, imprint on tracking, and usually imprint on an odor. Drive building, and playing in new areas is key. I’ll do hunting exercises with food or toys also.

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