Part 1 Puppy Socialization -
Introduction & Cradling
by Patty Mead
This series of articles is intended to introduce you to
what is commonly taught in the puppy socialization classes and
will explain the "whys" and "hows" of some of
the techniques you can learn in these classes. For those of you
are already in puppy socialization classes, these articles can be
used as notes to remind yourself what you need to be learning and
teaching your dog.
It is my firm belief that ALL PUPPIES SHOULD TAKE
SOCIALIZATION CLASSES. This is the best way to teach the owner
and puppy how to behave in a world that is increasingly crunched
for space. Puppies need to learn to behave so that on their walks
they are neither shy nor aggressive with people -- many of whom
will try to touch the dog. They also need to learn how to behave
with other dogs -- areas to walk dogs are shrinking and the
number of dogs using those areas are increasing so proper
behavior can save everyone a lot of time (i.e. chasing after a
dog), money (i.e., vet bills), and heartaches (i.e., from lost
dogs). Of course while my comments are aimed at people who live
in more urbanized areas, the lessons puppies and owners learn in
these classes can help all dog owners.
Puppy socialization teaches the owner and dogs a number of
crucial lessons. The puppy learns that the human is the top-dog
and must be obeyed. They also learn commands such as
"come", "sit", "down", and
"off". They learn to interact with humans and other
dogs without having to resort to fear or aggression to feel safe.
The humans learn that they are top-dog and are to be obeyed. They
learn the mechanics of how to teach their dog to behave and what
is reasonable to expect from a puppy and what is unreasonable.
Plus with the practice the puppy and owner will forge an even
stronger bond. Thus, it is crucial that the person(s) primarily
responsible for the dog should be the one(s) to take the puppy to
The people that offer these classes include private trainers,
sometimes the breeders will offer such classes to their puppy
buyers, and mostly it is your local SPCA or Humane Societies.
The very first class will present the ground rules. You will
be asked to show that your dog has received all of its shots (to
protect your dog and the other puppies) and will be asked to pay
for the classes. We've heard the costs ranging from $40 to $100
for six to eight weeks of one hour classes. Costs depend upon the
area of the country you are in, the length of the class, as well
as the reputation of the trainer. However, higher costs for such
a class do not necessarily mean "better" socialization.
From my experience, all these classes teach much the same thing.
You will be told that homework will be given and you are
expected to follow through with the work. In other words,
cramming your dog with training the night before you go to class
again does not work. The skills you and your dog are learning
need to be taught and practiced a little each day. In addition,
puppies will be given an off-leash "play" time at the
beginning of each class. During this off-leash time, you monitor
your puppy to ensure it is playing well with the other puppies.
It is also a time to touch all of the dogs so you can assist in
introducing the puppies to being handled by strangers.
Generally, after a little talk you will be instructed to let
the puppies off-leash. The little ones' activities may range from
shyly hiding under a chair or near their owner, to running around
sniffing and jumping on one another,. to aggressive behavior.
Within a short period of time, the trainer will be able to
identify some of the traits of the dogs as well as how the owners
interact with dogs. Expect the owners of aggressive or shy dogs
to get a little extra coaching from the trainer about modifying
behavior. The puppies will run around a bit, generally 5 to 10
minutes, and then you will be instructed to get your dog and
return to your seat.
More talking will then occur with the trainer covering the
shot puppies need, answering questions regarding puppy behavior
(like toilet training), biting, etc.). Then you learn your fist
lesson that must be practiced every day -- how to
"cradle" your dog.
Basically this is the process of holding your dog in a
submissive posture. If you are cradling a large Vizsla you may
cradle the dog on your lap with its back against your chest and
legs pointed away from your body. If your puppy is small you may
cradle the puppy in the crook of your arm. This posture
reinforces what is crucial to having a well-behaved dog -- namely
that you are the top dog. In addition, it will help later when
you need to have your dog in a submissive position, for instance
when cutting nails or at the vet for an exam.
The more dominant dogs will generally struggle (less so if the
breeder has already started the cradling activity). Sometimes the
dogs may fight quite energetically and even growl or vocalize
loudly. As long as the dog struggles, it should not be let go.
Wait until it is relaxed and has accepted the idea of being held
this way and then let the dog go with plenty of verbal praise.
This short exercise needs to be done daily. Over a period of
time, you can extend the time to dog is cradled from a minute or
so to up to 10 minutes. Your trainer will specify how long and
how often this exercise need to be repeated.
To next article Socialization