Vizsladogs, Ltd.

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 class.

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 Part 2

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