As Zoe’s foster dad, guest blogger Bob Dougherty shares tips for raising a successful working dog. Bob is also a K9 officer with Cheltenham Police Department and Adjunct Trainer at the WDC.
The reason to take any puppy on environmental exposure field trips is simply to get them out into the world they will live, work, and play. If a puppy is exposed early and often (excluding anything overwhelming or during fear periods) they will be a more balanced dog as they mature.
Many new puppy owners worry about taking their puppy to new environments for fear they will be exposed to disease. Bob firmly believes the greater harm is done by NOT exposing the dog to the noises, shapes, and odors. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) supports this view in their article AVSAB Position Statement on Puppy Socialization.
The worst thing we can do is treat our puppies like human babies and project our human views on them. If exposed to the world safely and slowly, the dogs will have stronger nerve strength, be more curious about the world, and if they are working dogs, be better prepared for their future working environments.
In this video, if you watch Zoe’s body language you can see that just the sight of the building and door had her thinking “What the heck?” As she walks in, gets comfortable, and begins to explore, her world begins to broaden. In that particular building there are electric heaters, temperature changes, odors, slick floors, and light changes. All of these things are scary and exciting at the same time.
The question is often asked “What do I do when my puppy encounters something that makes them uncomfortable or scared?”
Many owner’s first response is to coddle their puppy. They begin talking rapidly and in a sympathetic tone trying to convince the puppy not to be scared. This response does not help your puppy become braver. Don’t force them to experience things but rather bring extra tasty treats and their favorite toys to reward them for good accomplishments. Lastly, don’t push them into an experience they just can’t handle because of their age or size. If they have a negative reaction to something in the environment, just back away to level the puppy is comfortable with and work from there.
Properly done, environmental exposure field trips will not only help build your new puppy’s confidence, but they will begin to build trust and that special bond between you and your new puppy.