Puppy Training 101 – Socialization and Exposure

When it comes to Puppy Training; It’s a big, exciting, scary world out there, especially for a little puppy who loves to explore but doesn’t understand what some sights and sounds represent. Sounds like thunder, fireworks, vacuum cleaners, door bells, horns – they’re loud, unexpected, and sometimes downright terrifying. Socialization and Exposure Training is an essential part to dog training and should be included in any puppy training program.

When it comes to puppy training, people typically focus on teaching commands like “sit” or “stay.” A common mistake is to think that if you can teach your dog to obey and go potty outside, that’s all the puppy training it will need.

In reality, your dog should be exposed to all kinds of situations, ideally early on, in order to help prevent noise and other phobias that can be difficult to overcome as your dog gets older. Puppy socialization also help create well-behaved, well-adapted dogs who are able to handle a number of unique situations, like walking downtown, attending parades, going to restaurants, etc.  

How to Implement Exposure Training

There are several ways to introduce your puppy to new sights and sounds:

Dog or Puppy Training Classes

The benefits of a puppy training class go well beyond simply learning obedience. Dog training classes allow for puppy socialization by letting your pup be exposed to other dogs, humans, and situations in a safe and encouraging manner.

Before choosing a puppy training class, ask to see their curriculum and possibly visit a class in action. Make sure the dog trainer practices positive reinforcement, never punishment. Also look for dog training class that allows puppies to play and interact with each other in a controlled manner.

Ideally your puppy training class will include some exposure training, which slowly introduces your pup to loud or scary sounds, sights, weird smells, and so on.

Take Your Dog Out and About

Some pet stores and even restaurants welcome dogs, and it’s a good place for your puppy or dog to get some exposure to other people, animals, sights and sounds. Ideally, however, your dog will have had some exposure and obedience training beforehand, especially at restaurants. Timing is important. Start simple and work your way up.

Taking your dogs on walks, especially along busy streets, is another good outing. Again, start with a quieter neighborhood then slowly work your way to walking in busier areas. Make these outings a deliberate exercise for your puppy. Take your time, pay attention to your dog’s behavior and make sure you aren’t overwhelming him. Give treats and/or praise your dog for staying calm in busy situations.

Dog Parks

People tend to have strong opinions about dog parks: either they love them or they hate them. On the one hand, they are a great method for puppy socialization, allowing them to learn how to interact with other dogs as well as get out some energy. However, there are also some cons – especially for a puppy. You’ll possibly find that some dogs at the park are timid or grumpy and snap if your pup gets too close. (This is not always a bad thing for your pup to learn.) Even worse, some dogs can be aggressive.

Puppy Training - Dog Parks are they worth it?
Puppy Training are Dog Parks Good or Bad?

You don’t want to overwhelm your puppy, and you certainly don’t want your puppy to get injured by another dog. If you want to take your puppy to a dog park, here are some things to keep in mind:

Never take your puppy to the dog park unless it has been fully vaccinated.

Dogs are supposed to be up-to-date on vaccines before entering, but that doesn’t mean they always are.

Look for a park with sections based on size.

This is a good option because your puppy can go into the “small dog” area. If it does happen to get attacked, at least it won’t be by a giant dog.

Look for a park with plenty of room to run

This will give your pup a chance to explore – and escape – if it is getting too much unwanted attention from other dogs. Walk around with your puppy as it explores.

Consider joining a members-only dog park

Although these cost money to join, members are vetted. This ensures that dogs are up-to-date on vaccines and that the dogs who are allowed in have at least been observed as non-aggressive. If a dog does happen to act aggressively, it will likely be suspended or expelled from future outings.

Expose your puppy to the dog park slowly

Ideally, you want to visit the dog park for the first time when no one else is there, which can happen if you choose a non-peak time. Next, try to visit when there are only a few other dogs there to allow for limited puppy socialization time. Increase your puppy’s exposure to the other dogs with time.

Stay Calm

Allowing your small pup to go unleashed around older, larger dogs can be nerve wracking at times. Remember, the dog park is not just about fun for your puppy, but it’s also a learning experience. As long as your puppy is safe, try not to panic if another dog growls at it or gets a little too playful. It’s not always a bad thing for your puppy to be exposed to less-than-ideal behaviors of other dogs as long as your puppy is not getting hurt. That’s part of puppy socialization as well. However, if you are uptight, your puppy will sense your nervousness and it will make your puppy more nervous too.

Exposure Training Begins at Home

Puppy training classes are a wonderful starting point for helping your dog become desensitized to sights and sounds, but they aren’t all the training your puppy will require. You need to make special efforts to continue to practice and expose your puppy at home as well.

For example, let your puppy sniff your vacuum cleaner before or after using it to help it recognize that although the sound it makes is scary, the product itself is not.

Dog Training App, TrainAway Dog App for noise exposure training.
Exposure Training with Household items

Another powerfully effective way to expose your puppy to sounds is by using a well-designed dog training app, like TrainAway. The Trainaway dog app can expose your puppy to over 100 individual sounds, like thunder, doorbells, vacuum cleaners, etc., and it allows you to adjust the volume, duration, and frequency of the selected stimulus. TrainAway is a great option for implementing noise desensitization for your puppy at home. 

By Allison Hester

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