I rescued a German Shepherd back in 2009. He was an adult, around 9, and a former show dog. He was a great dog and made the perfect brother for my 9-year-old Golden Retriever. One of the things I love to do is go hiking with my dogs. So one day I took my Shepherd on a hike…that is when I found out he HATED walking on dirt! He would refuse to budge, and if I did get him moving he would seize every opportunity to try and turn back and get off the dirt.
I thought this was a bit odd, but when I thought a little more about it, I could see why he would hate the dirt. He was a former show dog after all and he probably did not spend much time playing in the yard, rolling in the mud, or walking in the dirt. This led me to think about puppies and socialization.
I have written about socializing puppies to people and other dogs, but it is also important to socialize your puppy to different surfaces under their paws! If your puppy only walks on a carpet or hardwood floor, and is carried whenever he is outside and only put down on the grass do to his business, he will not know what dirt is! I can understand not wanting your puppy to tromp through the dirt and mud, but you should let him at least feel it so he won’t be scared of dirt!
It is also important to allow your puppy to walk on a wooden bridge, or over a metal grate. Even over wood chips and pine straw. The more diverse surfaces under his paws the better. Although you may not think you would ever have to have your puppy to walk over a metal surface, think about the metal table at the vet’s office.
It is hard to imagine a puppy not liking to walk on grass, but what if the grass was wet or had frost on it? If you don’t expose your puppy to water when they are young, they may refuse to potty on wet grass. Let them walk through puddles and sprinklers, buy them a kiddie pool and fill it up with a little water!
So what is the best way to make your puppy’s experience positive while learning to walk on different surfaces? Yup…TREATS and lots of them! You want to associate the different surfaces with something positive. Find out what your puppy’s favorite treat is, maybe some cheese or chicken. Lure your puppy on to the new surface if they are feeling nervous with the treat, but do not force them on the surface, this will likely cause them to be more afraid. You might not get them on the surface the first time, just try to be positive and try to lure them close each time. Again, it will be counterproductive if you force your puppy on to the surface.
Try and think of as many different surfaces as you can because you never know what you will encounter on a walk. Socialization should be a positive experience for you and your puppy. It may take lots of treats and lots of patience on your part, but don’t fore you puppy and don’t give up!
While you are out walking your puppy on the different surfaces you will also be socializing your puppy to different sounds. Many puppies, and dogs, are afraid of loud noises like thunder and fireworks. Although humans may jump when we hear a loud noise, we can identify where the noise came from and know there is nothing to worry about. Puppies, however, cannot identify where these noises come from, they just hear a loud noise and see nothing to associate the noise with. Because of this, loud noises can be very scary.
Socializing your puppy to these noises at a young age can help alleviate the fear when they grow up. Start by getting a recording of a thunderstorm or fireworks. Play the recording at a low level while playing with your puppy or treating your puppy. Once your puppy has become accustomed to the noise, turn it up a little louder. Continue to do this until the recording is pretty loud. However, make sure watch your puppy for any signs of distress, as with all other socialization, this should be a positive experience. You can do this technique with any noise you can think of including trucks, motorcycles, horns, traffic, etc. Start at a low-level and build up to a louder level while treating, playing, and praising!
A little patience with your puppy will make for a better relationship between you and your dog!
Next week I will be discussing what your dog needs to know, what is nice to know, and what you want them to know!