You may be thinking, "How can there be MORE stuff? Some of those lists have over 100 items on them!" Well, I'm sorry to add to the list, but here are 10 unusual things that we introduce puppies to before they turn 4 month of age here at Valorzen that I have not yet seen on any other socialization checklists or puppy passports at the time of this writing (May 8, 2018).
Note: Puppies go through a fear period between approximately 8-10 weeks of age (although this can sometimes happen sooner or later in development). It is best to avoid introducing particularly scary things to your puppy during this time especially if they are on the shy/timid side.
While I do not go into great detail about how to train each item on this list, always make every introduction as happy, upbeat, and positive as possible. Associating these things with high value food is often the easiest way to go.
All of our puppies learn to ride on the passenger floorboard of cars while they are young regardless of adult size or breed. It is easiest to teach at this time because they are small and as they grow they adjust to fit and it becomes a comfortable habit. We frequently alternate rides in crates and on floorboards for at least the first 6 months we have a puppy (or until at least 8 months of age). This includes large breeds such as Labs, Goldens, and German Shepherds.
While it is safer to have a dog always ride in a crash-approved crate, not everyone owns such a crate or times may come up where crating a dog in the car (or other mode of transportation) is simply not an option. Maybe the car is packed full for a long trip or maybe there are multiple passengers and you need your dog to ride in the space between your feet.
Another scenario where this training comes in handy is if you do ever need to ride on public transportation or in aircraft, the training has already been started and the dog is comfortable in small spaces at your feet.
Slowly and gently get your puppy use to being chest-height (or higher) in water. It is easy to do this in the tub so you can begin slowly and gradually increase the level as your puppy is comfortable over a number of days. If your puppy is small enough, these can be puppies first swim lessons before they outgrow being able to swim in your bathtub. It is important to work at your puppies pace.
As a bonus besides swimming, if your puppy ever needs hydrotherapy (underwater treadmill) in the future, you will be one step ahead.
We believe in muzzle training all dogs. Why? Because you never know when you will need one or when you will be required to have one on your dog regardless of breed.
In the event of an emergency they are great to have on hand. Most vets will also require dogs to be muzzled if they are seriously injured even if the dog doesn't appear threatening because dogs in pain and/or states of confusion are higher bite risks.
It is also becoming more common for breed specific legislation laws and transportation requirements to mention a requirement to muzzle dogs when in public or on transportation. It is unfortunate but there is also a flip side - muzzles protect YOU and your dog from litigation. No one can lie and say that Fluffy the doodle bit them if your dog is wearing a properly fit muzzle. There is so much more I can go into depth about the hows and whys of that issue but that may be a topic for it's own blog.
3.) Soft Muzzle (Grooming Style Muzzle) - Soft groomer's muzzles are for short term emergencies, grooming, and veterinary requirements.
4.) Basket Muzzle - Basket muzzles are an option for longer term use and training purposes. These muzzles allow your dog to eat, drink, pant, and open and close their mouth but prevents the dog from making contact with skin, other dogs, and eating large foreign objects like rocks and sticks.
Teaching your puppy to be stand and be relaxed and calm while on a table isn't just for show dogs! Having a puppy that is comfortable on a table will also help with confidence building, grooming and veterinary exams.
Other than being confident and cool, calm, and collected on the table itself, this is a great time to teach your puppy to calmly stand still (or stack) on the table. Make this training fun! After your puppy understands stacking and standing calm and still, gently introduce grooming (brushing, nails, teeth brushing, ear cleaning, etc) and full-body exams.
Most dog's first introduction to the cone of shame is after they have had some type of surgery and are in pain. Later, if a cone is needed to prevent a dog from licking or chewing on hotspots, sores, or other injuries the cone comes back out and is once again associated with pain.
Introducing your puppy in a fun way to a cone and not having it associated with pain from the onset of the dog's life can make a big difference in the long run with how your dog handles it and what their stress level is with such devices as an adult.
It can also be used as a confidence building tool for puppies and teaches them to be okay with something hanging out over their head.
I didn't always do this with all my puppies but it is something I have started doing within the last two years - litterbox training dogs regardless of adult size.
There is going to come a time when you can't make it home from work, or make it down the stairs, or you simply can't get to your puppy (or even adult dog) and get them out the door before the dreaded explosive urine / diarrhea hits.
This happened to me more than once with my first dog after we moved into a dorm room on our university campus on the third floor (I am really glad we didn't live on an even higher floor). He was 65 pounds of full adult Catahoula Leopard Dog. One night he was in a dead sleep then suddenly woke up and ran to the door, he had to go.... and go NOW.... there was no stopping it. (Bathroom dreams anyone?) He needed to go or it was going to end up a puddle of which number I didn't know in front of my dorm room door.
I couldn't have him dripping pee or exploding poo on our way down the carpeted hallway and down three flights of stairs! So in my haste, with nothing else to do, I took him into the shower and gave him his trained command to "go".... he looked petrified, I was petrified, he looked back at me.... Go? Inside? WHAT! but a short moment passed and there it was.... all over my dorm room shower. I kept trying to reassure him that it was okay but if he had the guilty look, that was it.
I rinsed his feet and legs, let him out and proceeded to clean the shower. This new "trick" of his come in handy a few more times for emergencies during our stay and at least it was an easy-clean option compared to the possibility of having to scrub carpets otherwise. I had looked into fake grass potty patches but they didn't have any for dog's his size. We moved out of the dorms and into a ground level apartment and it wasn't thought of again.
Flash forward a couple years and a San Diego airport opened the very first airport pet relief area in the United States in 2013 (pictured above). It consisted of a faux fire hydrant and artificial turf and was used for dogs of any and all sizes. Now indoor bathrooms for service dogs are a big thing in airports, theme parks, and other venues all over the world. This lets dog and owner stay past the security lines while they wait for their flight or other mode of transportation. The bathrooms are completely indoors but have over-sized peastone or fake turf areas for dogs to use relieve themselves.
In the past two years, I have become involved with conformation dog shows and one thing that caught me off guard at my first show was that people pottied their dogs indoors in designated potty areas made of woodchips! In fact, some shows that are "benched", meaning that dogs are not allowed to exit the building during the show hours, require the use of these indoor woodchip potty areas for all dogs.
I had also been seeing other breeders online who were sending their German Shepherd puppies home litterbox trained on woodpellets but it wasn't until we picked up a Golden Retriever puppy (Roman) for service dog training a few months ago that I was able to see all of this first hand. This Golden Retriever breeder had already litterbox trained Roman and his littermates on woodchips since just three weeks of age! Accidents were very minimal and it was easy to take wood shavings outdoors and lay them on the spot we wanted him to go. He also had the option of using the box inside of his crate when he was very tiny (I know this sounds contradictory to everything you have learned about crate training right?). We were able to sleep through the night and he had an appropriate place to "go" whenever he needed to.
Now Roman is 6 months of age and no longer uses the litterbox regularly, he asks to go outdoors but I am sure that if I set down a box of woodchips he would use it easily regardless of if it was indoor or outdoors.
Whether you choose a potty patch (fake grass) or a woodchip/woodpellet litterbox I think this is a great idea for all dogs to learn and it makes potty training such a breeze and comes in handy in an emergency or on a trip.
Curbing separation anxiety can be taught at a young age by doing separation exercises with your puppy with someone you trust. Training is easy, hand over your puppy to your trusted person, let them pet and praise the puppy for calm behavior while you walk away and back. Work up to walking out of sight and back then gradually lengthen the time away up to three minutes and beyond as the puppy ages and increases skill.
When your puppy is older they will be well equipped to handle time away from you at the vets office, the groomers, and for the AKC Canine Good Citizen and similar tests that require a Supervised Separation exercise.
AKC Canine Good Citizen
Test 10: Supervised separation
This test demonstrates that a dog can be left with a trusted person, if necessary, and will maintain training and good manners. Evaluators are encouraged to say something like, “Would you like me to watch your dog?” and then take hold of the dog’s leash. The owner will go out of sight for three minutes. The dog does not have to stay in position but should not continually bark, whine, or pace unnecessarily, or show anything stronger than mild agitation or nervousness. Evaluators may talk to the dog but should not engage in excessive talking, petting, or management attempts (e.g. “there, there, it’s alright”).
Some puppies will take better to this than others. It is in fact one of the exercised on the Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test that demonstrates a puppies willful nature.
Practice gently holding your puppy in various positions for a few moments everyday. We are not trying to scare the puppy or show dominance. We are teaching the puppy to accept restraint which will come in handy for exams, medical procedures, x-rays, etc later in life.
Gently restrain the puppy in the position of your choosing. We start puppies on their backs in between our legs as we sit on the ground with our hand hovering over their chest to prevent them from flipping over and scampering away. Some puppies will just "flop" and not care at all and are immediately relaxed from the get-go. Others will squirm and settle and yet others will try to fight you all the way. It is easiest to start with a tired puppy.
It is important that you stay clam, relaxed, and neutral. When the puppy becomes calm, relaxed, and neutral praise them calmly and give a release cue. Your puppy may not know what the release cue is right away but they will get it after a few sessions.
As your puppy starts getting use to relaxing in between your legs, offer belly rubs if your puppy likes those. This is a good thing to practice everyday and a great time to check your dog's underside for scratches, hair mats, ticks, and other debris and parasites.
In short order your puppy will enjoy these bonding and exam sessions hand you can practice in other positions such as on each side, and the "hug" position. They will also be a breath of fresh air for your veterinarian should your puppy ever need x-rays or other procedures where restraint may be necessary.
While I am not a fan of headcollars (also known as head halters, halti, and gentle leaders), I understand that some people are. Most older dogs will put up a fight or shut down when a headcollar is put on. Introducing this tool to your puppy at a young age without a leash attached and with a lot of positive reinforcement, will go a long way toward the puppy accepting a headcollar with a leash attached when it is older without as big of a fight.
If you want more information on headcollars and why I am not a fan of them, Nitro K-9 has published an excellent article that matches my personal point of view (click here to read their blog and see a video).
Why I would use a headcollar - if the owner or handler was visually impaired or otherwise needed to know which direction their dog is looking in during service dog/guide work. Otherwise, I feel that there are less adversive methods and tools out there to teach a dog to walk well on leash.