Horses and dogs go together like peanut butter and jelly — almost all horse people are also dog people. I’ve always loved dogs, but I didn’t become a dog owner until I was an adult; growing up in the city my family always had cats. Our first dog, Rocky, was just about the easiest puppy you could ever have, while Kona (our new labradoodle) is much more of your typical puppy, From puppy #1 to puppy #2, we learned a lot, and one thing we did differently with Kona was immediately enroll her in puppy preschool, where we learned some great tips on desensitizing your puppy.
For anyone who grew up with dogs, most of this is probably old hat… but if you’re like me and started from ground zero with puppies, training classes will teach you a lot. Obviously one huge benefit to enrolling your puppy in a training class is socialization — it forces you and your puppy to go to a new place, as well as meet new people and dogs. For a homebody such as myself, especially with a carsick puppy, this was crucial. Socialization was one thing I knew we didn’t do well with our first dog, Rocky, and I wanted to improve upon that with Kona.
The second thing that puppy preschool really impressed upon me was the idea of desensitizing your puppy. Much like a young horse, every single thing is brand new to your puppy. And if you want them to grow up to handle new situations and stimuli well, you have to train them to do so. That all sounds well and good, but how do you go about doing that? At first, it seems overwhelming to think about all the things your puppy needs to experience: loud noises, high-pitched noises, different walking surfaces, people with various personalities… the list goes on and on. What I got out of puppy preschool were tips and tricks to not only simulate some of these scenarios, but also how to deal with your puppy’s reaction to them.
Tip #1: Desensitizing Loud Noises
Is your puppy afraid of loud noises like doorbells, cars, fireworks or thunderstorms? Desensitizing your puppy to these noises is a common training technique. Play these sounds on your phone, computer or CD player and reward your dog for listening. This is great for just about any noise you can think of — babies crying, the vacuum cleaner… anything. For sounds like your puppy is particularly sensitive to adjust the volume and start softly, working up to louder volumes as your pup becomes more and more comfortable.
Tip #2: Desensitizing Surfaces
This is one area that honestly never even occurred to me, but many puppies are wary of walking on different surfaces. Anything that you have (or can get your hands on) is good to practice walking on with your puppy — metal ladders, textured rubber, a seesaw. Sometimes a puppy is more weary about placing their hind legs on a new surface, so reward any attempt — even if its just sniffing stretching their head and neck over the surface, or their front feet. Desensitizing your puppy to touching different types of surfaces is an important life skill.
Tip #3: Desensitizing Objects
Teaching your dog to explore new things by lightly touching them with their nose is a great way to build confidence. This works great for bicycles, strollers, crutches and more — this is such a helpful tool to assist with desensitizing your puppy to just about anything that makes him or her nervous. Another trick you can use is placing treats or food in your puppy’s bowl, as well as small objects (that are too big to be swallowed!) into the bowl as well. For example, we added a few tennis balls to Kona’s food bowl and she had to move them around with her nose to get to the treats.
Those are just a few things I learned in puppy preschool, and some helpful hints on how to accomplish desensitizing your puppy so he or she grows up to be a happy, healthy and confident dog. P.S. If anyone lives in the Central Ohio area, we took Kona to Adventure Unleashed Dog Training, and would highly recommend it! We can’t wait to sign up for our next class.