Puppy Programs: A Better Way To Socialize Puppies
By Teena Patel
We tend to view the term “socialization” broadly—a blanket term that encompasses exposure to other dogs, new experiences, and more. However, exposure alone is not enough for puppies and dogs, and our approach toward socialization should be far more methodical. We can’t talk about triggers without talking about behavior and its consequences. The environment, behavior, and consequences all create the sum of experiences that a socialized dog has or does not have.
Working with puppies requires a plan, the proper environment, and a thorough staff training program. We need to provide a well–planned social experience if we want to successfully welcome puppies into dog daycares. It’s a ton of work, but it’s not impossible. Here’s how you can make sure your dog daycare is able to give puppies the best start to their lives as companion dogs.
Creating Your Puppy Program Plan
Imagine if you took a toddler and enrolled him or her into high school. They wouldn’t be very successful! The same concept applies to our dog daycares—it’s an advanced environment the puppies aren’t ready for yet. Puppies can’t adapt to the high levels of stress, and their lack of preparation with the necessary stress-management skills often leads to even more stress. Ultimately, behaviors related to fear, anxiety, and aggression are induced.
At Doglando, we have a carefully thought-out, incremental, and sequential curriculum for puppies starting at 8 weeks of age through the first year of the puppy’s life. This program is called “Puplando” curriculum. Our puppies are successful because we have the right design, the proper physical space, and the correct programming in terms of level of involvement from handlers and owners, and developmentally appropriate lessons.
Puppies experience intense mental, emotional, physical, and intuitive growth during the first 21/2 years of their lives. A well–designed behavioral wellness plan takes each puppy’s age into consideration and then delivers relevant exercises that will prepare the puppy for future developmental progression.
Puppies as young as 8 weeks can be integrated into environments with groups of other dogs. However, their daily routines must be developmentally appropriate—potty training regimens, crate games, physical handling exercises, and relationship building games are more important than unstructured group play (unless puppies are with their biological mother and siblings) at this age. When you create your puppy program, think about these things:
- Physical limitations of puppies
- Mental, emotional, and innate developmental needs
- How those developmental milestones will be met
- The practicality of the information the puppies are receiving (Are they learning life skills?)
Once you think about these questions, consider how your environment will help each puppy reach their developmental milestones.
Design Elements (Environment and Space) for Puppies
Space is important because it dictates the amount of movement a puppy can have. Puppies and dogs with limited access to space are prone to using their mouths, so creating playscapes that promote movement is crucial. Adult dogs want to remove themselves from puppies, and space also keeps puppies safe from injuries that occur as a result of the high impact, fast movements of adult dogs.
An environment that has more space to offer and that is diverse in its offerings will lead to a richer experience, more learning, and greater growth. Ideally, you’ll have access to the outdoors, because creating enriching indoor environments is no easy task and the environment is limiting. Nevertheless, it’s entirely possible with some creativity and imagination.
Staff Training for Puppy Programs
You’ll learn this rather quickly; some staff prefer working with puppies, and others do not. Understanding the strengths and interests of your employees is vital if you want to create a successful puppy program. Patience and flexibility are important when working with puppies. Staff working with puppies also need to understand the development of a puppy’s mental, emotional, physical and intuitive state. They don’t need to be certified trainers, but being well-versed in the basics of behavior science, classical conditioning, and most importantly, operant conditioning will help tremendously.
Puppy program staff need this knowledge in order to be in-tune with and observant of how each puppy is developing. This includes gait, movement, how they balance and displace weight, and more. That’s because they’ll need to incrementally help the puppies build upon the skills they’re learning, and each puppy will grow and develop differently. Pat Hastings’ wonderful book on Puppy Development is a useful resource for understanding a puppy’s physical structure.
Your staff also need to monitor puppies based on your puppy program action plan. Staff must understand the environmental influence on behavior and be able to follow the plan that’s been created. Puppies are so fragile and we want to introduce them to things that will have a net positive effect.
A Puppy Program in Action
One option for 8–week old puppies is a Potty Training and Development course. This is what we’ve created at Doglando, and the puppies follow a very specific and incremental program that allows them to build real–world skills. In the morning, the puppies are crated, because this is a skill they’ll likely need. Handlers individually take each puppy out for a 15 minute play break and to potty every 2 hours.
Puplando puppies are given a different, natural chew each day and we give each puppy a large crate. We need to protect their behavioral welfare, and this allows them to lie down, take a nap, chew, and stand up. Since they’re taken outside often there’s no need for them to eliminate in their crates. Therefore, we can afford them bigger spaces.
In the afternoons the puppies are introduced to teaching dogs. These bomb-proof older dogs have their mornings to play and roam, and then they “assist” us in showing the puppies how to be more focused and oriented toward humans for training exercises and other games and activities.
Are You Prepared to Take Puppies?
Socializing puppies and welcoming them into your daycare environment is no easy task. There is no “end goal” with socialization. It’s ongoing, so you need a long–term process. You’ll notice that the program described here is extremely high–touch and focused on helping puppies build relationships with humans and other dogs.
Creating puppy programs benefits the puppy and prepares him or her for a lifetime of success as a companion dog, but they also help businesses attract lifelong customers. If we want to take puppies, we must ask ourselves, “Can my business handle this long term commitment?” n
Teena Patel (LLA, CPDT) is founder of the University of Doglando, a 3.5-acre educational and enrichment center in Orlando. Teena knows that responsible pet ownership requires a focus on the whole dog and teaching life skills. Her training methods teach people how to interact positively with their animals from puppyhood. At Doglando, a staff of professional trainers engage with their canine students throughout the day to encourage positive behavioral outcomes. Teena has earned a national reputation for her innovative approach to training and dog care. She consults around the country on her philosophy of enrichment, education, and improving dogs’ behavioral health.