I can’t fill up my brain fast enough with information about dogz, so I’m constantly reading books or blogs or articles to get my fix. Today I’m reading the book How to Speak Dog: Mastering the Art of Dog-Human Communication, and I happened along a passage that raised my hackles. (Note: It’s not the first time that has occurred with this book. I don’t recommend it.) The author, Stanley Coren, shares with us the words that his dogs understand. Here’s the one that inspired me to write today:
“No: This command is always given in a loud, sharp tone of voice. The intent is to have the dog freeze and stop all ongoing activities. To get that freezing response, the first few times that I use this command with a new puppy, I accompany it with a loud, sharp sound. Banging a pot against a counter works well; slapping a wall or a table, stamping one’s foot on a wooden floor, even throwing a book down flat on the floor will also work.”
Please, I’M BEGGING YOU, do not do this to your dog. And for the love of God, if you remember anything I write, remember this: Never ever purposefully scare your puppy.
From approximately three to fifteen weeks old, puppies are in what’s called their “socialization period,” which is a critically sensitive time for them. They will suddenly have an explosion of behaviors such as barking and tail-wagging and play-bowing, and while they do so, they become accustomed to their world. Good and bad experiences alike will have lasting effects.
We don’t know if Emma the Beagle’s anxieties are genetic or a result of her lack of upbringing, or both. But as she was a caged breeder, locked away in a wire prison on which she destroyed teeth trying to escape, I’d wager a bet that she didn’t have good experiences during her socialization period.
Hubz and I have spent the last two-plus years rehabbing Emma to learn to enjoy life in a human world. She was afraid of EVERYTHING when we brought her home: hands coming towards her face, hands going under her chin, wooden floors, hallways, doorways, sidewalks, roads, cars, bikes, strollers, children, a fake metal goat at the farmstand, bridges, the car, and… everyone’s favorite… being alone.
Little by little by excruciatingly little, we have used desensitization and counterconditioning protocols to reprogram Emma’s brain to see these once terrifying things as something good. The transformation has been incredible, but we still have a lot of work to do.
Conversely, our neighbor Connor brought home a Shih Tzu puppy about six months after Emma joined our family. While we spent hours a day helping Emma learn to walk across the wood floor, Connor introduced Winnie to the world. She invited friends over to pick Winnie up and cuddle her, and that little fluff-ball of love got to play in the park next door and walk along the Potomac River and ride in the car to Pennsylvania for weekend getaways.
I would bet you my Mini Cooper that if Connor had instead yelled at Winnie and slammed pots on the kitchen counter, not only would that pup not be the confident, happy girl she is today, she’d likely also have sound phobia — which can be as hard to overcome as separation anxiety.
When your dog meets people for the first time or gets in the car for the first time or even goes into her crate for the first time, make it a Festival of Happies — give her delicious food and cuddles and tell her what a good girl she is.
First-times are a gift not to be squandered. Treat them — and your pup — with loving care.
P.S. If you want to teach your dogs an emergency recall that will allow you to get them to retreat from danger without scaring them, click here for a training plan listed at the bottom of the post.