Conditioning Your Puppy to Life's Surprise Events

Socializing your puppy to all of life’s surprise events is just as important as training him during the first year. Though your puppy may behave perfectly in your living room, if he falls to pieces when you hit the road, you won’t be able to take him anywhere.

And your puppy has so much more in store for him than a variety of different people. Exposing your puppy to different animals, weather, objects, noises, and places will encourage calm acceptance and healthy curiosity to anything new the two of you may encounter.

Meeting other animals

Whether your pup is young or old, he must learn to control his impulses when he notices other animals in his surroundings. When you notice a critter before your puppy does, instruct him by saying “Back” and guiding him to your side. Then kneel down facing the critter and use the command “Sit-stay” to encourage your pup’s containment.

If your puppy’s radar alerts first, however, he’ll orient himself toward the distraction and his ears will be erect and riveted. When you observe your puppy in this state, direct “Back” and kneel down to brace him. Finally, instruct “Stay.”

As your puppy’s impulse control matures, encourage him to follow you by using the “Follow” direction. You can discourage any interest with a quick tug of the leash. Praise and treat him for resisting the temptation.

Dealing with storms

Your puppy’s first thunderstorm may be a memorable event. The best thing you can do is absolutely nothing. Emotional reassurance on your part will be misconstrued as mutual fear, and your puppy can quickly develop a phobic reaction to the situation.

By staying calm and just reading a book or doing something else low-key, you’re setting an example of how to act in a storm. Also consider taping a storm and playing it at low levels during play or feeding until your puppy is conditioned to the sound.

If your puppy has already developed a fearful reaction to storms, fit him for a head collar or no-pull type of harness and guide him on the lead through each storm, acting as though nothing is happening. Offer your puppy a toy or bone to chew and displace his anxieties. Pay attention to him only when he’s relaxed. His reaction will improve in time.

Getting used to noises

If your puppy has a startled reaction or if your puppy is older and unfamiliar with a noise or situation, you need to craft your approach to limit the intensity. If your pup looks like he may attack or run away from a distraction, he’s clearly in a state of panic. Retreat from the situation immediately. Work on treat-based lessons, brace him, and gradually move closer to the distraction.

If a specific sound is unsettling to your puppy, record it or see if you can find a sound machine that has the sound pre-recorded. Play it at gradually increasing volumes while your puppy is playing or eating. If he’s still startled by the noise, lower the volume and play it in a distant room.

Navigating new places

You’ll have to wait until your puppy is inoculated (according to your vet’s instructions) to go on field trips. However, when your vet gives you the green light, go, go, go! Away from his home turf, surrounded by the unknown, your puppy will suddenly grow hyper, fearful, or defensive. Each reaction gives you the perfect opportunity to step in and direct him.

Regardless of your puppy’s response, use the directions “Let’s go,” “Stay,” and “Wait” as you navigate new places together. By doing so, your direction and posture say to your pup, “I’m the leader; follow me!”

In addition, bring a familiar bed or mat for your puppy to ride on in the car and to sit on when you’ll expect him to be still in a strange place. If you’re going to an outdoor restaurant, his veterinarian’s office, or school, bring his mat along and direct him to it. His mat will act like a security blanket.

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