HOW TO CREATE CALM MEETINGS
Calm meetings between dogs and puppies are an important part of socialising together. If the first few minutes of their meeting is set-up so that both dogs are calm while investigating each other, they are likely to stay well-mannered and either walk past each other calmly, or play together politely if their owners are happy for play to happen.
We introduce puppy meetings in the last class of each block, because all the previous lessons have been about establishing that being around other puppies means feeling calm and confident. Once this feeling is set in our puppies' minds, we can introduce close contact without the risk of over-excitement.
Classes can be an exciting place to be - many owners find that their puppies can be calm in their first class, but then they become more over-excited whenever they get to the training hall because they expect an hour of 100% attention from their owners, where they will be busy-busy-busy for the duration of the lesson.
We teach calm as the basis of everything we do. Short periods in all our lessons are devoted to teaching our puppies to be comfortable with being ignored. Long periods are devoted to teaching them to be settled around other dogs, no matter what the other dog may be doing.
We don't do any off-lead play in our classes, sharing the practice of many more progressive vet practices who have come to realise that free-playing Puppy Parties tend to result in over-excitable puppies who struggle around other dogs as they grow older. I work closely with Lincvet in Lincoln, and they have stopped holding Puppy Parties for this reason.
I get so many teenage dogs coming to me with behaviour problems that have been learned by playing with other puppies at Puppy Parties or classes. When play isn't properly supervised, goes on for too long, or is too intense, the raised levels of cortisol and adrenaline in puppies become a habit - their neural pathways become grooved so that their response to other dogs is excitement rather than calm curiosity.
OTHER DOGS MEAN EXCITEMENT
The emphasis in our work is teaching puppies to be calm together. Playing wildly with other puppies in classes and parties tends to teach puppies only one thing: that other dogs are really exciting, which can lead to over-excitement and on-lead frustration when they see other dogs on a walk. Once they hit their teenage phase, these problems emerge, and inexperienced trainers and owners often don't realise that the problems started because of early free-play experiences.
CALM AND CONNECTED
What we all really want our dogs to be able to do is walk calmly past other dogs on a walk, either on or off-lead. Teaching our puppies to be calm and connected with their owners around other dogs stops these levels of excitement and frustration.
HOW TO CREATE CALM MEETINGS
Sand and I let Bagel and Freddie approach on a loose lead and stopped them at a 2 meter distance. They got to look at each other and investigate at this distance for a good 30 seconds. We made them feel really good for reconnecting with us. Then we let them approach on a connected loose lead.
Because they had been given time, and weren't allowed to rush up to each other, they stood close enough together to sniff each other, but both of them still kept choosing to reconnect with us. We didn't ask either pup to sit, they chose to because they have been so heavily reinforce and made to feel-good with treat-payments whenever they choose to sit down.
TURNING AWAY FROM TRIGGERS