MANAGING CALM MEETINGS BETWEEN PUPPIES
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
Sand and I stood sideways-on - we always keep our bodies and gaze turned away from possible triggers when we're working our dogs. And another puppy could become a trigger. This is because dogs follow our gaze and the direction of our bodies - if you engage with a trigger with your eyes and body, the message that you're giving your dog is that she may need to engage with it as well. If we're teaching our dogs to trust us that they won't be pressurised to deal with triggers, we need to make that message clear by turning our heads and bodies away. Although another puppy should be nothing more than an interesting event, if it's over-excited (or stressed) it could become a trigger. "Triggers" are anything that provokes an over-aroused reaction - and excitement counts as an over-aroused reaction. Puppies and dogs react intensely to raised levels of adrenaline and cortisol in other dogs, and it's easy for early meetings between them to tip-over into unmanageable emotions unless they're managed calmly.
Once the boys were this close, we let them sniff each other, taking care to keep leads loose and out of the way so they didn't tangle. We let them sniff for about 3 seconds, which allowed them enough time to investigate each other safely, without finding each other a little too close for comfort. It's an idea to always keep the first sniff short, so our dogs don't find each other overwhelming. Once they had sniffed for 3 seconds, we shifted away. The puppies followed us as we moved away, because they are both so responsive to following their handlers without being told to. Their connection was lovely, and we were sure to pay them with plenty of treats for choosing to reconnect with us. Finally we let them go back again for a longer sniff (about 10 seconds) before shifting them calmly away from.each other again. This is because we wanted to teach them that they won't get to play with every dog that they encounter on their walks.
KEEP IT BRIEF
Early good, calm and enjoyable experiences teach them what to expect from their next encounters with dogs. If we manage to show our puppies in their first 10 encounters with other dogs that meetings are safe, secure and calm, we will end-up with dogs who are able to be Calm, Confident and self-Controlled around other dogs. Brief, carefully managed meetings keep puppies Calm, Confident and self-Controlled. It means that our puppies will then be polite and well-mannered around other dogs when they're finally ready to go off-lead on walks.
Bagel and Freddie are two pups whose owners have put a lot of work into teaching them to be responsive to their owners and calm when out and about - it's been a real pleasure working with them and we congratulate all the puppies in this block of classes on their successful graduation.