Common Myths About Pet Behavior Part III

Training pets can be hard. Separating fact from fiction about the best way to train your pet is harder. Many myths and misconceptions about the best training methods are out there. Let’s take a moment to discuss three of the most common.

Misconception:  Puppies should have all their shots before they are around other dogs

Everyone wants their puppy to have the best start in life. This includes having a puppy who is comfortable, happy and well adjusted, not only at home but in public too. Socialization helps puppies acclimate to people, buildings, sights, sounds, noises, animals and other dogs. Puppies become comfortable with those things they naturally interact with up to a certain age. Once this age is reached, they will naturally be more suspicious of unfamiliar things, people and surroundings. Therefore, timing is important.

The optimal age for socialization is between three and 12 weeks. There is a common misconception puppies should have all of their vaccinations before they are out in public or around other pets so they are fully protected against infectious diseases. However, vaccinations are given until a puppy is 16 to 18 weeks old. If you wait until they have all of their shots, your puppy will be well past the optimal age for socialization. Research has shown no greater risk of contracting infectious disease for those puppies socialized before their series of puppy vaccines is complete. Simply by taking common sense precautions you can protect your puppy and provide the socialization she needs between the critical ages of three to 12 weeks.

Puppies are most accepting of new situations during the critical ages of three to 12 weeks. Between 12 and 18 weeks, his ability to acclimate lessens with each passing week. After 18 weeks, it becomes much harder to teach a dog or help them to become successfully socialized. Properly socialized puppies are less likely to be aggressive or fearful. A well socialized puppy is more relaxed, peaceful and happy. Those who are not can become stressed by their environment and are more likely to be fearful and anxious. Therefore, the benefits of socialization far outweigh the risk of acquiring an infectious disease when a puppy is around other pets before getting all of their shots.

Misconception:  Using treats to reward alternative behavior reinforces negative behavior

Pet owners should teach skills which allow pups to succeed at home and in public. Through effective management and rewards, you can help your pup stop behaving inappropriately. Giving a treat when a dog engages in desirable behavior makes sense. Rewarding alternative behavior or counter conditioning may seem counterintuitive but can be an effective tool when used appropriately. Take for example, a dog who barks at other dogs or strangers while out for a walk. Offering a dog who barks at a stranger a treat is teaching her something wonderful happens when they see another person or dog. The treat transforms the dog’s emotional response from fear to happiness.

You won’t always have to use treats. Initially, treats help teach the intended skill, encourage cooperation and eventually build good habits. Over time, using treats as a constant reminder become less necessary. They can eventually be replaced with positive affirmations such as “Good job!”.

Misconception:  Punishment is necessary and will stop bad behavior

Punishing negative behavior is controversial. If punishment is used, it must be used correctly in order to be effective. It must happen immediately, be intense enough to stop the behavior, and occur every single time in exactly the same manner. These guidelines are nearly impossible to follow. For example, consider a dog who is punished for jumping on the counters. There is no assurance a dog learns through punishment. It is quite possible the dog learns to not jump on the counter when their human is around but what about when the pet owner is gone? It is entirely possible the dog jumps on the counter when their owner leaves the house. So the question is not whether to use punishment but rather is punishment effective?

There is evidence punishment leads to increased aggression and anxiety. Instead of associating punishment with behavior, dogs associate it with the person giving it which causes them to become fearful and anxious. Therefore, the consequences of using punishment in training may far exceed any benefit. Studies have shown far greater results are achieved when positive reinforcement techniques are used in training dogs.

Ideally, the optimal way to socialize and train puppies is developing a system using positive reinforcement and rewards. Teaching puppies skills they need in order to be successful both at home and in public creates family harmony, ensures your pup’s safety, enhances the human-pet bond, and establishes a firm foundation for everyone. Creating a plan to help your pup become properly socialized along with a training regimen utilizing positive reinforcement and rewards means everyone deserves a “Good job!”.



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