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PUPPY TRAINING // Shaping Confident Behaviour: The Importance of Exposing a Puppy To New Sounds

At Found by the Hound, something that we focus on is encouraging a puppy or dog to be confident.

A confident dog is less likely to be phased by storms, loud noises, specific objects, people or other dogs. An underlying reason for some anxious behaviours or fear related aggression is a lack of confidence. Lack of confidence typically stems from either poor genetics and/or lack of early exposure in those crucial development stages.

Have you ever heard the saying “fear of the unknown”?

Fear of the unknown is something that we as humans can resonate with. This can also be especially true with our pets. The key difference is that when our dogs experience fear or anxiety, as dogs don’t speak English, we cannot reassure them with words like we could our children. We can’t tell them to be brave or that everything will be fine. Our attention at that moment would actually inadvertently reinforce their anxiety. What we can do, is ensure they are equipped to deal with specific situations by making sure they’ve experienced it in a positive setting, as a puppy.

A Puppy’s Mind

Your puppy’s social development occurs within the first 16 weeks of their young life. This means that you have a very short window to expose them to as much as you possibly can in this time. This also includes sounds.

If you have had the fortune of your puppy coming from a knowledgeable breeder, then they will have done some sound exposure with your puppy prior to it being three weeks of age. Prior to this age a startle reflex does not exist.

Think about their mind as a blank photo album. You have up to 16 weeks to fill it with as many positive photo memories (experiences) as you can. Failure to introduce your puppy to certain sights and sounds may mean that if they encounter it at a later point in their life, it could trigger fear or anxiety. It could also set them up for a future of anxiety from storms, fireworks, loud children, cars and more.

The Importance of Sound Exposure

Imagine this….

You’re 40 years old and overseas in a country where you cannot speak the language. All of a sudden you hear a strange loud noise you have never in your life encountered. You can’t see what made the sound. Those around you start running around in an unusual manner. Imagine how terrified you would be, not knowing what that sound meant, not being able to understand the words from those around you and not understanding where it came from.

It would be especially frightening. Now consider your dog...

If they’re exposed to all kinds of sounds during their social development stage, they will be less likely to fret when they encounter a large thunderstorm or an evening of non-stop fireworks like New Year’s Eve.

As Trainers we have seen every form of anxiety, from constant shaking to digging out and escaping, even awful situations where a dog has significantly injured itself trying to seek safety. Anxiety and fear for a dog is very complex and can be very distressing for both the dog and the owner.

When you get your puppy, you may be more inclined to focus on introducing your puppy to your friends, their dogs, your cat or your family members, but do not discount the significance of introducing it to new sounds.

How to Introduce to New Sounds

Whilst we can’t ask the heavens to open and produce a storm before they hit 16 weeks of age, we can absolutely introduce them to a variety of new sounds, you may just have to be proactive in finding new ways to spark their intrigue or curiosity.

Often when a new sound is introduced, puppy will have a “startle response” this response is completely normal. You would startle if someone just made a loud sound that you weren’t expecting. There is nothing wrong with a startle response. What we look for as trainers is how long it takes for puppy to “recover” (start acting normal again)?

It is absolutely crucial that if your puppy has a startle response and then cowers, hides or tries to climb up your leg, that you DO NOT comfort them, we repeat, YOU DO NOT COMFORT THEM.

As adorable as they are, comforting, reassuring, or patting when your dog displays fearful or anxious behaviour will actually REINFORCE their reaction. Essentially you will have told them that they were correct to be afraid. You will be involuntarily shaping and building fearful behaviour and this can be extremely difficult to undo.

Instead, wait for your puppy to begin acting normal again, or show interest or curiosity, even better, walk towards the direction of the sound, this is when you should PRAISE your puppy for displaying brave, confident behaviour. The reward will create a positive association with the sound and if carried out correctly, will help your puppy cope with that sound for years to come.

Get inventive with sounds. Some ideas can include (but not limited to):

· movies with fireworks or bombs

· party poppers

· wheelie bin noises

· accidentally dropping a pot in the kitchen

· storm sounds on a stereo

· microwave sounds

· alarms (car alarms, smoke alarms)

and the list goes on

If done correctly, this will only broaden their exposure and set them up for success in the future! Even better still, link a positive to these sounds by playing a fun game with puppy as the sounds are playing.

It is also important to acknowledge how you behave towards different sounds. Puppies and dogs look to us for direction. They are very attuned to our body language and normal behaviour patterns and consequently, how you react to noises will affect your puppy. If a storm is approaching and a clap of thunder occurs as you then rush around in a frantic manner, closing windows and ripping washing off the line, your sudden change in behavior will actually cause a young puppy to start to enter a state of stress (panting, whimpering, pacing, big yawns, scratching at doors etc). They will associate that sound with your frantic behaviour and start to see that sound as a stress trigger. A calm person is more likely to create a calm dog.

Our Trainers are highly experienced in training puppies and are especially skilled in shaping confident dogs. Speak with our Trainers to learn more about exposure and what you can do with your puppy to ensure they get the best start possible.


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