Puppy steps to becoming socialized

Emily Kaiser

After graduating from their first course, eight students wrestled, chased and pounced on each other during their final playtime. One even peed.

On Wednesday, the puppies completed a five-week class offered to 7- to 14-week-old dogs and their owners. Students who have taken a veterinary clinical science class teach the course eight times a year, said Pam Hand, associate clinical professor and class facilitator.

The class focuses more on the socialization of the puppies rather than obedience or training, she said.

“This is the critical developmental stage where they can be socialized,” Hand said.

The class emphasizes getting puppies used to new experiences so they are not afraid in the future, she said. The puppies are introduced to many different people, other dogs and unfamiliar situations.

During Wednesday’s class, the puppies took a trip to a veterinary clinic room to get adjusted to the clinic atmosphere.

“We also teach the owners puppy management, housetraining, mouthing and some reward-based training,” Hand said.

Kristen Mueller and Andrew McLaughlin brought Barney, their Schnauzer puppy, to the class and said it was much better than they expected.

The class costs $60, and McLaughlin said it is much more affordable compared with similar courses.

“We realized things we were doing wrong,” he said. “It was more training for us than our dog.”

The puppy class correlates with a course Hand teaches in the College of Veterinary Medicine, so the students have an opportunity for hands-on learning, she said. The students are the main instructors of the puppy class.

“The purpose of the class is twofold,” she said. “One is to teach students about it with the idea that all will be able to do puppy socialization in public and to provide puppy socialization to the public.”

There are many dog obedience classes offered in the area, she said, but few are for young puppies.

“Puppies only go through socialization once in their life, while you can go to multiple obedience classes,” Hand said.

The University does not offer courses for older dogs, she said.

Veterinary sophomore and student-instructor Josh Albright said he is not planning on working directly with dogs after graduation, but thought the class would be a good experience.

“I thought it would be a good way to get a jump into early behavioral and socializing techniques,” he said.

Albright said taking puppies to classes earlier in life will make future obedience classes more effective.

“Our main goal is introducing the public to owning a dog,” he said. “In order to train a dog down the line, the dog needs to be comfortable with the surroundings, rather than learning to settle down.”

Teaching the class was extremely beneficial and “a lot of fun,” said Nina Kieves, first-year veterinary student and student-instructor for the course.

Kieves gave the owners and puppies their graduation diplomas, and, out of excitement, one of the puppies peed while accepting her reward.

Kieves said she saw a big improvement in the puppies over the course of the class.

The Animal Humane Society offers a similar course focusing on puppy socialization at eight weeks old, said Becky Schultz, coordinator of training and behavior programs for the humane society.

Dog owners must understand teaching commands to the puppies is not as important as providing them with socialization training, she said.

“The shy and fearful dogs we see are the ones that had inadequate socialization during those months,” Schultz said. “The classes are the best way to prevent fearful and aggressive dogs.”