“Invisible Dog” Step One
We have gone over socialization types (interaction vs existence) in a previous article, where we expressed the difference and benefits of existence socialization and what I mean by the term “invisible dog”. Here we will start to break down the beginning stages of this type of socialization and what to look for as you do.
Each step will be broken down into phases to help give clear steps on what to do next!
The biggest thing to realize is that you need to enforce calm behavior in your puppy. This doesn’t mean that we correct him every time he plays, but we teach him that he doesn’t have to be doing something all the time. Teaching him to relax and chew on a pig ear or play with a toy quietly while he is settled down. We also do not allow him to get excited when he sees people, there is no reason to react to people who have nothing to do with him. At this stage, we are not going to expect him to remain calm when someone is interacting with him outside of his basic manners (no jumping or biting), only when other people are around and not paying him any mind.
A huge way that we encourage this calm behavior is enforcing it with our other dogs:
Gambit (my 7 year old Old English Sheepdog) tends to not enjoy the constant interaction with other dogs, much less a rambunctious puppy. He will go find himself somewhere to lay down outside of the reach of the other dogs or just off to the side. Because we teach existence, we encourage his desire by making sure that the other dogs do not bother him at this time, especially the puppy.
Loki, who likes to be as close to his people as possible, is often put on the “place” command to encourage him to settle by himself and relax when he is not right next to us. We also encourage this as a break from rough housing with the puppy or to get him to relax in general. You will see, later on, that I consider the “place” command one of the most valuable day to day commands you can teach and one huge reason why I encourage this command is because the “place” command can become a “calm on command” cue.
Now, the puppy with little to no training cannot be expected to hold an actual command much less around distractions, such as the temptation of his household siblings.
So what do we do?
Especially with tethering, it is very easy to keep him close to you. Encourage him with a good chew or a few good toys, giving him one when he wants to play or struggles against the tether in an attempt to get away and play. This is normal, for him to not want to settle, but once he calmly chews on his toy or chew and lays down we pet him gently and calmly praise. ‘
The environment is something to take great consideration in at this time. When you are beginning you want there to be low to no distractions. Practicing this while you are watching TV or on the computer is an excellent time to work on this skill, especially since it will slowly build into a habit that when the household is calm it is time for puppy to be calm.
How we praise/reward in this moment is extremely important. We want to be calm, and not get excited. Reaching down to slowly stroke his head/back/side or offer a gently ear scratch with a calm “good pup” is perfect! Keeping the calm energy is important, especially when starting.
Once your puppy is beginning to get accustomed to this, going outside in the driveway or on the porch is a great place to get started for real distractions. Again, tethering here is important. Sit outside and encourage calm behavior when people are walking by. If he gets excited, give him something to chew and encourage him to settle down.
This is where the inside exercises and calm energy from you is important. If your puppy barks or tries to run toward someone walking passed we want to redirect his attention. Here I would offer a small leash correction, if necessary, and regain his attention so that he is focused back on you and his toy. You may also reward your puppy for just glancing over at the person without reacting.
You are sitting calmly out in the drive way, where the house meets the driveway, and keep an eye out for people. When you see someone, ideally before you puppy, get your puppy’s attention and when he notices the person at first –it may just be as simple as him seeing the person with no real reaction- say “yes” and treat. Do this as many times as you’d like, as long as he is in a calm state of mind. If he gets up and tries to approach or bark, we do our best to regain his attention and continue.
If you cannot get his attention, you can offer a gentle leash correction with a firm “no” and attempt to get his attention again, and continue to encourage him calmly looking at/watching the person.
If this does not work, go back inside and continue there. He is not ready to go outside yet. Continue your indoor lessons.
If he does do well, continue to encourage this.
Jack calmly watching the neighbor’s two landscapers. 10 weeks old.
Remember, we are working with a puppy so it is important to be realistic and not to get frustrated. We need to learn his thresholds and work with him at his level. Some puppies can be ready to sit outside and watch people within the first week or two, some may need more time. It comes down to both consistency/training and personality/genetics.
Jack, for example, is in his second week of being with us at the time with was written and can relax outside while he watches people. While we encourage this, and continue to work on this, we also need to keep in mind that we need to be consistent with rewarding this behavior as he matures. There are fear periods and teenage times ahead of us where we may need to be more on top of this desired behavior than we need to be now, or even taken a step back to basics for a time. It is completely natural for a puppy to be 100% okay watching people calmly one week and the next barking at everyone that passes the next, but the more practice he gets and the more consistent we can be, and the more aware of our dogs’ thresholds, the easier the unexpected times can be.
Loki, as another example, is genetically very “stranger danger” and will alert/bark at people going by. In order to continue our training with existence socialization we encourage him to be on his “place” outside and we have to be very aware of passing people. Over time, at one and a half years old, he has gotten significantly better and does fairly well. We, as his owners, still need to advocate for him and for the passing people by encouraging him to be calm and just silently watch. He has been taught this from a young age, but as he has reached his teenage part of life, we have had to buckle back down and reinforce this desired behavior.
Again, this is completely normal to see “regression” when a puppy begins to mature between 16-24 months. Not every dog will regress, and not every dog will need the extra reinforcement, but it is something to be aware about as a personality. It is also something that we need to understand is a potentiality, as well as something that we need to still remain calm about regardless of how frustrating it can be for our “perfect puppy” to start suddenly “acting out”, especially in behaviors that we believed to be very solid.
Are you ready for the next step?
Stay tuned for our next addition to the Invisible dog! We will regularly add steps for to continue your training with Existence Socialization! This is only the beginning on your journey to an Invisible Dog!
Until next time!
All you need is “A New Leash On Life”