My Pet World: Poorly socialized puppy just needs time and training to be well-adjusted adult
We adopted a five-year-old female mini-Poodle that we named Sami. Sami was caged by a breeder in a puppy mill. Due to her lack of (social) experience, she is difficult to train. Sami doesn't recognize the association of words to treats and actions. Therefore, positive reinforcement doesn't work. She has no idea about the meaning of words she hears, such as her name, eat, out, walk, etc.
However, she recognizes clues to things, such as us putting on our jackets, rattling her leash, or preparing her meals. Sami also will let my husband do anything to her, but she avoids me. She is very cautious about everything but has come a long way since we adopted her. Your thoughts?
— Janis, Hartford, Connecticut
Dogs born in puppy mills don't have the best start in life. They are raised in cages for six to 12 weeks waiting to be delivered to pet stores. Unfortunately, this growth period coincides with peak socialization when puppies easily approach people and are unafraid of new experiences.
At this stage, puppies should be gently handled, petted, and slowly exposed to other dogs, kids, stairs, grass, the vet’s office, kind strangers, etc. If they don't interact or have limited interactions with people, they can develop fears that can be difficult, but not impossible, to untrain later.
Because your dog is already past the puppy stage, you will need to build her trust by developing a predictable routine. She must learn to trust her new home before she can trust experiences outside the home.
Next, slowly expose her to new experiences, like walking on a leash, on a sidewalk, or on grass. Expose her, slowly, to new surroundings, like taking different routes when you walk.
If she is nervous about meeting new people, expose her to friends and family she already trusts but who can wear disguises, like hats and sunglasses. Have them toss her treats from about 10 feet away, so she can associate these “new people” with something yummy. Do this before a meal so she is hungry, and use a high value treat, like pieces of boiled (unsalted) chicken to entice her.
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