At SoftMaple our goal has been the pursuit of the ideal Curly
Coated Retriever. A beautiful companion hunter who is able and willing to compete in all dog sports, and remain a joy to live
with in the house around your family.
We are a small kennel
with a limited but well-planned breeding program. Each breeding is of great importance to us and that we concentrate our time
and efforts into caring for and socializing our pups.
Here are the top TEN ways for raising puppies to
be confident dogs!
Pick Self-Confident Parents. Breeding stock selection is key. Fearful dogs, both fathers
and mothers, may pass their fears on to their offspring. Conversely, confident parents tend to produce more confident puppies
BUT confident dogs are as much made as born so read on for things you can do to help your puppies become stable, confident
Pick Good Mothers. Nurture also plays a big role, starting with mothering. There is strong evidence that
attentive, doting mothers raise more confident offspring, even if those babies’ natural mothers were timid. The reverse
is also true. Poor moms that ignore or worse correct their pups too harshly can reduce the confidence of inherently bold
puppies. UPDATE: A study in Nature published in January 2016, showed that doting dog mothers produce more outgoing pups that
readily explore the world around them AND are less aggressive.
Handle Your Puppies. Touching and holding puppies from very early in
the pups’ lives, particularly in the first three weeks, improves their ability to handle stress, learn and problem solve
as adults. You can do this in formal ways, like Early Neurologic Stimulation and Early Scent Introduction, or you can just
cuddle with each puppy every day. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it!
Present Pups with Appropriate Challenges.
Some folks believe that baby puppies should be shielded from any fright or challenge that might stress them. We believe the
opposite, although we obviously do not allow our puppies to get injured or terrified. However, we know that to gain self-confidence,
puppies must do things that are hard for them, that take them out of their comfort zone. Puppy equipment that is too easy
for the puppies after 4 or 5 weeks of age (the Transition Period) is cute but not developmental. Watching a 7-week old Curly
puppy on a 1” high teeter or a German shepherd puppy on 4” dog walk may be fun but it isn’t doing anything
for the pups because there is no challenge.
By six weeks of age, puppies need situations that are physically and mentally difficult and a little bit stressful. Pups
need to struggle to gain confidence, whether getting on a platform, sliding down a slide or wading in a stream. A pup may
have to try a dozen times, perhaps over several days, to climb up on a platform. He may whine, cry and even howl. He may
give up or fail, over and over. Yes, he will get stressed and it will be hard on him. BUT if we allow the puppy to solve
the problem himself, he will become more coordinated and confident. If we make it too easy or if we rescue him, he will not.
Independent success and achievement create self-confident puppies.
To order a copy
of The Puppy Diary mail a check to:
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8282 Soft Maple Road
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Things Regularly. Because of the way dogs develop, challenges need to change regularly, too. Puppies habituate to
things very quickly and when they do, development stops. So change up your puppy pen, moving items around and rotating things
in and out. When you walk your pups, go in different directions each day. If your pups are doing everything with ease, make
them a little more difficult.
Take Woods Walks with Your Litters.
We call them woods walks but you can call them field or beach or even desert walks. Taking your puppies out for off-leash
walks over moderate terrain not only helps them develop confidence but it significantly reduces the risk of hip dysplasia
in adulthood. If you can, get off the path and go cross country with your pups so they meet and overcome challenges like
ditches, hills, fallen trees, stone walls and more.
All breeds can do woods walks; you’ll simply make the challenges smaller for toy breeds. Make sure it’s not
too hot or too cold, and that your “woods” are free of other dogs. Use your yard, your friend’s yards or
those hidden wild places. Where not to go? Never a dog park or the local dog hangout.
Recognize That Wariness is Normal. There seems
to be a new philosophy that if pups are afraid of something, people should get involved to help them. The vast majority of
the time, nothing could be further from the truth! In all but emergencies, our involvement reduces the puppies’ self-efficacy
and instead, changes them from independent problem solvers to dependent ones. If producing confident dogs is our goal, we
want to give puppies the opportunity to deal with their own concerns. Wariness is normal when raising puppies.
Starting at 5 weeks of age, it is natural for pups to be wary of new objects, people and places. Wariness is not fear! Wariness
is being cautious about possible dangers or problems. Puppies go from being completely unaware of things that can hurt them
at 3 and 4 weeks of age to recognizing that there are dangers in the world. Between 5 and 9 weeks of age, pups become hyperaware
of novel items because they now have the mental ability to assess whether a situation is safe or not.
Pups at this age develop at different rates so you may see some pups showing
caution earlier than others. That’s just because their brains and nervous systems are maturing at different times.
What appears to be a slow or even fearful puppy may just be a pup whose brain needs to finish up myelination, a key step
that enables learning.
When these older puppies
come upon a new thing, they might move to a safer distance to observe and smell the item. They might circle it to see what
happens and then approach cautiously to touch and sniff the new thing. All of this is not only normal, it is SMART!
Avoid Labeling Young Puppies. If we label a
6-week old (or worse yet, younger) puppy as “fearful” or “manipulative” simply because it
is wary around a new object, we have made a serious error. What the puppy is doing is normal for its age. The difference
between it and others in its litter might be due to physiologic rather than temperament. Like people, dogs develop at different
rates. Since we are talking about puppies that haven’t even been alive for two months yet, giving them the benefit
of the doubt seems appropriate.
Psychologists have long known that labeling children affects how others treat them. Once we label puppies, we look for evidence
to support that label, even if it isn’t there. We want to be unbiased but we are not once we have labeled a puppy.
We watch “stars” and ooh and ah over the great things they do, overlooking their moments of tentativeness. Once
a puppy has been labeled a “weanie” or “scaredy-cat,” we treat that puppy differently.
We compound our error if we then step in to “fix”
the fearful puppy by interfering with the natural process by which puppies learn about themselves and their world. Instead,
we should quietly and unobtrusively support ALL puppies in the 6- to 13-week period. We should give all of them as much time
and experience they need to become comfortable with the strange things they find in the world around them.
Allow Pups to Solve Their Own Problems. So what
should we do if our puppy is afraid? We should wait quietly, giving the puppy time to complete its evaluation and make a
decision regarding the novel item. Often, we just put the item in the pen with the litter so it has all the time it needs
to resolve its concern. This also allows it to watch its littermates or mother interact with the item.
If we can’t put the object in the pen, we stay quietly out of the way while ensuring the puppy is safe. We might support
the puppy by sitting or standing nearby but we do not take control of the situation. This is between the puppy and its world!
If we encourage the puppy, we are putting pressure on it, increasing the stress it is feeling. If we push, pull or physically
place the puppy near the item, we may cause it to panic. If we start training, we teach the puppy that we are in charge in
strange situations rather than him. We are making him dependent and needy. Remember, our job is to do nothing but ensure
the puppy is safe and offer him the comfort of our presence!
If the puppy is still concerned about the item after 15 minutes, we will plan a return trip, perhaps
with a confident older dog. Puppies learn a lot by observing older dogs so we use them to help puppies gain confidence.
For this reason, we also never allow puppies to walk with fearful adult dogs since the older dog’s concern may rub off
on the pup.
In all walks of life, confident dogs do best. Raising
confident dogs is critical for today’s breeders and owners. To do this, we select stable breeding animals, keep the
pups with their mother untill weaned, and create challenging developmental opportunities in which we allow puppies to solve
their own problems. We recognize that puppies from 5 to 12 weeks are programmed to respond warily to the world, evaluate
what is dangerous, and then engage with perceived safe items, people and situations. As owners and breeders, our job is to
not interfere or take control during this time or we risk creating dependent rather than confident pups! Instead, we should
ensure developmental opportunities are age and size appropriate and a bit of a challenge. We then make sure the puppies are
safe and stay out of the way.
What Should Socialization Experiences Include?
Early socializations should include exposure to all kinds of people,
animals, objects, and experiences.
will vary from familiar routines that your pup will probably take in stride, to unusual or unfamiliar experiences that are
more intense for your puppy:
People – Your puppy should learn how to interact with different people, including babies, children,
and the elderly, people using canes, people in uniforms, people in wheelchairs, and people of different skin colors.
Dogs – Learning how to be a polite and respectful
canine citizen takes plenty of practice. Your pup should have opportunities to play with puppies and dogs of different breeds
and sizes. They should also experience walking past other dogs without meeting and observing as they walk right past your
Places and experiences
– Everywhere you go and everything you do gives your puppy different challenges and experiences. Even your familiar
neighborhood changes at night, in the rain, or in the snow. In addition to taking in the world as an observer, your pup should
alsohave the opportunity toparticipate in activities. Socialization experiences are as unlimited as your creativity. For starters,
try exposing your puppy to some of these unique situations and experiences.
Sidewalks, streets, and roads with different levels of traffic
Parking lots or areas
in front of strip malls where your pup can see people and cars coming and going
Playgrounds or parks / ball-fields where
kids are playing
Lakes, rivers, pools, and sandy beaches
Parades or other busy events
How To Socialize A Puppy – Do’s and Don’ts
When planning appropriate socialization experiences for you puppy,
there are many things to consider. Here’s the most important ones I can think of, listed in an easy ‘do’s
and don’ts’ format:
Do make sure that each event or exposure is pleasant for you and your puppy.
keep experiences short so your puppy doesn’t get overwhelmed.
Do increase the duration of the
exposure over time, as well as the level of distraction to make things challenging, but not frightening.
invite friends and family over to meet your puppy. Extend the invitation to babies, toddlers, men, women, and people from
all different backgrounds.
Do invite friendly, healthy, vaccinated dogs over to play with your pup
and visit the homes of these dogs as well.
Do bring your pup to places where there is plenty of activity.
Do take your puppy for frequent car rides.
Do introduce your puppy to new objects
like umbrellas, boxes, trash cans, vacuum cleaners, bicycles, and skateboards.
Do introduce your puppy
to new and unusual sounds.
Do introduce your puppy to all kinds of body handling, including brushing,
bathing, tooth brushing, nail clipping, ear and teeth cleaning, and body inspections.
And while keeping the above in mind:
Don’t expose your puppy to situations that they aren’t ready for.
bring your unvaccinated puppy to places visited by unhealthy or unvaccinated dogs.
reward fearful behavior. In trying to sooth your fearful puppy with praise or treats, you may inadvertently encourage fearful
behavior. Instead only reward the behavior you want to see, and if your dog is scared, move away from the situation.
Don’t rush. Let your puppy work at a pace that is comfortable. Your job is to provide the opportunity. They
will do the socializing.
Don’t wait! This window of opportunity is very short, and the more you can take advantage of it, the easier it will be to work with your puppy in
all kinds of situations as they mature.