Part two of my interview with Dr. Sophia Yin about her new book, Perfect Puppy in 7 Days:
Victoria: Perfect Puppy in 7 Days really focuses a lot on early learning and socialization. In fact, John Bradshaw, author of Dog Sense, says “Worth buying for the socialization advice and checklist alone.” Can you explain to our blog readers Why is socialization so important?
Sophia: People frequently have dogs who are fearful and later aggressive out of fear to unfamiliar people and dogs. They tend to think their dog must have been abused, when a much more likely scenario is that the puppy was not fully socialized starting at a young age. When puppies are between 3 weeks and 3 months of age, they are primed to be curious, and to bond to animals in their environment. But as they get older their default setting is to be fearful of all the things that they were not introduced to early on. This is a survival mechanism. It’s why wild animals don’t come out and visit and try to make friends with people all the time. It’s also how wild animals stay alive. If they approach everything without fear, they are likely to get eaten.
The implication with puppies is that we need to give them many positive experiences. with friendly, well-behaved dogs, unfamiliar people, new objects and different environments during their sensitive period for socialization and continuing into their adulthood. My rule of thumb is that they need 100 positive experiences with 100 different people in 100 days. And they need to have positive experiences with new dogs on a weekly basis.
This means that as with children, owners will have to set up play dates and make an effort to get their dog into new environments at least 2-4x a week. In Perfect Puppy in a Week, you’ll see that during that first week Lucy, the Australian Cattle Dog puppy who was the subject of much of the book, had many positive experiences with visitors as well as appropriate doggie playmates. She also learned how to be polite around cats and kids.
VS: What’s the biggest problem you see with how people socialize puppies currently?
SY: Besides just not getting their puppy out enough, the biggest problem is that people when they do get them out, they don’t realize the puppy must have positive experiences, not neutral or negative experiences. That means they need to be able to read their puppy’s body language so they can recognize fear and anxiety. That’s why Perfect Puppy in 7 Days has sections on reading body language.
A second issue is that people don’t realize the amount of things they need to socialize the pet to—sounds, surfaces, people, other species, new environments. And they don’t realized that the socialization should start with the breeder. Socialization is so important that I cover it in two chapters in the book and show pictures of the various situations and items the puppy must be socialized to. The early chapter shows how puppies develop their senses and how this coincides with what they should be socialized to starting before 8 weeks of age.
VS: A week or two really does make a difference in socialization, doesn't it?
SY: For a puppy, a week or two is the equivalent of months for a child. For instance, I document the progress of a litter of young puppies and show that one puppy is very reactive to handling at 4 weeks of age but with several minutes of handling a day, after a week, the puppy can even have clippers near him and remains calm. Similarly puppies can also learn unwanted behaviors as quickly. For instance, one puppy in the litter highlighted in chapter 1 of the book was adopted and would struggle when the owner held him wheras previously he’d been very tolerant with us. The new owner would release him as soon as he struggled and by day 2 he was learning to growl when held. After the owner realized her mistake, switched to picking him up and giving him treats and then letting him down when he was relaxed. She’d try to put him down before he started struggling. But even when he did struggle a little, because he’d been given treats in the handling situation, he didn’t struggle as much and so she didn’t let go. Within a week he was back to allowing people to pick him up and place him in different positions. So behavior can change quickly in puppies.
VS: Tell people about the advantage of training puppies as young as 8 weeks of age.
SY: Besides letting them learn the rules before they have a chance to learn to break them, when they are young they are less coordinated and this gives us a huge advantage. We don’t have to be as quick to get the food reward or other reward to them. They physically can’t jump on us as quickly or nip or grab as quickly as an older puppy. So it’s easier to remove our attention or remove the reward for jumping before they have a chance. Training is about rewarding exactly as the correct behaviors occur and removing rewards for unwanted behavior such as jumping to grab a toy, before they can perform them. When puppies are really young, it’s easier for the humans to be faster and thus have better timing than if they wait several weeks.
VS: You talk about leadership in the book, but make it clear that it’s not the same as being the boss? What’s the difference?
SY: One definition of leadership is the ability to influence an individual to perform behavior he would not otherwise perform. By that definition, pet owners do need to develop leadership skills. However we have a choice of leadership style. We can lead by force like a dictator such as Muammar Qaddafi or by providing rewards that the followers want, such as Mahatma Ghandi. Schools of marketing and leadership recommend against the dictatorial, coercive style of leadership and encourage methods of leading that motivate humans through positive methods.
A similar approach should be used with animals. Instead of using coercion we can learn to lead like a leader in a dance. When partners dance as a couple, one leads and the other follows. The leader's job is to decide ahead of time which steps to perform and then guide his partner in a clear manner so that the partner CAN follow. Partners who have to shout out the steps or who yank their follower around don't make the cut. With animals the approach is similar. If we set rules and have a clear picture of what we want, then we can consistently convey this information to the puppy through our body language and perfectly timed rewards. To see this concept in action, watch the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVVBGJi5v9s&feature=related
VS: Marty Becker, veterinarian on Good Morning America has said it’s not just about teaching your puppy manners, it's a step-by-step recipe for bonding with your puppy, learning to communicate with him, and preparing you pup for life! Can you explain how your book shows a step by step recipe for bonding?
SY: One aspect of the book is my version of the Learn to Earn Program where the puppy learns that the way he gets what he wants —praise, petting, to go outside, to come inside, to get bits of his meal, to play fetch—is to sit politely and ask you. It’s not about forcing him to sit, it’s about rewarding him over and over throughout the day. If you’ve read the “Compass of Pleasure” by David Levin, you know that a high rate of reinforcement can have an almost addicting affect. For instance, the reason cigarettes are much more addicting than heroin, which is much more potent is that smokers get many many little rewards on a daily basis. Similarly with puppies, if they are working for their entire meal and everything they like, they are also getting probably 200 rewards a day for good behavior and they are learning that unwanted behavior does not work. Through this process they learn that you are consistent and you are able to communicate what you want in a clear manner (with good timing). As a result, they learn they can depend on you. It’s much easier to trust someone who always does what they say they will do and who communicates in a language you can understand.
I also use the Learn to Earn Program to quickly build a bond with any new dog I take in, as a first step for training anxious dogs they can look to their owners for guidance or help in scary situations, and for helping dogs who have lost their family members to guide them into a more structured situation.
VS: In the testimonials people say over and over that the book is fun. One trainer says “ I own tons of dog training books and none of them are as much to read as this one. Was it your intention to make the reading enjoyable?
SY: Yes, both people and dogs learn best if the learning is fun. And for me, I’m more interested in writing books that will also be fun for me to read. Just having a wide array of photos that depict every type of situation you might meet make the book engaging and documenting the progress of both the litter of puppies as well as of Lucy, the main main character/puppy depicted on the front of the book, made the process enjoyable. I love watching puppies and noticing how they develop and how minor events shape their behavior and personality. So it was just natural to document these things so that everyone else could see.
Because of the fun and clear instructions, many puppy class instructors have told me they are going to use it for their classes, and at least one large puppy program will be revising their classes to follow the Perfect Puppy program.
VS: Any last messages you want to send?
SY: Yes. Blog readers, please feel free to visit my web site (www.drsophiayin.com) and Facebook fan page (www.facebook.com/sophiayin.dvm). I have lots of free downoadable posters on topics ranging from body language in dogs, how to appropriately greet a dog, how kids and dogs should interact, as well as many article and videos on behavior. In fact I was voted one of Bark Magazine’s 100 Best and Brightest because of the website.
VS: Sophia, thanks so much for all the great info. It really is a great book, and I wish you lots of success with it. I'll see you at the APDT conference in San Diego!
Note: This book will be available on amazon.com in September 2011 and on Amazon kindle, B&N Nook and ibooks by August 1, 2011. You can preorder the book at a big discount now or download the free puppy socialization check list from www.drsophiayin.com/perfectpuppy.