Friday, November 5, 2010

Ian Dunbar Seminar: Don't Waste Puppyhood!

When it comes to our puppies, Dr. Ian Dunbar says that we are not doing one tenth of the training, one hundredth of the socialization or one thousandth of the classical conditioning that we should. As a result, puppyhood is wasted, and our dogs inevitably grow up to have behavior or temperament problems. These problems are not only predictable, they are easily preventable if we intervene early enough. Ian’s fed up with dogs being rehomed, or worse, euthanized, because they were failed by their breeders, trainers, and owners. Today, I’m going to write about what he thinks each party should do.

A Breeder’s Responsibilities
Ian says that the eight week old puppy you bring home from the breeder may be so developmentally retarded that he’ll never catch up to where he should have been. Since half (or more!) of the dog’s socialization period happens while the puppy is still at his breeder’s, it is vital that breeders do their share to set our dogs up for success. This includes house training, chew training, and socialization.

On the house training front, Ian says the breeder should have a long term confinement area set up in three distinct sections. At one end, there’s the whelping box, where everyone sleeps. In the middle is a play area, and at the far end there should be a toilet area. Ideally, that toilet area will include natural substrates such as grass or dirt because puppies will develop a life-long preference early on.

In the middle play area, Ian wants the breeder to tie chew toys to the barriers. This makes it difficult for the puppies to fight over toys, plus it keeps the toys out of the toilet area. Ideally, these chew toys will include Kongs, and he wants all meals fed from them to encourage good chew habits early on.

Most importantly, a good breeder will also socialize their puppies. From an early age, all puppies should receive daily neonatal handling by all kinds of people, and especially men and children. They should be exposed to regular household sounds. The puppies ought to meet five new people a day, again, concentrating on men and children of all ages and sizes.

The First Month at Home
Ian believes that a dog’s temperament is forged by 12 weeks, so it’s important that the puppy’s first month at home is used wisely. He wants people to “flood” them with social stimuli. Again, the puppy should be exposed to five new people a day, and the wider variety, the better; every day should be Halloween for a puppy!

New owners should continue to use a long-term confinement area with three distinct sections, like at the breeders. This should be used whenever the owner is gone. While the owner is home, the puppy should be crated unless the owner is interacting with him. It is very important that the dog learns how to be alone in small doses.

Finally, he strongly believes that a food bowl should be a rite of passage. All food should be hand-fed until your dog is perfect for you. Meals should be used for classical conditioning during socialization or for training. If there’s anything left over, it should be put in a chew toy.

Puppy Class
Ian is obviously a huge proponent of puppy classes. Unfortunately, he believes that they have gone downhill since they began in the 80s. Instead of focusing on socialization, many trainers are focusing on obedience commands, which Ian finds to be a poor use of time.

Ian believes that puppies should start class around 12 weeks of age. This is for two reasons. First, Ian wants puppies to be very well socialized to their new families. If a dog is well-socialized to his environment, his family, and their friends, he is less likely to be rehomed later. But also, Ian really wants the puppy in class when the dog enters adolescence at 18 to 20 weeks so he can help them through any rough patches.

Puppy classes should be held completely off leash. The primary purposes of puppy class are socialization and teaching bite inhibition, neither of which can happen unless the puppies are interacting with each other. He also emphasizes off-leash reliability, and he does not think you can get that unless the puppies are trained off leash.

Along those lines, every 15-30 seconds, there should be a training interlude, where everyone calls their puppy back to them. Sometimes they simply grab a collar and give a treat, and sometimes they lure behaviors like sits or downs. Then the puppies are sent back to play. This helps build off-leash reliability, modulates arousal levels, and teaches the puppies to think despite distractions.

Puppy classes should have puppies of all shapes and sizes. Although owners love it, Ian thinks it’s detrimental to have all small-breed dogs together. They simply must learn how to interact with dogs of different sizes. Small dogs must learn not to run and squeak, and big dogs must learn how to be gentle.

Finally, all social problems must be resolved week one. The bully must be stopped, and the fearful dog must gain confidence. If it doesn’t happen then, it will be much more difficult during week two. If it doesn’t happen then, the dog is likely to have a problem for life. For bullies, Ian likes to provide running verbal feedback to the puppy to help him learn to interact appropriately. For the fearful puppies, he carefully pairs them up with suitable buddies to play one-on-one and build confidence.

That, in a nutshell, is how Ian recommends we raise puppies. Obviously, I’ve glossed over a lot of details, and I’ll admit- this post is a bit dry. The thing is, I had some pretty strong emotions about the concept of a “wasted puppyhood,” even though I mostly agree with him. Since I recognize that my feelings might be a bit irrational, I decided to write a separate post detailing my reactions.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear how you all have raised puppies. I’d love to hear what breeders are doing to socialize their puppies. I’d like to know what puppy-buyers are doing to ensure they receive emotionally-healthy puppies. Did you go to puppy class, and if so, how did it compare to Ian’s ideal? If you were to do it all over again, would you follow Ian’s ideas exactly, or would you modify them somehow? Let me know!


Elephant said...

I’ll admit- this post is a bit dry.

On the contrary; this was one of your more interesting posts.

Crystal said...

Really? Huh. Since it's a straight-up recap, without any original thoughts of my own, I naturally thought it was boring. I mean... aren't I the most interesting thing in the world?!?!

Kristen said...

You ARE the most interesting.

I have too much to say about puppies.

- The breeder part is REALLY under valued even by people who are doing other great breeding program things. There are a LOT of good reasons I went with Griffins breeder... but how they raise puppies was a HUGE part of it. He came home house trained. He'd been exposed to lots of people, dogs, places, experiences, sounds, foods, etc... I'll never be able to get a dog from a breeder who -doesn't- do this stuff now.
- I do think many puppy classes are lacking. That is a very valid point.
-- A problem with puppy classes (and even basic) is that often it's the most inexperienced instructors or assistants there. When really you need the most experienced people you can get. If Luna or Blaze had been in a puppy class with a good instructor, I may have got appropriate help for them sooner and we'd have a very different experience.
-- I strongly dislike teaching puppy classes and raising puppies because it's so stressful to try and do everything 'right'. Last summer I had two board and train puppies who were a bit older than ideal but I was doing EVERYTHING I could to try and get them caught up. They went to their homes without a ton of behaviors, but for the most part have adjusted very well after spending the first couple months in a fairly sterile environment.

One part I'm conflicted about is puppy play time. They DO need to learn proper play. it's good for humans to learn about dog body language so they don't misinerpret it on their own. Its good exercise. But there are drawbacks and I don't know how much puppy play with others I'll let my next dog/s have...

Thanks for sharing. I've watched some of his tapes and LOVE his dog expressions. But I just couldn't justify the costs to go to any of his recent talks.

Crystal said...

Kristen, can you tell me more about the drawbacks you see with puppy play time?

I have two thoughts: 1. Dogs must learn that they can't play with every other dog they meet. 2. Puppy play times must be closely monitored by very good trainers who can intervene if something bad is happening, and allow good things that look scary to continue happening.

Robin Sallie said...

I don't believe that puppies learn very much playing with other puppies.

With Via I limit it to one or two other puppies at a time. And I call her out of play and treat her for coming a lot. And I treat any puppy who arrives with her.

I want her to play with or interact with as many stable adult dogs that I can find.

And I try to make sure that she gets off the property at least once a day.

Crystal said...

Robin, I've LOVED watching you raise Via. What is it that you think puppies get from adult dogs that they don't from other puppies? I'm guessing that it's that a (stable) adult dog can provide fair doggie corrections that help the puppy become well-mannered and have good social skills.

After watching Via, I have a hard time believing she'd have the coordination to provide appropriate feedback to other puppies.

Although, I just have to say: Maisy? Stable? Hee! Still... she seems to do okay with Via.

Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

Yeah the more controversial part of his lecture was the puppy classes. I think puppy-puppy playtime is way over rated, instead puppy-adult I find much more valuable. Especially in a class with not so great instructors, I do not want to see bullies being formed and shy dogs becoming worse. And I think it is really hard to solve issue the first day of class, I really didn't understand how he thought it was possible.

The main benefit I see of doing off leash puppy class with lots of playtime is that the owners are getting experience in calling their dogs out of play and the opportunity to use playtime as a reward.

However, I want my dogs to learn very quickly that training time is NOT about interacting with the other dogs, but about paying attention and having fun with me. I want to be more fun than the other dogs. So I suppose you could use premack and use the dogs as a reward, but I would rather find a way to make ME the reward. But going back to his side, I can see where the average owner can have an easier time of controlling their dog if they learn how to use life rewards properly, including calling dogs out of play.

All that being said, at work now we are going to try the off leash classes. So many of our puppy raisers are having problems with dogs paying attention in class and being distracted by the other dogs, so we are hoping that we can teach them how control their dogs a bit more.

Crystal said...

I think that he oversimplified a lot of things. I felt frustrated when he was talking about rehabbing aggressive dogs, for instance. It seems unrealistic to me to expect the dogs in a growl class to be interacting off leash after 45 minutes.

Same with fixing bullies using verbal feedback. He made it sound so simple, but I didn't quite follow how that will work. Then again, I didn't really get the whole "instructive reprimand"/RRNR thing in general.

I'll be curious to hear how you think your puppy classes go when you move to off leash classes. I freely admit that I don't know much about puppies, and I'm trying to learn as much as I can before I get another one!

Lauren said...

Well, I completely FAILED at puppyhood with Frodo. I freely admit that. I was in high school when I got him, so I was already gone 8 hours of the day, then I had homework for hours when I got home. He got outside for a walk at least once a day in the big wide world, but he rarely met any other dogs or new people. Like I said, fail.

I didn't take him to puppy class, but I do help out with puppy classes now, and they are a LOT like what you described. Though they are not off-leash the whole time, there is an extended play session with lots of calling your dog, telling them to sit, then sending them off to play again. The class also focuses on real world stuff (getting them used to handling, reorienting before doors, etc) than any kind of real obedience.

As far as being a puppy buyer? Well, I screwed that up with Frodo too, so it's something that I am very very focused on at this point. I don't think the majority of what are considered "good" breeders are doing enough, at this point. They are health testing and all of that, but I mean they aren't socializing and really setting the dogs up for success in a way I feel they need to. I have been looking up poodle breeders for my MN roommate and I feel like for one reason or another I am turning them all down, to the point where I am thinking NOBODY is going to make the cut. But should I settle for less than I want? Does what I want even exist? Is it reasonable to ask a breeder to introduce their puppies to X amount of new dogs a week and X amount of new people?

I have actually made breeder's upset/standoffish by asking so many questions about how they raise their puppies, as though asking means I am calling their abilities into question. But I feel entitled to know because I am the person who has to live with the result.

That kind of turned into a rant, so even though I have much more to say, I will stop myself now :)

One more little diddy: I also don't think that breeder's are doing enough follow through with making sure that those who end up with their puppies are contnuing socialization and/or REALLY understand how to socialize a puppy.

Kristen said...

Increased arousal and that's leading to some frustration and that's leading to some reactivity. Some of the people come out of the puppy class with poor training skills.

Crystal said...

Lauren, I'm not sure what is reasonable to expect from a breeder. I certainly think they should start socializing puppies, but Ian's recommendation of five new people a day seems a bit... difficult. I have a few breeder-friends who read my blog, and I hope they'll weigh in on this.

Kristen, I totally understand the arousal and frustration part. Ian says calling the puppies out frequently enough helps modulate that, but I worry that if a puppy gets to play for the majority of a class, he won't learn to just chill in an exciting environment.

Kristen said...

And puppies called away can still be aroused...making that relaxation/focus element very critical!

And not just for itself...but for the owners to know ways to calm down puppies is good for difficult moments at home.

Crystal said...

I think it goes back to what you were saying earlier, Kristen- puppy classes need to be taught by VERY GOOD TRAINERS. Modulating arousal, teaching relaxation, and managing a classroom full of puppies takes a lot of skill and experience. Unfortunately, people think puppies are "easy" (in a way they are, but with that comes great responsibility), so they don't worry about the credentials of their puppy instructor.

Raegan said...

"1. Dogs must learn that they can't play with every other dog they meet."

If I had to give Gatsby one skill in his puppyhood, this may be it.

I think in a lot of ways Dunbar is seeing himself represented as something he feels he is not, I often see him lumped in with a lot of the really big names in positive training and I get the sense he's a little ticked over that.

I would love to see breeders doing more socialization of litters, but for me it's a bonus more than something I'm looking for.

I think there's a lot of weight to Robin's comment. Could you imagine three year olds with only three year olds as role models?

Isn't Dunbar focused mainly on pet dogs? I know how I would structure a pet puppy class is much different than a performance puppy class. Same basic principles, but different applications. I like having puppies off leash, my ideal dog is one that is on a leash for other people, not because he is out of control off.

I would like to see more socialization by breeders, but it's not something I cross off for. More than people, I want to see socialization to "weird stuff:" wobble boards, different kinds of flooring, different toy textures, different sounds, etc

Crystal said...

Completely agree, Raegan. Maisy was (is) incredibly outgoing and social, but I didn't teach her as a puppy that she doesn't get to greet everyone she meets. Certainly her reactivity is more complicated than a single cause, but I do think some of it is related to frustration and (lack of) impulse control.

My next dog will very likely be coming from a breeder, and while I hope she'll do "puppy parties" I definitely want to see the "weird stuff." There is a lot more to socialization than JUST people, even if that's important.

I'm very intrigued by your comment that you think Dunbar is "ticked" about being lumped in with other positive trainers. He didn't say anything like that, but I can see why you might say that. I did get the feeling that he doesn't have much use for clickers. He certainly uses a much more "balanced" approach (in terms of quadrants, anyway- he doesn't use physical corrections, but he doesn't shy away from the fact that he uses punishment) than a lot of the other big name positive trainers out there.

And yes, Dunbar is focused on pet dogs. That's great- there is a need for that- but since I want to be a performance dog person, some of what he said doesn't make as much sense for me. You're right- a lot of the same principles, but carried out in different ways.

I think the pet vs. performance thing is part of why he's different than other big name positive trainers, too. Pet people don't need the precision that performance people do, so naturally Dunbar's methods have a different focus than other big name trainers.

Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

About dogs learning they don't get to interact with every dog they see:

My dogs never attended "puppy class." I have no money so wanted to wait until my dogs were ready for a competition level class. But they did get TONS of experience in meeting and playing with other dogs between my jobs at doggy daycare and petsmart. Chuck didn't have the petsmart aspect but he did have a bit of time at daycare and still does have the group playtime twice a day when he goes to work with me. None of my dogs could care a bit about wanting to get to other dogs when on leash or even off leash if we are training.

So I don't think letting dogs play everytime they get to class is going to set the dog up for that expectation. But like it's been mentioned, I don't think the benefits of puppy-puppy playtime are all that great. And I still would rather have the reward for being attentive be interacting with me, rather than teaching them how to go play. For adolescents that might be hard, but not with little puppies.

Kathie R said...

Interesting discussion. I've always taken my puppies to puppy classes, however, the puppy classes we have here are not geared so much toward puppy play time. There is some interaction, but more beginning training questions and practice. When my dogs reach adolescence, I don't necessarily want them playing with other dogs. I prefer to have their attention on me and focusing on the work we're doing.

On another note - I think the importance of early socialization of puppies is sometimes overated. I've seen puppies come out of puppy mills having had no early socialization be fantastic, well-adjusted pets. And I've seen dogs socialized well as puppies have aggression and temperament issues when they got older. I believe it's more of a heredity thing than an environmental thing - but, that's just my minority opinion :)

Crystal said...

Kathie, while I think socialization is important, I agree with you that there is definitely a genetic component. Actually, I think it's more of an interplay of both factors, and there is some evidence coming out that it's more complicated than we first thought:

Raegan said...

"I'm very intrigued by your comment that you think Dunbar is "ticked" about being lumped in with other positive trainers. He didn't say anything like that, but I can see why you might say that. I did get the feeling that he doesn't have much use for clickers. He certainly uses a much more "balanced" approach (in terms of quadrants, anyway- he doesn't use physical corrections, but he doesn't shy away from the fact that he uses punishment) than a lot of the other big name positive trainers out there."

I see his name along with people like Karen Pryor and Susan Garrett, and now that I think about it everyone except KP is really in the sport world, and even KP is a little science-heavy for most pet owners. I am thinking of that video that was floating around where he said everyone is doing his stuff wrong (which I'll admit I didn't exactly watch), so I guess that's what I'm referring to. Coincidently, I don't think pet owners need a clicker if they are going to a puppy class, a training class, and that's it. Chucking food is enough.

I'm interested in what he means by only using half of learning theory if he only uses 10% of it anyway. (I don't remember if this was in your earlier post or one of Laura's)

Eliz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eliz said...

I'm actually surprised about the strong emotional response I had to this post.

So first and foremost, I want everyone to know that I am probably the least qualified person to offer a comment. I've always had dogs, adopted dogs, and I held my first puppy only a few weeks ago. So I know nothing. Luckily for me, and unlucky for you, the power of the internet lets me express my absolutely uneducated opinion.

And so here is: It was the sense of inevitability of it all that got me. That idea that once puppy hood is over the dog could be static perhaps forever stuck.

This seems like a gross over simplification of what is without a doubt a complicated and intricate process. The process of learning and in the brain in which that process occurs is still generally uncharted territory.

So though I understand that both environmental factors and genetic ones may pre-dispose a dog (or even human) to certain traits and may prevent other traits; thus making certain things more or less likely. And though I agree with the concept that many things are more easily learned during development. I just cannot justify placing such low expectations on learning later in life.

I guess the idea of limiting a creature who has the capacity to learn and grow feels like a cop out to me.

Crystal said...


Yes, I definitely got a vibe of "you all are doing it wrong!" from him. He didn't say that, mind you, it was just the way I perceived it.

I think it makes sense that a lot of the "big names" are competition or science based trainers- the people who are going to spend money on books/DVDs/seminars are more likely to be involved in either dog sports or are exceptionally geeky and enjoy the science.

Pet people are less likely to do much beyond your basic puppy class (if they even do that), so it follows that there aren't as many "big names" catering to that crowd. Dunbar fills a need, and while I love my clicker, I don't think they're needed for most people and their dogs.

Crystal said...

Elizabeth- I have to say, I'm not really surprised you had such a strong reaction. As someone who has done a lot of fostering, I suspect you've seen firsthand how much an adult dog can do. Since you've worked with a lot of greyhounds, who (from my understanding) don't get much socialization off the track, you are uniquely positioned to see just how much an unsocialized dog can do.

I agree with you that temperament is far more complicated than just experience. I disagree with Ian's statement that you can prevent ALL problems if you address them in puppyhood. I think you can reduce them to a great degree, and perhaps so much that they don't significantly impact the dog's life, but I also don't think you can discount genetics entirely.

As a social worker, I have met many people who have had crappy childhoods, and yet have grown up to be healthy, stable and successful. Similarly, I've met many people who have had wonderful childhoods, but still struggle because of disability or mental illness. Now, I know that people are not dogs, and vice versa, but the biology of the brain is very similar across all species.

All of which is to say that I don't think any behavioral or temperament problem can be contributed to solely genetics or environment. It's clearly a complex interplay that we don't yet understand.

I want to believe that Ian is smart enough to understand that, but chooses to simplify the matter in order to make his point. While that's probably useful for the vast majority of his intended audience (average pet owners), I think it has the effect of alienating others. I felt AWFUL at the end of the day. I love her like crazy, and it hurts to be told, even indirectly, that her issues were essentially my fault.

Katie, Maizey and Magnus said...

Been trying to organize my thoughts on Ian Dunbar and puppy socialization in general for a while now. Turns out I have so many thoughts, and you and your commenters brought out so many more, I had to turn it all into a "coming soon" post!LOL

But I did cover some similar ideas in my last post on puppy socialization deadlines. (Not sure if its okay to publish the link?)

And one more thing, you are always interesting!:)

Crystal said...

Katie, you may absolutely link a link to your post here- I'm sure people would love to see it.

Katie, Maizey and Magnus said...

Well it took me days, but I finally put something together on this. Not sure if it turned out as anything helpful, but I would love anyone's input and thoughts! It's titled: Puppy Socialization Extremes

Tegan said...

I'm glad to see I'm doing what breeders should do with their puppies, according to Dunbar.. That being said, my puppies are not meeting 5 new people a day. If I keep my puppies for a minimum of 8 weeks, then that is TWO HUNDRED AND EIGHTY PEOPLE. I don't know that many people!! I don't have that many 'friends' on Facebook, let alone people I'd invite into my home and let interact with my puppies.

I estimate my puppies have met about 20 people, and I feel like I've done a good job. :)

Re: Puppy classes, I am definitely not an advocate of puppies playing with puppies. When I raise a puppy, I want to be the most important thing in my puppy's eyes - and I don't think I can make myself better than puppy-puppy play. If my puppy never gets the opportunity to engage in such play, then I will forever be 'the most fun', according to my puppy.

Crystal said...

Tegan, what you do is go to the local pub and offer to buy everyone a drink who will play with your puppies. Yes, I'm serious.

Ian never said at what age the rule starts, but I believe I've heard him say (other places) that puppies should have met 100 new people by 8 weeks.

As for puppy classes... my trainer got a puppy recently. She's let her play with puppies, but mostly, she's preferred stable adult dogs as playmates so that her pup can learn dog social skills. Here's what she says about puppies playing with puppies: