This blog post will discuss the differences between puppies and older dogs when you are hosting a petting party.

If you are dealing with a puppy at this stage (between 8-18 weeks of age,) then the more people and interactions, the merrier! Invite everyone…kids, adults, older folks, people with beards, different races (other than your own), people with crutches, canes, or wheelchairs, and if you can find them, someone with purple hair would be great as well! The more diverse the crowd, the better socialized your dog will wind up!

The trick is to assure a positive experience. It is important to remember that if you over stimulate your dog, creating fear and anxiety; you’ve just shot yourself in the foot! Start small (2-3 people) and based on how well it works for Fido, continue to add folks each week through the Superbowl, where you could have as many as 10 people! Remember that each dog is different…some love as many people as they can meet and others find 4-5 to be a little scary. Your job will be to observe Fido closely as you continue to add new and different guests, to ensure he is not getting fearful or showing signs of anxiety.

This would be a great time to invite your dog trainer to your party…they can make sure that you are dealing in positive experiences for Fido. Now for the secret weapon…those folks who are not “regular visitors” to your home will get special treats to give to your dog (and these would not be those folks that you invite over every Sunday to watch the game.) These special treats can include canned chicken, any soft, chewy, tasty treat, or any other treat your dog just goes nuts for! I want the dog to realize that those people that are outside their normal daily associations are the best and that they also bring the best treats to the party!

The reason why dogs react to those that are different than you is that to a dog, different is scary; and we want to make that association a positive one from the get go! Kids, whether you have any or not, always fall into this “different” category! The main reason for this is because kids are lower to the ground and can be perceived as more threatening to a dog than adults who are generally taller.

Have you ever wondered why so many kids get bit in the face? It’s because they are directly in the line of fire…literally on the same level with all the things dogs covet. I want kids to hand out cheese, hot dogs or canned chicken (high value treats!) If we pull off the entire football season with kids taking part, then they are no longer threats but become “red carpet” guests that your dog will always love to be around!!! Puppies tend to be pretty easy to get comfortable with the door bell and visitors to your home, plus you have the added benefit of working on the socialization of young Fido! This is your chance to stop a bad behavior before it starts; prevention is paramount to all dog training! If people would take this advice to heart…I’d be out of a job!

Since folks aren’t following that advice, we next have to focus on dealing with an adolescent or adult dog (typically over 18 weeks of age, as they are becoming “dogs” and their jaws can do some damage) that is convinced that all people other than his pack are to be the main course; we have to handle it a little differently! We are going to ease Fido into the idea of this “football petting party.”

The first week I will do everything the same, but only invite one other couple. The second week I might add a second couple (depending on how week 1 went) and a third couple in week three! I will wait until at least week 4 to start bringing in “different guests” and when kids are brought in (week 5 or later,) it is always under strict adult supervision! This is where it is extremely important to pick the correct parents as well as the kids! Don’t pick your niece and nephew to help if you know their Mom and Dad will “check out” the minute they see the little smokies on the kitchen table!

You need parents that will be actively engaged in this process. The principle of these petting parties is the same, but if the dog does not like strangers, then you must tread lightly and slowly, so that the change in associations is truly worked into the dog’s subconscious! Any mistakes at this point will only allow the negative associations the dog already has to grow and bloom into the one thing no one wants…a “dangerous dog”. With that being said, this second example of the petting party should really be organized and managed with the help of a professional pet dog trainer, not only for the safety of the guests but for the dog’s mental health as well. Most novice people and some trainers will, at times, move too fast which causes undue stress…and that alone could end up in tragedy! Done correctly however, many dogs that don’t like strangers will become “social butterflies” by the time the play offs start!

The goal is to give those folks whose dogs have problems a chance to fix them, work as a team and have fun in the process. It’s also a call to arms to anyone with a puppy to realize that now is the time to seize the day and make sure we give our puppy every chance to be the dog we want and not the issue we could create!

Now go watch some football…but stay tuned. While you might think this is the most important thing you can teach your dog…it is really number two. The next blog will cover what dog trainers refer to as bite inhibition.

So as always, Keep It Simple Stupid and never forget to have some fun along the way!

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