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Getting your puppy or dog "used to things"- Common Mistakes & Misconceptions

So maybe you just adopted a puppy, or you rescued a new dog and you're feeling like you need to get them "used to things" so they can be more confident out in the world.

Maybe your goal is to get your dog used to things so you can bring them more places and around all different types of people and dogs.

You may have heard not to overwhelm your puppy or dog, but you might not know what that really looks like or means.

I mean how do you know if your puppy or dog is overwhelmed or stressed?

And also what do you do if they are stressed or overwhelmed, is it too late?

The problem with getting more exposure for your dog isn't just about exposure to things. It's about creating a positive experience around those things in short bursts, especially for puppies who don't have the attention span.

Your dog's personality, temperament, and how you expose them to things is a huge component of this.

Some dogs are more likely to become stressed and sensitized to things in their environment, while some are more likely to become desensitized.

This means that when you expose a dog to the same thing over and over again some dogs will become desensitized -they will care less and less about that thing

and some dogs will become sensitized- they care more and more about that thing which can lead to reactivity and even aggression.

For example,

You could expose your dog or puppy to the dremmel so that you can file their nails in the future easily. So you decide to randomly turn the dremmel on and off throughout the day when your dog is around with the goal being that your dog is unperturbed by the sound.

Some dogs will just "get used to it" or, in other words, become desensitized to the sound.

But some dogs will become hyper aware of this noise and will need it explained to them so that they know not to fear it and can feel confident about it.

For these dogs you might see them become progressively more fearful and continued exposure will not actually help them desensitize, but instead sensitize them.

The exact opposite of what you want...

This dog will start showing signs of stress when it hears the dremmel, like yawning, heavy panting, leaving the area, crouching down, or becoming tense in their body (there are lots of stress signals I recommend searching signs to get a bigger picture of what this can look like)

So what do you do if your dog seems stressed, unwilling to participate, or nervous?

The first thing would be to stop doing whatever you are doing.

Take a break and change gears. Maybe even play a game they enjoy like fetch.

Come back to this tomorrow and your job then is to find the lowest possible level of this challenge. Maybe even finding a different, but similar challenge depending on how sensitized they are to this thing.

Finding the lowest possible challenge level means finding a level your dog has no response to or an extremely minimal acknowledgment.

Introduce the challenge (sound, object, thing, whatever it is) for 1 second, then toss your dog a cookie.

Continue this a few times every day, only making the challenge longer (Adding duration) when your dog starts showing a positive response to 1s of exposure.

This is a little generalized, but at least a good start to getting your dog desensitized rather than sensitized to whatever you want them to ignore.

This will help you whether you are dealing with a puppy who is nervous about being brushed, or your older dog who explodes when they hear the UPS truck.

The concept is the same.

NEVER increase the challenge level until your dog is 100% successful at the current stage you are at. If you are seeing a decline in progress stop what you are doing immediately and make it easier for your dog, take a break, and come back to it at an easier stage.

This is where training takes a lot of patience.

A lot of empathy.

And a lot of self-discipline.

We ALL want to jump ahead.

Trust me I get it lol!

It always seems like getting to the end goal will be better, but the end is never the goal. The end is just a new beginning because you can always improve.

So if you can learn to be patient and actually enjoy the process, that's when the magic happens. Make your goal to work on training daily.

Make it a habit to be present and make each moment with your dog count.

Every moment is a teachable moment for better or worse.

...And suddenly you will be passing goals you never thought were possible.

Put your focus on the moment and the daily practice rather than the end goal and it's amazing what you can accomplish.

Valerie works with dogs of all breeds and temperaments and focuses on teaching dogs to want to make the choices that we want them to without causing conflict. For their sake as well as yours!

She believes in building deep trust and connection with the animals she works with and has found that this is always the final ingredient in a successful partnership.

To find out more about Valerie you can visit her About page at

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