I try to focus almost exclusively on just getting used to noises, movements, and smells when I’m out in public with a little one. I didn’t expect too much by way of down or finds when they were little in a new place.
Now that they’ve reached 4 months plus, I do expect a loose leash or some “find it” games, and other tasks we are now working on to debut in public. But this post isn’t about getting a pup to focus and play at their “work” in the usual places we go: this one is about building a general noise tolerance.
One way to prepare the pup is by passive noise practice: playing recorded sounds at varying volumes while they rest, eat, play, or practice with you. This often helps 1) make the sounds stay in the background when they encounter them in public, 2) give you clues as to which types of sounds may bother the puppy so you can work on it.
My own noise tolerance is limited because of my particular disabilites, so a good trainer to go with me or for me is essential sometimes. Concerts in the park, the fair grounds, Silver Dollar City with it’s blacksmiths and amusement rides are all pretty heavy duty outings for a young puppy.
I also expect alot of people to want to pet them, so I’m prepared for taking off their vest occasionally for some human socializing too.
Since these noise socializing outings are harder than say, the Walgreens we often go to, I go back to not expecting a bunch of tasks in a more difficult setting. The loose leash is something I do want, and will probably have to start rewarding again.
Another thing I’ll need to reward is curiosity: I don’t mind at all showing a puppy what’s making that noise, petting them, telling them the name of it, then even standing there for them to watch. The trick is a click and treat when they disengage their attention from the noise and are ready to walk on with me.
That click and treat is a subtle conditioning, that the big reward and what makes me the most pleased is returning their attention to me and what I’m doing. It doesn’t make the what’s-that off limits, just not as rewarding as ignoring.
Once a puppy has been to louder and busier places a few times, and they know what sounds are there, I begin a more formal ignoring practice. I let them look but after about 3-4 seconds if they still haven’t disengaged, I throw in a hand lure or hand target with a click and reward.
The idea is to quietly train them to redirect themselves. There are some sounds or objects that will disturb a puppy, like skateboard perhaps, or a loud machine. For specific sound or object difficulties, I love the book “Control Unleashed” with it’s “look at that” games.
For general noise tolerance though, exposure combined with a relaxed handler and a few favorite treats are enough to make for a relaxed puppy. Here though is where knowing your dog is essential. They give off body signals when they’re becoming stressed, so reading those signals and a willingness to leave if a puppy needs to is important.
Knowing your puppy’s normal behavoirs help you recognize where the threshold between stressed and distressed is, and you can bail before distressed hits. It’s not like you can never go back, right?
Being with a service dog in training, it’s not good to bail because a pup is a little stressed. They have to learn to cope with stress because their job will be stressful at times. But a frightened puppy or an overly stimulated puppy creates all variety of difficulty later with their public behavoir.
I always pair a difficult outing with a fun one, to help a pup burn off their stress and just be a pup. A romp in the park, a play date with a friend, or a good massage and roll in the grass time is a great way to finish the outing.