Puppy Socialization and Training

by Jo Ann White

There are many things you can do to ensure that puppies become well socialized and trained before and after they go to their new homes or enter the show ring. If you are the breeder, gently handle the puppy and pet and praise it often, so that it gets used to humans. Encourage it to try new things, and praise it when it does. Throughout, remember that training should be fun. Particularly if you are beginning to train a puppy for conformation or performance events, don’t push it until your puppy becomes bored and no longer enjoys training. You want him to be enthusiastic and joyful in the ring.

Puppies should be exposed to a variety of noises and experiences, individually as well as in a group. They should become used to such things as whistles, hand clapping, lawn mowers, dropped metal dishes, vacuum cleaners, and washing machines. In addition to strange noises, they should get used to different kinds of footing such as tall grass, concrete, rubber mats, and plastic tarps. Their play environments should include tunnels, platforms, boxes, and a variety of toys to encourage them to explore. Puppies should also be exposed to lots of people—men and women and (with supervision) children. These exposures should be pleasant ones. You don’t want to frighten a puppy, so introduce new things gradually, as you feel he is ready. Remain calm and matter-of-fact and affectionate, but remember that picking him up to reassure him if he is startled will only reinforce his fears.

Grooming and handling should begin at a young age, so that the dog becomes accustomed to this long before he has hair long enough to mat, or needs to go to the veterinarian or the groomer.

One of the best ways to begin training your puppy to come is to run away from him, then turn around, and call him when he is already following you. When he comes to you, reward him with a cookie or praise and cuddling. Some trainers advocate using the dog’s name ONLY for the recall. In any case, NEVER call your puppy to you to be punished, or use his name when you are angry. His name should always be associated with affection and pleasant things.

You can begin training your Shih Tzu puppy to retrieve with a special soft toy used only for that purpose. Sit in a hallway or other confined space with your legs spread apart to limit the puppy’s ability to run away with the toy. Let the dog tug at the toy. Then throw it a short distance and encourage him to bring it back to you by saying “Get it,” or “Bring it.”

To encourage your puppy to free stack, reward him for doing so with small bits of food and lots of praise when he is hanging out with you in the kitchen. Training your Shih Tzu to stack on a non-skid table such as a grooming table can begin at about six weeks. You should already have been putting him on the table several times a day for bits of grooming, so that the experience becomes routine. You can even feed him on the table sometimes, so long as you are there to supervise and be sure he is kept safe. Then, holding him by his chest and rear, put him gently into a stacked position. Praise and pet him while placing his feet into the proper position. You can use treats to encourage him to raise his head and lean forward, or simply to make sure he considers “playing show dog” a fun experience. Don’t overdo! Several very brief table training sessions are far better than a single marathon one.

When you begin leash training, go where the puppy goes, rather than jerking on the leash or dragging him after you. Once the puppy becomes used to the leash you can begin to gently direct and encourage him to go where you want him to go. Lots of praise and encouragement are the key to a puppy that enjoys walking on the leash, or heeling next to you on or off lead.

If you decide to take your Shih Tzu to a puppy training class once he has completed his inoculations, check out the class first, without your puppy. You have a small dog, and you need to be sure that the class is not so free-wheeling that he will wind up being overpowered or intimidated by larger and more aggressive dogs. If this is the case, you might want to start by organizing your own class with friends who have smaller breeds of dogs in a safely enclosed indoor or outdoor location. More advanced training classes should also offer pleasant, positive experiences.

Remember, always, that less is more, and that the Shih Tzu is a breed that responds better to praise than to dominance and intimidation. The overworked puppy is likely to become anxious or stubborn or generally unenthusiastic. This is the last thing you want to happen, whether you are training a show dog or a pet. Particularly in terms of a show dog, it’s much easier to tone down an overly exuberant puppy later than it is to try to put back the spark eliminated by overtraining.