Early Socialization - Relationship Skills

Relationship Skills are tools to help you and your puppy work together in an enjoyable, collaborative way. Using these skills speeds the pup’s learning and helps to solidify the lessons into habits that are reliable despite the distractions and excitement of life.

Learning these skills takes practice and time. You will find the more you learn, the more you see. It is enlightening and rewarding as you develop your ability to work with dogs.  It is much more fun to teach a dog to work with you and choose you, despite distractions.

What are relationship skills?

  • Use of You
      • Use changes in your voice, facial expressions, energy and movement to help your pup know when you are pleased or not, motivate and reward your puppy
        • Let your pup know you are genuinely happy and pleased by his behaviour with smiles, touch, and heart-felt verbal praise.
        • Different situations need different tones; quiet tones calm a pup, whereas excited tones will animate a pup.
      • ALWAYS use yourself as a major reward. The most important concept of STEP® and building the relationship is that YOU ARE THE REWARD. 
        • Food is only one part of a reward; what really matters is that you are the key part of the reward.
        • The Use of You needs to be practiced throughout the Puppy Raising period.
      • Unlike other rewards, you always have yourself available to offer your pup. 
      • You are the most important part of building the relationship with your pup. 
  • Clear Communication
  • Dogs communicate non-verbally, and naturally pay close attention to their handlers’ body language as they learn what each word means.
  • It is important to give your pup consistent information; be aware of the verbal and non-verbal cues that you use
    • Consistently present hand signals, commands
    • Use a marker word or sound to make it clear to the pup the moment the desired behavior occurs.
    • Use target pads or other visual aids makes learning easier
    • Time of the praise, rewards and other communications to be paired with the pup’s action that you are asking for. 
    • Bridge the time from action to reward with praise until you are able to give the reward
  • Progress obedience skill and other lessons when pup is ready
    • Break lessons down to small, progressive steps for which the pup can be successful
    • Make learning the lesson fun and easy to be right.  
    • Use food lures initially for a few times paired with the verbal and hand command.   
    • Practice the obedience skill or lesson in many situations to solidify the pup’s understanding that he responds in any situation.  The pup generalizes the skill.
    • Progress the duration of holding the obedience position when the pup has generalized the skill.
  • Use skills to direct
      • Take the time to build the skills when the pup is very young instead
      • Do not restrain the pup with the leash or your hands.  Pulling back on the leash causes the pup to pull more. 
      • Use the skills you have taught your pup instead of managing your pup with the leash or luring your pup with food. Use your pup’s skills to direct him throughout the day, and everywhere that you and your pup venture.
  • Adjust what you are doing to return pup to a calm emotional state
    • Let the pup sort things out rather than coaxing or luring the pup to investigate
    • If you notice signs of stress, change the situation by decreasing intensity by allowing the pup to move further away, lay an item of concern on its side, etc. Avoid situations that will push the pup to become overwhelmed without the opportunity to resolve the conflict. 
    • If the pup is overwhelmed or overly excited, help the pup return to a calm emotional state by release of energy, sit or stand calmly allowing time to settle and decreasing the intensity of the stimulus.
    • Provide exercise. Adjust the length of the walk to suit your pup’s age and physical development. Always ensure that the pup is kept on lead when outside your yard, unless there is a fenced-in and secure run. When initially starting to walk with your pup, use Follow Me on a long leash where appropriate. Allow your pup to explore on a loose leash at a relaxed and comfortable pace. Reward all Check Ins with Use of You and food rewards appropriate for the step the pup is up to at the time
    • Provide appropriate play.  You should decide when to play with him, rather than allowing your pup to dictate when to start playing. Playing should entirely depend on when you wish to start and end the game. If the pup tries to initiate the game, ignore it. If the pup gets too rough or excited, simply stop playing and get up and walk away.
  • 3 times max  – If you see a behaviour twice in a row that you do not want repeated, change something: adjust the 3 D’s (Distance, Distraction, and Duration), redirect, distract, or stop the request.

Teaching relationship skills to Puppy Raisers

  • Before the pup arrives provide video examples and “how to” instruction on what they will need in the first 2 weeks.  Emphasize the key relationship skills 
    • Walking on leash- Follow me, Check-In,
    • Body handling- 
    • Socialization- 
    • Settle
    • Sit and Down – Use Skills to direct
    • Greeting other dogs.    
    • Polite interaction with people
  • During puppy raising work frequently with the puppy raisers especially in the first 2 months to establish a solid relationship between pup and raiser and understanding on how to teach the essential skills.

Why are relationship skills important?

By using your relationship skills, you’re able to:

  1. Build the pup’s desire to work with you instead of working for a food reward or work through a distraction because you:
  • acknowledge your pup checking in with you
  • reward your pup through body language like a smile, energy & praise
  • have success by changing what you are doing if it isn’t working
  • are fun to be with & meet your pup’s needs through think work and exercise and play
  1. Create responsibility in the pup so he pays attention to you
  • Follow Me and Check-In are both exercises which reward your pup for choosing you.
  1. Help your pup learn more quickly because you:
  • use your body language to “talk dog”
  • teach lessons in small steps while you make sure your puppy is engaged with you
  • give clear, consistent communication
  1. Create mannerly puppies on and off leash because you:
  • use your skills to direct the pup instead of managing him with the leash or avoiding access to anything distracting
  • use your relationship so your pup is attentive to you and walks without pulling