by Julie Nutter
Have you ever stumbled upon something that makes you wish it would take an entire nation (at least) by storm? It’s rare, especially for me, to come across something that has such a profound impact that I am literally dumbfounded at the fact that more people haven’t taken it and ran with it. After having witnessed and experienced imprinting, I am absolutely flabbergasted that it’s not on the top of every breeder’s - and I do mean every responsible breeder in the world - list of things to do with a newborn pup.
What’s this Imprinting?
Imprinting is an invaluable tool that increases puppy’s tolerance to stress. It utilizes a few simple exercises, such as tickling the puppy’s feet - a mild stressor to the little lady - to increase her ability to cope with the world around her, effectively making her a super puppy.
It sets a dog up for the rest of her life. Weird things don’t seem to be as weird to these dogs; they approach with a curiosity that borders on enthusiasm. They don’t cower at loud noises, hide under the bed when you drag out the nail clippers, and they’re honestly much easier to live with and to train.
If you’re shopping for a puppy, this is one thing you should refuse to do without; especially if you plan to do the imprinting exercises yourself. They help to forge a bond between you and your new puppy, effectively putting you in an important, crucial position in her life...
... You become the lowest point of stress.
Let’s say, at six weeks, you place your puppy into a tunnel. It’s new; she’s never seen it before, yet now she’s in the middle of it.
If you’ve done imprinting, chances are, your puppy is - whether she’s scared or not - going to fly through the weirdness to get to you, where it’s safe. This would tell me that she’s looking to you for guidance and trusts you. She’s going to take direction from you and would stand in the middle of the “battlefield,” unfazed, still beside you, still doing whatever job you asked her to do.
A puppy who has not gone through imprinting would most likely figure out, eventually, to go to the other side. Even a well bred puppy might have a mini break down if placed into this situation. In the middle of the tunnel, she only has one option (because in this exercise, one of the exits would be blocked) and the puppy’s mom or dad would be on the other side, calling her through.
Well, a six week old puppy who hasn’t dealt with the mild stressors that imprinting would have brought to her life probably doesn’t have much in the way of coping skills, which means that her tolerance to stress is just above zilch. She doesn’t know how to problem solve, so it’ll take a little bit of something called self-realization to happen.
Self-realization is the point at which the dog realizes that she has two options - freak out, or fix it. That’s when she should exit, effectively going to her lowest point of stress: her new human.
We do these exercises with very young puppies because they have very good Bounce Back! which means that a lot of very scary stressful things could happen to them, and though they would be afraid momentarily, they would get over it and go back to their puppy lives very quickly, and without much fuss.
When we introduce them to these minor stressors, we are slowly building up this Bounce Back, making it stronger and giving them the ability to deal with extremely stressful situations. (Though I know no owner wants to place his/her dog into a stressful situation, we do so all the time! Asking your dog to stop playing with her friends and come back to you is stressful, as is having to do obedience in a roomful of dogs and people she would rather be playing with!)
The deal with this is that adult dogs don’t have as much Bounce Back! as young puppies, especially if they have not gone through imprinting or Confidence Building Classes. A dog who has gone through imprinting and Confidence Building should have phenomenal bounce back, and you can tell the difference between them and most other adult dogs.
Face it, we all want to be our dog’s lowest point of stress. We want them to be able to handle themselves in stressful situations with relatively good bounce back. We want to be the one she runs to for guidance, the one she can rely on to always be there for her, and the one she can always trust to have her back. Imprinting really does put a puppy on the right track for the rest of her life.
Besides, who doesn’t want to brag that their puppy isn’t just a puppy… but a Super Puppy?
(Note: When I say “mini freak out session” think momentary deer-in-the-headlights, where the dog is unsure as to what she’s supposed to do, or what she can do to relieve her stress. It can last anywhere from 2 seconds to a couple of minutes. Should you decide to do this exercise and your dog is still freaking out - not hanging out, but freaking out - in the tunnel some two hours later…something is wrong. Contact your vet to rule out medical problems and seek a trainer for help!)
(Another Note: I once saw a dog decide a tunnel was her “lowest point of stress.” She refused to come out, and guarded the entrances of the tunnel. Since she’s dog friendly, we made a big production of playing fetch - which she loves - with her dog friend, until she decided that the tunnel was a jerk for not playing with her and came out. Be aware that this can happen, too.)
For more information
I would not search the internet. I tried, and there isn’t much worthwhile to find. Try http://www.dogwise.com/itemdetails.cfm?ID=DG226 Jerry Hope’s book on how to raise puppy superstars. She talk about critical periods, why they’re critical, and what every breeder should do with her puppies during them! Worthwhile if you’d like a doggie superstar!
I personally use
the United States Veterinary Corps five exercises for imprinting to start the puppies out. At three to four weeks, when they are started to be weaned - I add the exercises outlined in my trainer/behaviorist’s Puppy & Adult Life Programs, which include stress, confidence building, symbolism, or fun.
If you have any questions
about the Super Puppy Program!, are a breeder who wants to partake, or if you want to find a breeder that partakes (it takes some asking around!) you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com and I will get back to you within 24 hours.
Julie is presently implementing the Super Puppy Program with the freshly born litter she is getting her new puppy from! Read about it on her blog Pawsitive Paws!
Julie is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, and is working on her case studies to become a member of the International Association of Animal Behvaior Consultants. She coaches parents to train their fur-children in Confidence Building for fearful dogs, Agility, Rally, FlyBall, and Obedience. In her free time, she volunteers at local shelters and reads up on the newest dog-world information. You can visit her website at www.northeastdogtraining.org.