Raising Softer Puppies

Why we are seeing more sensitive pups

  • Breeding for an easier to manage dog etc.
  • The hectic lifestyles we have, leading to over-socialization at a young age


Signs of stress

Wet mouth or drooling

  • Lips pulled back tight or ‘puffing’ at the sides/panting
  • Licking lips or nose, a clear runny nose
  • Yawning
  • Head lowered
  • Ears back or stiff and tense
  • Lowered body and tail (tail may also tuck)
  • Sweaty pads (you can often see a wet pad print on the floor).  Dogs sweat through their feet
  • Not wanting to walk on the leash, balking (stopping, sitting or lying down)
  • Unwilling to exit the vehicle or leave the house
  • Loose or extra stools while on an outing or just after returning from an outing
  • Whining/vocalizing
  • Hackling (extreme, usually only when fear involved)
  • Sniffing, scratching, grabbing at grass/leash, escalating behavior (displacement activity)
  • Rampy behavior (rushing/pulling to get out of a situation or get it over with quickly)
  • Being irritated by the jacket /scratching at the collar
  • Excessive licking or chewing on the paws (more at school/office than outside)

Socialize slowly and positively

  • Go slowly with the socialization but do get the puppy out (review the socialization schedule in the puppy manual).   There is plenty of time to work on building confidence but if you push the issue and create a fear it may be difficult or impossible to counter-condition that fear later.
  • Avoid overly stimulating environments or situations that require firm control (greeting numerous people/toddlers, etc). Don’t let the puppy get overwhelmed or over-stimulated by people wanting to pet it.  Politely explain to people that the puppy is in training and carry it or walk it away in a calm manner. If the puppy is on a food protocol this may be a good time to utilize it.
  • By avoiding such situations you don’t put the puppy into a situation where you may have to correct it.  Softer puppies should be handled with minimum corrections as it just adds to their stress.  Don’t insist on perfect obedience from softer pups; let them explore the world on their own terms.  Keep control with a headcollar if necessary.
  • Watch for praise opportunities as opposed to only correction opportunities.  Be “praise focused”; make sure you are emphasizing what the pup is doing right as opposed to focusing on what it is doing wrong
  • Do quick ‘in and outs’ rather than taking the puppy shopping.  Have a second handler who can take the puppy off to a distance or stay outside the store if it may be too overwhelming for the pup.  There is nothing wrong with leaving the pup at home if you are in doubt!
  • When working with softer puppies stop while they are still confident; don’t keep pushing them until they have a negative reaction.  Take small steps, even if it means it takes much longer to socialize the puppy.
  • Don’t go back to a place where a puppy had a negative reaction; avoid that area and work on building the pup’s confidence in other areas for weeks or months before attempting to re-visit that particular situation.
  • Praise and pet the puppy when he is showing confident behavior and don’t coddle him when he is insecure.  Just calmly make the situation easier for him by putting more distance between him and whatever is making him uncomfortable.  Equally, never force a puppy to approach an object or situation he is afraid of.


Relieving Issues

  • Softer puppies are more likely to develop relieving issues.
  • Extra care must be taken to follow relieving protocols and guidelines with sensitive puppies.
  • If a puppy has an accident in a business or store do not go back to that store for months and be very careful (quick in and outs or staying at the entrance) in similar stores.
  • Increase walking distances very slowly with softer puppies due to the increased potential for accidents which then become habits.


Baulking Puppies


  • Younger pups: carry them away from home/vehicle let them walk back.  Then go to carrying them some distance away from home/vehicle before putting them down to continue walking away.
  • Use a mentor dog (an older, calm pup or dog with a confident demeanor) but wean off as soon as the pup is comfortable.
  • Use food (with approval of course) as a reward rather than a lure.  This could include dinner in novel places.
  • Let the pup carry a favorite toy to ‘parade’.
  • Build up distance on walks slowly – too much too soon, or too noisy/scary can create an unhappy, baulking pup.
  • Ease off on obedience/corrections.  Use the leash gently and let the soft puppy have more freedom to explore.
  • Don’t make too big a deal of garbage mouth.  Try to prevent picking up of leaves etc but don’t scare the pup by grabbing at it.

At Meetings


  • Enter gradually.  Stay off to one side of activities or group.
  • Be aware of the potential for over-stimulation.
  • Stay in a corner and do puppy handling or practice something fun like ‘Go To Bed’
  • Do not do lay-overs in a group situation with an insecure puppy or indeed do anything too dominating or stressful.
  • Be careful about trading off to other handlers.  Do so, but make sure it is someone who can be empathetic and not overwhelm the puppy.


General Handling for the Sensitive Puppy

  • Contact your leader immediately if you have concerns about your puppy being ‘soft’ or insecure.  If in doubt, ask for advice on how to proceed.
  • Only do puppy handling when the puppy is relaxed; try to avoid having to dominate the puppy.
  • Use the muzzle cradling technique rather than collar corrections during puppy handling.
  • Use the calming sit more frequently with sensitive puppies rather than collar and leash corrections.
  • Manage the puppy so that you avoid having to correct it as much as possible, especially when it is young.  A crate or x-pen at work may be better than a tie-down.
  • Do not correct a puppy that is vocalizing due to insecurity; distract it or move it further away from activities to a quiet area.
  • Utilize the headcollar to control the puppy rather than correcting it constantly for garbage mouth etc.
  • Consult your leader/CFR about proper use of the food protocol for appropriate behavior rather than trying to correct inappropriate behavior.