I’M A PACK ANIMAL
Dog are pack animals. They need the “pack” to help them learn how to be a dog. That is why it is so important to stay with their litter mates and learn from each other. When a puppy is taken from their pack and brought to their human pack, they need their human pack to help them explore the world. This is what we call socialization. A wolf pack does this for their pups by constantly being on the move. That is not practical for us, we have rent payments and mortgages. But just because it is not practical for us, doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary for our canine companions. What can we do? We have taken them out of their packs, isolated them in our homes, and are protecting them from all the harms of this world, but are we really helping them or hurting them?
We have domesticated our canine companions, but they still have a basic instinctual need, to socialize. Remember in a blog that I posted “The Biggest Mistake”. I want to be more elaborate in this blog. I touched on socialization before, but it was just milk, now it’s time for the meat of the matter. If you do not schedule time to socialize your puppy now, you will pay for it later. Each puppy has an awakening period and it is not the same for each of them. Most are naturally born social creatures but some are “lone” wolfs. Temperament testing can show a shyer dog but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t desire to be social. I remember as a child that I was super shy. It was pretty painful to be in a group of kids my age, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t want to socialize with them, I just didn’t have the ability to run up to someone a say “Hi! Want to be friends?” I would rather just sit by myself than do that! I always joined if I was invited though. Every time! You see, I really did want to join them, I just didn’t know how to open up. It always took one friendly out going girl to come up to me and say “Want to play?” My mother forced me to hang out with people I didn’t know. She would make me so mad, but by the end of the day, I had acquired one more new friend. Dogs are the SAME EXACT WAY. They crave being social. They want to be friends with other dogs. Shy ones need friendly ones to engage with. If we do not give our dogs this socialization, they can become closed off and defensive. Why would we ever want a dog like that? No one wants the dog that shakes, pees on the floor (flight dogs) or barks and growls or bites (fight) dogs. We want balanced dogs.
How do we create balance in our dogs? EXPOSURE, that is how. We have to expose our dogs to all types of dogs, people, places, events, sounds sights. I know that sounds like a lot of work, but it can be done easily. If you work, hire a dog walker or put your dog in a doggie day care. Make sure that the dog walker takes a different path each day (turns left one day, turns right the next). Ask if your doggie day care changes up the dog encounters or do they just spend time with the same dogs? On the weekends take him to an outside dog friendly coffee shop or street diner, Lowes or Home Depot, or pet friendly store (that is not a pet store), take him to puppy socialization classes or basic obedience classes. Anything that exposes him to the world of people. If you have a nice downtown area, walk him there during a busy time of the day. Take him to dog friendly outdoor events like music festivals, or a Fall or Spring Bizarre, bonfires, sporting events, church socials. If you have children, bring your pup to school pick up line (ask for forgiveness later) and let those school kids go NUTS over him. Team shop at Walmart. One of you go in for the items while the other one waits outside with your leashed puppy so they can meet tons of people and be exposed to foot traffic and car traffic. Anytime you can take your puppy with you, do it. Anytime you can expose him to the world, expose him. Just be wise with your exposures.
OFF LEASH EVENTS:
Once your puppy reaches 16 weeks, his world of dog exposure is wide open. Now it is time for dog parks. Start small and go when there are not a lot of other dogs in the park. Remember this will be an overwhelming first experience and you want your pup to be “liked” so make sure you exercise him before you go. A puppy that plays too rough will become a target for dog park discipline. If you have a overly energetic pup, he needs to be tired or a least have most of his energy drained. This off leash experience is second to none for a puppy, but can be dangerous if you do not properly prepare. Your puppy needs this freedom to express himself, but you have to always be a ready to referee or intervene if another dog becomes too overwhelming for him.
If you have children, remember when you taught your child to ride a bike and the first time the training wheels came off? He could peddle but had to learned to steer. You ran next to him to help and when you let him go you watched and waited for crash and burn. They always happen and your puppy will make mistakes, but you have to watch out for them and do your best to remain calm when it does happen. Just imagine If you had started crying and wailing with your child when he crashed his bike, would he want to get back on and try again? I don’t know about you, but I told my kids, this is what happens but pretty soon you will be riding all over the place, get back up and try again. I put a band aid on his scrapes and he did it again. You have to do the same for your puppy. Your puppy will meet grumpy older dogs, friendly adult dogs, wide open hyper dogs, laid back easy going dogs, shy dogs…etc. All kinds of temperaments and personalities and you will learn what other adult dogs think of your puppy. You will also see how your puppy will problem solve. You will stand by to intervene…not helicopter. Do not let your puppy get into a group larger than four. It can become aggressive pretty quick.
If your puppy is going through a fear period, skip the dog park. It can be unpredictable and you want to make sure that your beloved puppy doesn’t become a target. Dogs do not like unstable or unbalanced behaviors and when another dog presents as unstable (irrational fear behavior is a trigger), other dogs will try to correct it. In a pack, that usually means a growl or a bite, whatever it takes to bring stability back to the pack. Just be in tune with your little buddy.
ON LEASH EVENTS:
Doggie Meet and Greets: Just look up “fun things to do in my area with my dog” on Google and you will be surprised at all the doggie events people have created for their best friends. There really isn’t a better way to for us as humans to socialize either. A word of caution, some of the adult dogs that you meet will not be in love with your dog, so watch for those signs and signals that they give. If your dog freezes, barks, gets under your feet, or hair stands up and he has never done this before, it is time to put a little more distance between your dog and the stranger’s dog. Trust your puppy, he knows when the Fido he is meeting is friendly or not especially if you have socialized him.
TIP FIRST TIME TO DOG OWNERS: Never allow your puppy to meet another dog/puppy on a retractable leash or use a retractable leash. If I could ban them from the world of puppies, I would. They are not safe, nor do they keep your puppy safe, nor do they help you set limits for your puppy. Once your puppy becomes a balanced dog, go for it! But most people do not use them correctly and you never know when you will meet a dog that is not balanced on the end of a retractable leash, so stay away from people who have their dogs/puppies on this type of leash.