Thursday, November 17, 2011

Focusing on Socialization

Today I took Andreu and Hayden to their agility classes, and it went quite well! Andreu is having a blast learning the basics, and Hayden is starting to overcome her fear of the teeter totter. After that we went to visit my parents and the dogs had play time with Bernie, Joey, and Opal.
I am spending a good amount of time socializing Andreu at this age, meeting new dogs and people as often as possible. However, I stress that with socialization it's not necessarily about the AMOUNT of socialization, but the TYPE of socialization. What I mean is that it is extremely important that he has POSITIVE encounters with new dogs, people, and places, not just constant exposure. From my experience it seems that many people believe that as long as their dogs are experiencing new things, then they are providing good socialization, but I think that it is much more important to read a dogs body language and demeanor to understand how they are interpreting these experiences. I have met many dogs who have social issues later in life and their people have no idea why, as they provided many new experiences when the pup was young. However if the pup was not interpreting these events as positive, but maybe more so as overwhelming, then the puppy may conclude that new places, people, or dogs are scary or dangerous. It can often be difficult to tell how a puppy is experiencing these new things unless we are paying careful attention. Is the puppy's tail down, and ears back? Is he showing stress through signals like yawning, licking, or backing away from the "scary" thing? I never want to push a young puppy into something they are uncomfortable with, but instead encourage them to make the decision to go check it out! Of course it is always important to understand that certain dogs will naturally (or genetically) be predisposed to certain sensitivities. Some dogs seem to go into the world with so much confidence and exuberance that it is easy to socialize them, whereas others take more careful focus on our part to make sure that they interpret the event correctly. No matter what, it is important to realize that when you have a puppy you are laying the foundation for the dog you are going to have later on, so it's important to pay attention to all of the signals that your pup is giving you and hoping that you are picking up on! If your puppy shows that he is scared of something and you push him into it anyways, then you could be breaking the trust he has in you. This does not mean be a push over! But it does mean that we should be sensitive to our dog's signals, and work through any fears that might arise. This may be a vague description of my opinion on the matter, but it is what I think about as I continually work on developing Andreu into a wonderful, balanced, and confident adult dog.
This video shows Andreu running around with Opal (12 year old Border Collie), and Bernie (10 year old Papillon).  Notice that Andreu is vigorously wagging his tail as he runs.  He is doing the "bottom tucked under" move as he charges around, which is usually a sign of excitement and what I like to call the puppy "zoomies."  He is having fun!

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