Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Socializing Your Pup: Advice From an Amateur*

When it comes to owning a dog, I think one of the most important things you can do for him/her is socialize them as much as possible. You need to expose your dog to all sorts of people, different sensations and difference environments. When we first decided on getting a dog, I use the term "we" loosely here, we wanted a breed that would love everyone and would be able to come different places with us, notably the beach. The Labrador Retriever was a no-brainer here.

It was also important to go to a breeder who bread specifically for temperament. So once we found our puppy and brought him home, we had quite a lot of work to do. We are really lucky in that we have a super dog friendly family and also plenty of children to keep Will entertained play with Will! The second day we had Will was my birthday so right off the bat we started getting Will use to a lot of people, noise and especially children!

I felt getting Will use to children was one of the most important things we had to do. We always have kids, ranging from a few months to 10 years, at our house so there was no way we could have an unfriendly dog. Luckily enough, one of these kids is Isabella. At the time she was 2 1/2 and she had no fear, even around dogs four times her size. I think we can give her a huge portion of the credit for socializing Will. When we first introduced her, she was so excited to see a real puppy, she got right in the crate with him and the rest is history!

That tiny fluff ball was Will at 8 weeks and 1 day old.
She still loves Will and he is probably still learning what he can and cannot do, but he has never done anything around kids to make us nervous. He usually just lays right down and lets any little kid pet him. We still work on his social skills a lot, because it can't hurt. I often take him to Derby Street Shoppes which is an outdoor mall and just walk around. We get stopped a gazillion times by little kids asking if they can pet him and the answer is always yes. Once a woman didn't believe me that he was still a puppy because he was so chill while her girls were petting him, also didn't help he was a monster-sized puppy. She even asked for the name of our breeder because her and her husband were looking into getting a dog, and she was so impressed.

It was so important that we didn't coddle him as a tiny puppy because now we have a dog who will take anything a kid has to dish out; from tail pulling to eye poking to getting his head sat on. This is really going to pay off in a few months because my mom and I are starting classes with Will so he can become a certified therapy dog, and us therapy dog handlers. Once the classes are finished we can bring Will to any hospitals, rehab facilities, schools, nursing homes etc. 

There you can encounter any number of things that might scare a dog like different noises, smells, machines. In schools we could go into a special needs class where some children may be too rough with other dogs, but Will knows how to handle it and he would never growl or snap at them. And at nursing homes or at VA hospitals people love to see a friendly dog! They might have always had a dog but can no longer care for them. My mom takes Will to visit my Nana all the time, and when he isn't getting in trouble for chewing on chairs and whatnot, he's usually making people happy! He loves going there because the receptionist has treats, too! Just through these visits he has gotten used to elevators and large machines, even something as trivial as wheelchairs really freak some dogs out.

All in all people it's important to socialize your dog! And if you put in the work while they are young, you'll be able to reap the rewards when they grow up.

NB: I am obviously not a dog trainer, or a vet or a breeder. These are just my experiences with my dog. And please don't just throw any child in with a dog because not all kids are like Isabella and not all dogs are Will. And no Isabella isn't available to socialize your dog - well you'd actually have to talk to her mom about that!

* I am also an amateur at spelling. Not amature. Thanks Dad.

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