Kira, Pickle and I recently started fostering a wonderful puppy, Bindi, and our experiences have been quite rewarding. Kira gets another puppy to snuggle with, Pickle gets another friend to romp around with, and I get another puppy to help train and socialize.
Which brings me to the topic of this post: socialization. Socialization is the process of getting a dog adjusted to its surroundings. This means sounds, smells, sights, textures, situations, different animals, people, etc. In order for your puppy to become a well adjusted dog, they should be familiar and comfortable with the environment around them. Up until a couple days ago, I didn’t know much about Bindi’s past before she arrived in Seattle. My goal has been to try and get her exposed to as many urban things as possible, because Seattle is where she’ll most likely be adopted (and is really scary for any dog that’s not from here!)
Today’s experiment was taking her to the biggest hardware store in the neighborhood: Lowe’s. Hardware stores in general are great places to bring dogs that can handle such situations. Very few places offer such a wide array of people (ethnicities, appearances, clothing styles), smells (lumbar, gardens, paints), sounds (forklifts, paint mixers, talking and yelling) and situations (crowded aisles, waiting to checkout, people approaching, forklifts driving by, filled shopping carts passing by). For the most part, hardware stores are filled with quiet customers who are shopping, meaning a dog (and handler) don’t usually need to worry about being rushed by screaming kids or anything else unexpected.
So, armed with a pocket full of wild-rabbit chews, we got to it. Even crossing the parking lot, full of moving cars, shopping carts and people proved to be fine. Bindi was a little frightened by an automatic door, and a shopping cart rolling on the concrete floors. She did however love the attention she was getting from other customers, several of whom stopped to pet her. I did coax a couple people to give her treats, and Bindi was loving every second of it!
The only issue we had the entire visit was while waiting to get a set of house keys made. Bindi was approached head on by a man, and they both stopped in front of each other, assessing what to do next. Before I could tell him Bindi was friendly, she let out an anxious bark. When faced with an anxious puppy, it’s best to ease them away from the situation causing them problems. We circled around a display, waited long enough for Bindi to calm, and simply walked past the man again. Even the sweetest dogs can get anxious when faced with new scenarios, so be patient, and be willing to apologize once in a while. In the end, it pays huge dividends if you are willing to put in the time.
Something interesting to note here is that dogs cannot generalize between one situation and the next. For example, if you teach a dog to sit in your house, that does not guarantee they will sit when you are at a park. Dogs need to get used to doing a particular action in all situations, a major part of socialization. Recall is an awesome tool for dogs, but it is useless if your dog can only do it inside the house. To work on these things, it’s best to have a pocket full of treats, and wait for your dog to lose focus on you, then whisk them back with bait and have them earn their treat with a command. I can’t tell you how many weird looks I got when I would have Bindi sit while in the middle of an aisle. All in a days work!
By the time we had passed through lumber, plumbing, got our keys made and checked out some plants for the garden, Bindi seemed pretty comfortable with all the people and things going on. She waited in line like a little lady while I checked out, soaking up all the complements she could handle! The cashier was a sweet Vietnamese woman who couldn’t help but gush over Bindi, saying she reminder her of a dog she had back in Vietnam. It was enough to make your heart melt!
Socialization is the most important step to ensuring a dog grows up to be well adjusted as an adult. My objectives with Bindi are to make sure she is a well rounded and confident dog for her new family, and they can be confident that Bindi can handle what ever the world can offer. I’ll be recapping most of our socialization sessions through this blog and track her progress, as well as eave hints and tips on how to deal with tough situations.