Socializing your new puppy
Puppies are not born being good citizens. We must teach them how to interact with the world. On a good day, dog breeders and puppy raisers will introduce young puppies to various people, sights, sounds, and experiences. Social distancing and quarantining at home have made this task rather tricky, so new puppy owners find themselves with additional challenges.
I brought a new puppy home last month. His name is Toke. He came from an exceptional breeder who does an outstanding job of raising puppies, but Covid challenged even her. Toke needs more work and patience than I would typically have with a new pup. Luckily, he has a solid temperament and is not rattled easily by new things, so socializing this little guy will be fun and rewarding.
What is socializing? It may not be what you think it is. Socializing in the context of dogs is teaching your dog to be a good citizen. It means they can walk down the street and not want to jump all over every person and every dog they meet. They know how to behave in public. Things like cars driving by and sudden sounds do not faze them. They will lie under tables at restaurants and be good companions for you when you are out and about. Socializing is not setting the expectation that your dog must exuberantly greet every dog and person he sees. It is not going to the dog park where you cannot control what dogs your puppy interacts with. Dogs, including puppies, are pack animals. The whole wide world is not their pack.
Most dogs would prefer not interacting with strange dogs. Do you force a three-year-old human child to interact with every person you meet on the street? No? Then why set that expectation for your dog? A dog that thinks it must exuberantly interact with every dog it sees is at higher risk of getting attacked by strange dogs, with the unfortunate consequence that your dog may become aggressive. Let’s manage expectations and not set our dogs up for failure.
When I brought Toke home, I gave him a few days to settle in. Then we explored the world. I took him to meet friends at various offices (always calling for permission first). We visited a friend whose two adult goldens are known for being good puppy raisers. We did walks in the woods and explored new things. We walked in town where he could see and hear new sounds. At all times, I carried his favorite toy and plenty of yummy treats to reward him for being brave. At the beginning of the week, he was timid, not wanting to approach new people. By the end of the week, he ran to people who were not wearing masks but thinking first before deciding a masked person was ok. By the end of the second-week people were fabulous but cars are still a bit scary.
When we are out and about, he is not allowed to meet with every person we see, only those that I want him to meet. We do not allow him to meet strange dogs, only dogs that I know. He is encouraged to ignore and walk past people and dogs unless given permission to say hello. Luckily my two adult dogs are good role models for how he should behave. I do want to insert a word of caution – a puppy's immune system is not built up, so be very careful of where you take your pup and, at all times, keep them safe.
Toke will someday compete in obedience trials and any other fun activity that we decide to do together. I set up a FB page called the Golden Dog Patch where you can watch his journey and see what goes into making a performance competition dog. I should caveat this by stating that I am not the best trainer, and my dogs and I are not top competitors. I don’t do this for the ribbons. I train my dogs because we both enjoy the time together.
Socializing is an essential first step in Toke's future and for the future of any good canine citizen.
- Susan M. Young is a long-standing Asheville Real Estate Broker and has been active in dog sports with her Golden Retrievers for over 20 years. She can be reached through her website at www.SusanMYoung.com
Optional pull quote: “Most dogs would prefer not interacting with strange dogs.”