Frankie is fearful. This apparently disturbs some people. Only this morning, a generally friendly guy (GFG) I often encounter on the trail expressed annoyance that Frankie stopped in his tracks when his (illegally for that area) off-leash dog passed us. “She didn’t even approach your dog,” GFG said, irritably. “I don’t know what he’s so afraid of.” GFG seemed to take it as a personal affront that Frankie didn’t automatically acknowledge his pup’s harmlessness.
Then there’s my well-intended regular dog-walking friend. He’s fond of Frankie but nevertheless feels compelled to apologize for his shyness when we stop to chat with other people.”He’s a rescue,” my friend often says, by way of explaining why Frankie isn’t as outgoing as his own gregarious fox terrier.
Don’t even get me started on the “He must have been abused” comments I get.
But no one ever says, “He must not have been properly socialized.” Which is the likeliest source of Frankie’s shrinking violet tendencies.
I work to make him as comfortable as possible and the little guy has a pretty happy life. But I’m fairly certain that, if he had been taught to associate new situations, people and dogs with positive things at a very early age, he would be a lot more confident now.
That’s why Ariana Kincaid’s Operation Socialization is so important. On this week’s Animal Cafe podcast, an interview with Kincaid by trainer Eric Goebelbecker — himself certified in the program — explains the latest thinking on this topic.
There are still many breeders and veterinarians who warn against socializing puppies too early for fear of disease. But, as Kincaid notes, behavioral problems that cause dogs to be given to shelters and, often, euthanized, are a lot more detrimental to their well- being than potential illnesses.
She explains on her site:
Taking advantage of your puppy’s early development is critical. This is when he’s at his most receptive; open and pliable. Make sure he has as many positive experiences out in the world during this time so he’ll grow up to be easygoing and friendly. If you wait, your puppy’s “internal timer,” the so-called socialization window, begins to close (around 12-16 weeks of age). After this, he’s genetically programmed to become more and more distrustful of new or unpleasant experiences.
One fun aspect of Operation Socialization is that it provides a network of places where owners who take part in the program can get their “socialization passports” stamped, making the process into a kind of game — and making it easy to achieve goals. I remember reading socialization recommendations that involved inviting hat-wearing friends to ring your doorbell or getting people to pass a puppy around while eating pizza (the people, not the puppy). Maybe I have boring friends, but I thought at the time that I wouldn’t know enough people willing to do anything like that. A program like this makes it easy.
I have to admit, I can’t imagine getting a puppy. The idea of adopting an older dog with a fully formed personality appeals to me far more. But, as much as I adore Frankie, next time I would hope that the dog’s personality might have been formed with the help of a great deal of socialization at an early age.
So if there might be a puppy in your future, head over to Animal Cafe and listen up!
Have you voted for me for Funniest Blogger on DogTimes Petties site yet — or yet today? Why not? The dogs and cats of the Southern Arizona Humane Society, to whom I will donate the $1000 if I win, are depending on you. (Yes, you’ve stepped outside the boundaries of the guilt-free zone here.)