Puppies stare up at us with those big, round eyes, promising to love us for the rest of our lives. They captivate us with their unconditional love and entertain us beyond oblivion with their lack of coordination and curious ways of looking at our world. Kids see a playmate, a buddy to kill time with that will occasionally chew up their favorite toys. Parents see long nights of waking up in the middle of the night for potty training and the endless trail of messes to clean up. Many of my trainers, including myself, like to think we are pros at creating the best, well-rounded adult dog by all of the epic fails we have encountered in puppy raising and training. So my question is “Do you really understand what it takes to try and shape a well-rounded dog?”
Many pet owners want their dog to be the socialite of all breeds. I personally think that’s an excellent goal, but you must understand that not all dogs will be raised the same way. Many pet owners plop their puppy on the ground with dogs of all shapes and sizes and then wonder why their puppy is scared to death. This needs to be a gradual event. Observe the other dogs’ body language. Puppies still don’t know the art of the proper greeting so they may annoy older dogs. This could result in a tiff or full-on dog fight depending on the personalities of the dogs involved. People often make the mistake of wanting their dog to meet face to face like humans do because it simply bothers them that dogs sniff each others rear ends to meet. There are so many dogs out there that cannot speak the language of their own species. Many dogs never have the chance to learn from other dogs because they are kept at home as they grow up. Other dogs may have had a bad experience with another dog so their owner gave up on socializing them. And dog parks, well, they can be your best friend or worst enemy. It seems more often than not, the most uneducated dog owners let the worst socially inappropriate dogs off leash (regardless of breed). This type of scenario can ruin everything you have worked with on your dog if they endure a traumatizing experience. Remember, it takes at least 200 good experiences for your dog to forget about the one bad one.
Socializing your puppy to dogs is important but it is also extremely important to socialize it with all types of people. This is not something most pet owners think of until it is too late. It is our belief as a society that dogs should simply just accept people in general. We don’t think of the fact that humans can look, smell, and act very different to a dog and people whom they are not used to my cause fear in a dog. There are so many things to consider when socializing a well-rounded dog to people: male, female, toddlers, elderly, race, beards, hats, sunglasses, walkers, wheelchairs, canes. These are just a few. When I was in college, I had a German Shepherd puppy about 10 months old. I came home to visit my mom and a neighbor of mine was walking with a cane for his morning exercise. My shepherd ran over to him and grabbed the cane because he thought it was a stick. Needless to say, the neighbor was not thrilled about Cyrus’s antics and was simply mortified. Just remember to take it slow and have new people feed them their favorite treat. More than likely, your dog will not like every single person they meet (stay away from those people) but it’s important for your dog to handle their dislikes appropriately.
So ask yourself, and your family “Do I really have time for all this?” Most of you can make time for it, and have your dog well on its way to becoming the outstanding citizen in the dog community that you dreamed of. Try to jump in a group class as soon as their old enough, take them for rides to see the world as much as possible, and experience new sights, sounds, and smells. Walk them around town so they can hear the hustle and bustle of our busy world. Above all, take your time; not all dogs are the same. Some dogs are more sensitive to noise, others are crazy hyper and too wild to be scared (call a professional trainer) and some just go with the flow. They will also learn at different paces much like humans. Just keep this in mind: You leave your house every day and experience the world around you. Your dog is not lucky enough to have that luxury so it is up to you to make it happen for them.