Part Two: Luke
After my socialization failures with Leia, I started planning how I would do things differently with our next dog. I decided one thing I should definitely do is to take the puppy to puppy class. At the time I was working as a trainer for a large pet supplies retailer, but I wasn't about to take my puppy to work with me, for a few different reasons. Suffice it to say that I didn't consider it a good environment for a young puppy to start his socialization experience. Furthermore, I realized with Leia that trying to do socialization on one's own is very challenging, especially if you're a socially reticent person yourself. The idea of asking random people I don't know to interact with my puppy in a way that doesn't frighten or overwhelm the puppy seems like the epitome of awkwardness to me! I figured that going to puppy class at a reputable establishment would at least give my new pup some good socialization with other dogs, right? It turns out that this was yet another unfortunate lesson learned on my journey of puppy socialization.
Baby Luke immediately made himself at home in our house and in our hearts
Our experience with puppy class
After Luke was settled in, I wasted no time getting us signed up for classes at a nearby agility training establishment I knew had a good reputation. They offered a puppy pre-k class and basic obedience classes as well as dog agility. Unfortunately, I was quite disappointed with the puppy pre-k class, as very little time was devoted to socialization between dogs or with people, and most of the eight week class consisted of working on basic obedience skills. I found myself caught up in the obedience behaviors, trying to make sure I represented ourselves well, and looking forward to the agility classes that would come next. I knew all the while that I needed to be doing socialization out in the world as well, and we were trying! Luke had some puppy play dates, and we went to parks, and to Home Depot, and to PetSmart. But I failed to give him many and varied experiences, especially with unfamiliar men, people coming into our house, and older people. We did our best, but our best was STILL not quite enough! This was in part my failure, but in part unavoidable, because it can be challenging to expose your puppy to new people in a way that doesn't overwhelm or frighten them. This is even more relevant when your puppy came out of a rescue situation, and/or displays a fearful temperament from the start. And this is where the controlled environment of a puppy socialization class can really be helpful, because all the human participants can be taught how to interact with puppies to give them a positive experience. The problem was, other trainers and facilities didn't seem to have the necessary focus on socialization, and were still stuck in the obedience behaviors mindset. And that's when I decided I needed to take the bull by the horns and make a new kind of puppy socialization class!
A vocalist and a blogger
Luke is a scaredy dog! Unlike Leia, who is generally confident but very fearful and defensive in very specific contexts, Luke tends to be fearful of anything or anyone new, at least until he's had a few minutes to get to know them. He is somewhat nervous about people or sounds in the neighborhood while we are out walking, and especially loud sounds or large objects like garbage trucks (ironically, he had plenty of socialization with those, as we started walking him in our neighborhood before he was fully vaccinated). Like Leia, we are working on desensitization and counter conditioning to increase his comfort with new things. Without it I think he would have progressed to much more fear and reactivity. It's hard to say how much a dog's genetics will shape his personality, but one thing I know for certain: having lots of positive exposures with new things in puppyhood sets dogs up to be the best they can be!
While Luke may always be a little suspicious of new things, he certainly has plenty to offer the world. He spends his days singing along with the piano, pestering Leia, and has even taken on a part-time gig as a blogger. He has quite a knack for writing, so make sure you subscribe on our home page so you won't miss a post!
As for this blog, you can look forward to posts on many canine behavior topics, positive reinforcement training tips, as well as commentary on living with dogs.
Leannah Fulmer, CPDT-KA