Socializing puppies is one of my favorite things to do.
Not only am I exposing Leia to the world and the humans that inhabit it, it is an interesting exercise in reading people too.
I’ve often written about how our dogs mirror us, but they are also intuitive barometers in the way they relate to strangers.
“Awwwww, pupppppeeeee!” screams a teenager. She comes running towards me and Leia. I ask her to stop, please wait, and to understand that I am training my puppy. I explain that I want Leia to learn to greet strangers calmly and with all four paws on the ground. I ask Leia to sit, and then I allow the teen to say hello and pat her. Leia is wriggling and trying hard to contain herself, but she does manage to stay sitting.
“Hey! Can I pet your puppy,” calls a young man just getting out of his car. He’s grinning broadly but waits until I ask Leia to sit for the greeting. Regardless of my attempts, she tries to jump all over the man who is now kneeling on her level. I can tell right away that Leia is feeding into his high energy. He tells me he has four dogs, and it’s obvious the way he interacts with Leia.
“How old is your puppy?” asks an elderly woman pushing a shopping cart inside the Tuesday Morning store. I tell her she is fourteen weeks old and her name is Leia. The woman calmly bends down and strokes Leia gently. Such good energy, and Leia responds by sitting quietly and licking her hand.
“Oh my, what a beautiful English Lab!” exclaims a tall woman who just walked out of the grocery store. She is a true dog savvy person – she knows how to approach a puppy being socialized, and she doesn’t squeal in a high voice. She talks to Leia quietly and caresses her gently. Leia again responds by showing good manners and sitting calmly.
“Look at the puppy!” says a father to his two children. A prime socialization opportunity for Leia to interact with kids; their energy is so different from adults. Again, I use it as an opportunity to teach the children how to greet a strange person with a dog. I encourage them to first ask, “May I pat your dog?” Then I show them the best way to touch a dog – gently and with soft strokes in the direction of hair growth.
I’ve learned that when I socialize my puppies it is as much about training people as it is about training dogs. I’ve discovered that many people do not understand canine behavior and respond to puppies and dogs as if they were human babies/children.
Proper socialization of puppies helps to create a confident, well-grounded canine that is a pleasure to live with. WHOLE DOG JOURNAL has published a helpful checklist for puppy owners to use as a guide when socializing their puppy. https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/puppies/the-puppy-socialization-exposure-checklist/
Although time-consuming, it doesn’t take much to shape a new puppy into a worldly and well-adjusted canine citizen. With the right supervision and judicious guidance, that unsocialized puppy can walk into a hardware store that has a pet aisle, and, after getting a few scratches behind the ear from strangers and a new chew to take home, will saunter right back out with tail wagging happily.