Dogs need friends too! (Tales of Socialization)

I see/read/hear about dozens of “best puppy advice” articles every day.  Friends are always telling me their doggy woes – eager to hear my own (free!) opinion.  (P.S. – Friends, I LOVE this.  Do not stop!)  I do not claim to know the “perfect” way to raise a dog.  I suspect the correct formula varies greatly from dog to dog….I mean it surely does in our own species…and like us crazy humans, I think there is more than one correct equation. 

I will tell you something that is a MUST for every dog and pup:  SOCIALIZATION.

In my younger days, my family had a standard, short hair dachshund, Skittles.  One of my earliest, most vivid childhood memories is taking him home.  My brother, me, and Skittles in the backseat – we thought we were in heaven.  I can remember running around the house with my brother in mock fear as Skittles chased us. Giggling, we would run and jump on the back of the sofa using the window to balance just out of his reach.  Of course,  he wasn’t actually chasing us; his little legs were just to short to keep up.  We all knew that he would never hurt anyone.

AnyONE.  One =human.  This dog was the sweetest, snuggliest, tail-waggin’, face-lickin’ pup a family could ever ask for.  Until ANY animal came within his view.  Then this dog turned into Cujo.  Growling, barking, full on attack mode.  Whether you or the other dog, it didn’t really matter; he was ready to fight.  Knowing what I know now, I can clearly see this is the result of him ONLY having playtime with children when he was a puppy.  I would love to believe that he was crazy overprotective of us because he loved us so much (Who knows?  Maybe he was!)  The reality, though, was that he was unfamiliar with the situation, and he didn’t know what the heck was going on.  (He might of even been thinking “What the hell is that thing?!” upon viewing another dog.)  He was like this with all animals.  We lived near a bayou, and Skittles often killed possums.  There was just no way to stop him.

Skittles lived a long and happy life.  He spent lots of happy days in our large backyard.  His walks often took  ridiculously complicated routes – we would have to change directions at the sight of any other dog.  But we loved him so much.  He would patiently wait while I made him don a party hat or tiara from one of my dance costumes – I still have dozens of pictures of him.  He was the lone child when my brother and I left the nest.  I do not know what my mom would have ever done without him.  I’m getting a bit teary eyed as I write this, and he has been in doggy heaven for quite some time now.  He would have been perfect if not for that one (not so) little trait.

My current pup, Buffy, is the exact opposite.  (Even down to the picture taking – she won’t even wear a tiara!) I won’t go so far as to say she likes every dog she meets, but she absolutely tolerates every dog and would NEVER lash out.  I have made it one of my top priorities to socialize her, and (not to toot my own horn) it has made her the perfect puppy.  I’ve walked her in all different environments, taken her to dog parks, taken her to doggy daycare, had play sessions with larger and smaller dogs, taken her into other dogs homes, had dogs come in to her house…whatever the canine social situation, she has lived it.  More accurately, she has rehearsed it.  It’s old hat to her by now!  No need to snap or attack.  The anti-Skittles. 

This weekend, Sully (maybe the CUTEST bulldog puppy I’ve ever seen) stayed with us while his parents were out of town.  Exuding an amount of puppy energy I have rarely seen with bulldogs, he ran into the apartment and immediately started chasing Buffy around.  When mom and dad got nervous that Buffy would snap at Sully for his aggressive behavior, I assured them there was nothing to worry about.  Buffy did have the body language of a fearful (and therefore possibly dangerous) dog, but I know my Buffy.  She might have been slightly ticked, but she was just trying to figure him out.  In less than 5 minutes, these two were best friends.  That is why I can give people the option of having their dog stay in house with me – Buffy will love them.  And (this just might be the mommy in me, but other people will back me up on this too!) they will LOVE Buffy.

The moral of this blog post?  SOCIALIZE! SOCIALIZE! SOCIALIZE!  Take your puppy with you everywhere.  Make sure they make lots of friends.  Put them in every different situation you can possibly dream up.  This will ensure a well balanced addition to your family – one that can go to the park, the beach, your boyfriends without turning into scary monster.  Most importantly, though, they will be happier beings for it.  Dogs are social, and what better gift can you give to your pup than the gift of canine friendship!

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