Saturday, March 17, 2012

Socialization With Jackie

Since I have an adorable foster puppy at my disposal for the moment, I made some clips on socializing a new puppy to some of the things that you might expect her to encounter in her future home. These are all very, very basic introductions -- literally the very first steps you might take with a puppy who had no previous acquaintance with any of these ideas. Jackie hasn't even been here for 24 hours, so I figured she'd give a more authentic reaction than my other half-trained mutts.

We spent this afternoon out on the street, camped in an alley about 10 feet removed from the bustle of South Street (which was extra bustling today on account of being a street full of tourist bars on St. Patrick's). Jackie got to meet old people, young people, kids of all ages, people using mobility aids, people so drunk they probably needed mobility aids, people wearing huge green leprechaun hats and necklaces of flashing green Christmas lights, and lots more. I didn't want her to get overwhelmed, so we only stuck around for half an hour and left while she was still having fun, but she probably met over a hundred people in that span. A cute puppy in an "Adopt Me" vest on a crowded street grabs a lot of attention.

After dinner, with the average BAC on the street steadily rising, we retired indoors to do some socialization practice with objects instead of people.

To start, you need a drawer full of props (Kong rubber brush, Furminator metal brush, toothbrush with chicken-flavored doggy toothpaste, nail clipper, bowl of kibble, assortment of tasty treats) and one puppy:

The first exercise we did was just familiarizing Jackie to the grooming tools by giving her the opportunity to investigate them (and, being a puppy, chew on them) at her own pace. I scattered some kibble and treat pieces around the tools to encourage her to sniff at them, but as it turned out those weren't needed.

Once she'd lost interest in them, I moved to the next step: gently brushing her with the Kong rubber brush. The intent isn't to actually brush her (as a fuzzy puppy, she doesn't need a real brushing anyway), but just to familiarize her with the sensation. This is usually the least objectionable part of grooming for most dogs, so I think it's the best place to begin. The rubber Kong brush is less scratchy than the Furminator, so that's the one I used initially.

Next up: the toothbrush.

I put some doggy toothpaste on the brush and let her decide to eat it. While she was chewing, I moved the brush slightly to approximate the way it would move for a real toothbrushing. When the toothpaste was just about gone, but before Jackie lost interest in it, I took the toothbrush away, leaving her wanting more of the "treat." Next time the toothbrush comes out, she's a little more likely to regard it with anticipation.

Lastly we worked a few rounds of Doggie Zen.

The "official" game of Doggie Zen is to hold a treat in a closed hand so that the dog knows you have it but can't get it. The instant that the dog gives up trying to chew the treat out of your hand, you click that moment of acceptance and open your hand so the dog can get the treat.

As simple as this exercise is (and it is very simple, and most dogs grasp it very quickly, such that I've seldom had to play more than one day's worth of strictly defined Doggie Zen before shaping it toward Watch Me, Leave It, Look At That, or any of the other myriad concepts that Doggie Zen leads to), it's important because it introduces impulse control and the idea of "availability" -- that some good things in life may appear to be available but aren't actually available until the handler makes them so.

So while it seriously only takes about five minutes in your life to teach Doggie Zen to most puppies, it's five minutes you might as well spend, because a whole lot of other stuff builds off that simple idea.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant post! This can also be done with dogs that aren't necessarily puppies -- mill dogs, hoarder dogs, etc. They're essentially puppies in adult bodies :)