Social Puppy

Socialization with Kids

There is this whole thing called “socializing” your dog that I never knew existed before we got our puppy. The ASPCA defines it as “helping them learn to be comfortable as a pet within human society”. Basically, when your puppy is still very young, you want to have introduced him to as many new things as possible, so he doesn’t suddenly see an umbrella for the first time at 6 months and freak out. And even more important than being ok with umbrellas, it’s a way of helping to ensure that your dog will be more relaxed/friendly and less fearful/aggressive as he gets older.

[Side Note: This is a little harder to do in a city where you may be told not to take your puppy out before he’s had all of his parvo shots. We’d heard that areas like dry sidewalks and the sand at Crissy Field were low risk for parvo, so we weighed the trade-off against the higher probability that our dog could turn out to be a scared meanie if we kept him too sheltered early on. But before making the decision for yourself, you should talk to a vet or another dog professional to see what’s right for your puppy in your area.]

It was very helpful that we had our dog Brewster going to puppy daycare every day with the dog walker & trainer Pamela Wyman of DogEvolve, because with both of us working full-time and only having weekends to take our dog out and about, we never would have been able to introduce him to nearly as many things by the time we’d had him only a month. We focused on a lot of things around the house — introducing him to the vacuum cleaner, giving him a bath and using the hairdryer on him, rubbing his paws/ears etc. to make sure he was ok with “handling”, etc. — and treating him the whole time so he would create positive associations with these new things.

When we’d go out, we’d look for anything new that we could introduce him to — dogs of various breeds and sizes, children of all ages, strollers, balloons, shopping carts, wheelchairs, canes, drunk frat boys. We started joking that we were using positive racial profiling, looking for people of different ethnicities who might want to pet or hold our dog. One day we thought we’d hit the jackpot when a group of Black, Latino and Asian school children surrounded Brewster at the park. We just kept treating him, petting him, and letting the kids give him treats to teach him  that kids (of all ethnicities!) were his friends and he shouldn’t be afraid of them. I was joking that I should have called the title of this blog “How Not to Have a Racist Puppy” — but seriously, the last thing that we liberal San Franciscans wanted was a dog that only liked people who looked like us.

At 10 months, our puppy Brewster is one of the friendliest, best-behaved dogs, and I think that’s largely because of the effort that we and our trainer Pamela put into socializing him early on. He runs up to new people to greet them, plays with big and small dogs alike, and even let my fiancé’s 3-year-old nephew give him a hug after he had earlier tried to hit him on the head for about an hour straight.

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