Know your Pooch
The writer is former director, GSI, and an avid animal lover. His understanding of man's best friend comes from over six decades of dedicated association with it…
Man and dog relation is thousands of years old. Humans have a far advanced brain than that of a dog and they have a much stronger power of logic and thinking. Dogs go by instincts and learn by association of ideas. Whether socialized or not, they somehow manage to live and survive with humans. An un-socialized dog will most probably develop aberrant behaviour such as incessant barking or attacking a visitor unprovoked or mauling a child. At times a sudden noise can startle such a dog to an extent that he may, out of fear hide under a bed and may charge if forced to come out! I have seen a dog bite his master, because the brute was sleeping on the sofa of the sitting room and to make me comfortable my host pushed the dog down. Dog got so enraged that he literally chewed off one finger of his master’s hand. To avoid such situations, it is imperative that a dog must be socialized from early stages of life. Since this series of articles was meant to help would be breeders to get the best out of their stock, I have added socialization to make you understand its significance.
Puppies are born blind. Their eyes develop after birth. The first 10 to 12 days of their lives after arriving in this world are dark. They grope around, using their power of smell. Ideally, their socialization should start, as soon as they open their eyes. But at that age they are also prone to infections. Hence, one can’t take chances. As a breeder I used to keep the kennel area out of bounds even for my family members. To see the new borne puppies, they had to stand at least 15 feet away. I entered the whelping box for cleaning etc. after sanitizing self. Slippers or shows were ‘no-no’. During that period puppies got used to wish each other, their dam and the whelping box. In other words, their total World was about four feet by four feet. It was a safe zone for them.
Once they were around two weeks old, I began to pick one puppy and held him close to my chest. Close to heart to be precise. The best way is to hold the puppy in the crook of your arm, while supporting his chest with fingers. Imagine yourself in that condition! What will you feel? It will be a feeling of comfort with the fingers of the other hand gently stroking the forehead and back. Whisper sweet nothings to the pup and let him listen your heartbeat. It is a completely new experience for the pup and I feel that it is really good experience for the pup. However, a word of caution. At that age a pup is very much scared in alien surroundings, hence this socialization should not be longer than one minute per puppy. Separation for a longer duration from his familiar environment can cause more harm than help in socializing.
Gradually this exercise can be repeated twice a day and after three-four days the duration can be increased five minutes, by the time puppy is four weeks old. Dog psychologists call this brief dog-man association as ‘imprinting’. I have seen it has a long-range effect. For example, some of my Labrador Retriever puppies were picked up by the RVC (Indian Army) at the age of ten weeks. They had been socialized not only within the premises of their kennel, but also in the house with other family members etc. After one year they had come to Lucknow for a demonstration, and I was invited to witness the show. Afterwards the organisers asked me to recognise my puppy out of the three brutes. It was very difficult though, but my guess proved to correct. I asked if I could touch the Dog. I was told yes, but only with the handler around. Initially the dog didn’t show any reaction. But after a few moments he wagged his tail. Since they are trained not to be very friendly with strangers, the dog looked at his handler and thereafter turned his face away. The handler told me ‘Yes he has recognised you. But it would be better to maintain a distance.’ In other words, the initial socializing when I had kept the puppies close to my heart, had a long-term impact on the dog.
The next stage of socializing at the breeder’s place starts when the puppies are around four weeks old. They are still not vaccinated, hence never commit the mistake of taking them out for the purpose. Within the confines of the house, let the puppy feel different kinds of floors, listen to the household sounds, the sound of TV and may be the sound of the traffic, albeit from a distance. Carefully observe his reactions. Dogs have a great sense of hearing and smell. Hence when he goes to a strange place he sniffs around and is all ears. A sudden, sharp sound may startle him. You have to be careful. It is ideal, if you start getting the pup used to the whine of a hair dryer or a vacuum cleaner just before his meal. As soon as he starts to have his meal shut the sound. Apart from getting used to different kinds of sounds, the idea behind this exercise is to get him so used to the sound of these two gadgets is to accept them at the time of grooming. A hair dryer comes handy to dry a dog after a bath. It makes things a lot easier. Grooming dogs of great shedding breeds like an Alsatian with a vacuum cleaner helps a lot is removing the dead hair follicles from the woolly undercoat.
Touch is another sense which matters a lot to a dog. A gentle caress goes a long way to make him comfortable and at ease. But around seven weeks age some puppies resent being touched by strangers. My own miniature bitch puppy at seven weeks often charged at strangers. And at times they can be snappy too. Therefore, puppies must be caressed by the family members first, then by the visitors (if they feel like). By the time the puppy goes to his new home he is well socialized.
COVID is an unexpected situation. It is well-nigh impossible to take your puppy on socialising trips on a leash, outside your home. Thus, you have to create various situations within the home. For example, take him to the corners of your home where generally things not of daily use like ladder, shovel, gardening tools, batons of wood, domestic gas cylinder etc. are kept. Let him go around, sniff at things and experience something different than routine. After a few minutes take him back to the kennel and reward him profusely. If you have more than one puppy then repeat this exercise one by one. Likewise, you can encourage him to walk under tables, chairs, etc. and get exposed to different odours and textures of materials. Since it is not possible to invite people home, the family members dressed in flashy clothes, goggles etc. can meet them outside their pen. Each member should reward the puppy either with a titbit or stroke him soothingly. This gives a confidence to the pup for exploring new places, meeting new people. If circumstances permit, take out the puppy in the car, park with window panes shut in a market place and let him see people moving about, children playing or even dogs on the street.
The basic idea is to expose the puppy to different situations and conditions that he is likely to face later in life. A well socialized pup makes a better companion dog than the one who goes straight from his pen to a new home.