Know Your Pooch
Early socialization most useful
I have often heard people saying, “at home he was never like that. I did not bring him out earlier because his shots were incomplete. Today, when I took him out on the road, he stuck to the asphalt like a lizard. But he was again happy and playful, once inside the home.” This is a very common situation. Many dog owners who are conversant with the term socialization too commit this mistake of keeping the pup under wraps, till the shots are completed. I agree to some extent on this, but not cent percent.
From the age of eight weeks, when the pup is separated from his dam and littermates till the age of 16 weeks he learns a lot. He sees many things and tries to keep a track of all good and bad experiences. I have already discussed in the earlier issues of Tree Take that a dogs senses are important for him to survive. Out of these the senses of hearing, smell and sight are the most important. His hearing is so powerful that he can perhaps hear the footsteps of a cockroach climbing a wall! He sniffs the nano-sized grooves on the electric pole, etched by the tiny drops of urine passed by other dogs and is able to immediately make out the conditions of the dogs that lifted their legs on that! A Greyhound is able to see the minor flutter of a rabbit’s ears one kilometer away and rushes superfast to make a meal of it! In a nutshell, in a short span of life compared to ours, dogs learn a lot to survive.
Between eight and sixteen weeks the pup learns maximum. However, if adopted during that age or bought from a breeder, the pup becomes the responsibility of the owner. Therefore, it is you who is supposed to know what goes inside the mind of your puppy. Let me first take an even tempered puppy. His best trait is ‘follow the leader.’ The moment he sees you, he begins to follow you. Just because the movement of your legs makes him curious and his hunting instinct is on. He thinks that ‘this (the pair of moving legs) is perhaps a prey for me!’ And he chases them. At that time if you make him sniff this piece of tidbit in your fingers, he will follow you more eagerly. In between, stop at different places, caress him and talk to him sweetly, but don’t let him have the tidbit yet. Let him follow you for some more time. During this walk let his paws feel different types of ground under-like green grass, tiles floor etc. The reason for which is that he must know the ground he is treading upon.
As the time passes expose him to different kinds of sounds of the house, of the TV and also of the road. The last one may be from near your gate or even from a balcony, if you are living in an apartment. You must be wondering why he should be exposed to such sounds. Your pup may have been a progeny of a world class champion parents or one of the puppies born on a garbage dump, he remains an animal. You have to introduce him to a human world, where roads, traffic, etc. have different types of sounds, feels and smells for him. Each time he enjoys the new sounds, reward him with the tidbit. Plus keep fussing around, scratching him, patting him and talk to him in the sweetest possible tones. He will learn fast that all this is a part of life and enjoy the environment.
An even tempered pup learns things without creating much problem for the owner. It is for the owner to make the learning process interesting and never boring. Plus in teaching a child or a pup repetition is the key. For example, many puppies have the habit of welcoming all the guests in the sitting room. However, some guests don’t like the idea, some are scared and sometimes their children are more than fussy. Hence it is better to leash the pup and then take him to the sitting room. Where if the guest has no objection the pup will go near him sniff him, and welcome him with a wag of his tail. Don’t let him go beyond this. Just after he has welcomed the guest, gently take him away reward him and put him back in his play pen with a fresh bone or a new toy. This will keep him engaged and will not get the feeling that he has been ‘imprisoned.’ Repeat it each time a guest comes (of course not expected in these COVID times!). The pup will soon understand that he has not to go beyond a certain limit. However, in case the guest doesn’t want the pup around, then keep the pup busy in his pen.
Real problem is faced when you have a timid pup. It is very difficult for everyone to distinguish between a shy and a normal pup, unless one has reared many dogs and observed them carefully. Like shy and timid kids we have similar dogs too. These pups appear perfectly normal within the confines of the home and with the people at home. But once taken out or confronted with an outsider in the house they start behaving weird. Such a pup may tuck his tail between his legs and bare his teeth menacingly. Will surely back out if the owner tries to catch him. He may even slink underneath a sofa or a bed and may even snap if dragged out forcibly. Such pups need special care. You have to gradually engage him in various activities. Initially make him follow you inside the house, like a normal pup. However, in such a case reward the pup frequently with a tidbit. NEVER EVER shout at him or hit him. He is already shy and scared of the environment. It needs perseverance to make him come out of his shell of shyness.
For example, my Miniature Pincher Chhotu was a shy pup. She had all the traits I mentioned above. It took me nearly six months to make her accept the guests in the house, but even then she won’t permit them to touch her! Gradually, that fear was also overcome. The day I tried to take her out on the road on a leash, her ears went back, the tail was docked, so she tried to raise her back in an endeavor to hide her genitalia with the stump of the tail. Her heckles were raised and she stuck to the road, like a lizard. There was no point taking her further. Instead I took an about turn and she happily walked back with him. She was looking at me for a reward, but no, instead she got a dirty look from me. The next time I took her out and we walked only one step. I praised her a lot and we came back. Like that it took me another three months to make her walk on the road, but she was still chary of the vehicle horns and sounds. It was quite a long and tedious process to socialize her and change her behavior.
Many times a perfectly normal pup is spoiled due to ignorance of the owner. Too much pampering is as bad as too much punishment. I have said in one of the earlier articles in Tree Take that by a slight change in your tone or showing anger on your face you can punish a dog better than by hitting him actually. It is important to observe your dog more and watch for any behavioral issues and consult specialists to solve them.