Tai’s been with us now for 2-1/2 weeks. It’s been a busy and fun time getting to know him and watch him get to know us and his new home. We have a pretty good routine going at this point, basic training is going well and the “pack” dynamics are interesting (more on that in a future post).
But my biggest priority at this stage is socializing Tai. In part, that means creating positive associations with a wide variety of people. Tai has loved EVERYONE he meets and the variety of people we’ve met in our outings range from babies in strollers to toddlers to teenagers to “cranky” old men. I carry a pocketful of treats of course and always ask the new people we meet to give him one or two or three. I’m not shy. I go to public places and stop complete strangers to “meet my puppy”. I’ve only had a couple of people decline (“He’s cute but I’m not into dogs”). And my dog friends have been very cooperative. We had a “meet and greet” in the parking lot of a local trial this past weekend and it was a great success. We’ve gone visiting. Here is a friend’s son and Tai interacting in their home. I think you can see that Tai was very appropriate with Ryan who wasn’t totally into petting the puppy. It also means habituating him to a wide variety places, sights, smells, touch, sounds, motion and even movement under his feet. He adapted nicely to riding in a crate in the car. On his first couple of trips, I positioned the crate so I could put my fingers to comfort him. It only took a couple of trips for him to settle quickly and now he is a “pro”. This was our first experience together where he was initially a little afraid (as evidenced by a little crying) and then “learned” that riding in the car is really ok. In other words, he “bounced back” or recovered and that in itself is a huge learning experience.
Many new encounters evoke very little reaction other than curiosity and in my observation, this includes most things in the “natural” world. So encounters with sticks, grass, dirt, mud, snow, creeks, birds, insects, flying and honking geese, fighting crows, puddles, creeks, horses, manure, etc have all been taken in stride.
It’s the “built” environment that poses the biggest challenge for our puppies. In the house…hair dryers, vacuum cleaners, microwaves, radio, tv, flushing toilets have generated no reaction at all, probably because his earliest days were spent in the middle of a house. Since I live in a suburban neighborhood Tai has been exposed to plenty of human generated noises just from our backyard including distant traffic noise, trains and even drills and hammers. If I’ve noticed any reaction, it’s has been to listen or watch, take it in and then go about his business.
One encounter though was particularly unpleasant for Tai. Last week we walked out of the front door together to take a short walk in the neighborhood. I noticed an idling truck in the driveway of my neighbor’s house directly across the street. It didn’t seem to me to be particularly noisy so I barely noticed and was surprised when Tai’s began bucking at the end of his leash, wanting to get away…Then it hit me…the smell that is. My neighbor was having his septic tank emptied. YUCK YUCK YUCK! I gave him a few moments and then decided to retreat to the house as he wasn’t quickly recovering. Can you imagine how overwhelming that smell must have been to him? The next time we walked out of the house later that day and long after the truck was gone, the negative association with the driveway and street in front of our house had been formed. He wanted nothing to do with it and had to be carried to the car but settled immediately and calmly into the security of his crate.
So, what to do? I was completely confident that he would get over this eventually as many good things – like walks! – were going to begin in our driveway. So, over the next few days, I simply spent a few minutes with him a couple times a day, letting him explore the front of our house…letting him decide how far down toward the street he wanted to go (not far at first). As I suspected, curiosity is getting the better of him, along with the scent of our neighbor’s cats and that negative association is surely being replaced with positive associations. He’ll now walk to the car on leash. Yesterday I fed him his lunch in the car parked in the driveway with the back open and we added playing some games in the street.
The other “built” environment encounter he’s still habituating to is moving cars. Quite sensible actually to feel a little vulnerable to that much noise and motion. His reaction is to sit and watch and if the car is quite close to want to move away. Like I said…quite sensible. So, he came with me to the doctor’s office yesterday where I spent a few minutes with the hatch up sitting with him watching cars go by from the security of his crate. A few cookies may have been dropped in as well :-).
Today’s schedule includes his first vet visit and a puppy play date. The sun is shining and we’re sure to get rid of more of this snow. A good day.