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Dog Obedience - The Social Graces of the Urban Dog
A happy, confident dog loves meeting people, plays well with other dogs, acts politely toward cats, and shows curiosity rather than fearfulness when encountering unfamiliar objects. When a dog has these attributes, she's said to be well socialized. A well-socialized dog isn't born, though; she's made. There's no doubt that a dog's personality is important, but unless you make the effort to introduce Duchess to all kinds of people, places, and things at an early age, she will never reach her full social potential, and that would be a shame.
The critical period in a young pup's life is from three to fourteen weeks of age. That's when her brain is most open to new experiences. Older dogs benefit from socialization as well. It may take them a little longer to become accustomed to new things, but they can learn. Socialize them the same way you would a puppy. Remember, the most important factors that contribute to the making of a happy, confident dog are socialization and an understanding of her place within her human family.
For a well-adjusted dog, expose your pup in a positive way to people of all ages and appearances: people wearing hats or glasses; people on wheelchairs or walkers. Introduce her to the sounds of vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers, electronic toys, and any other noises she may commonly encounter.
Take Duchess to public places where dogs are welcome such as parks, pet supply stores, and of course the Veterinary Clinic and Grooming shop. A lot of places permit well-behaved dogs, so keep it that way by taking your dog on leash and controlling her behaviour in public.
Your attitude is the key to a confident dog. If Duchess sees that you're relaxed about a person's approach or a noise that's being made, she will follow your lead. Conversely, if she senses that you're ill-at-ease, she'll become anxious herself.
The veterinary clinic is a great place to start socializing your dog. Schedule an appointment for an exam or weight check only, no painful needles, please! Walk your dog into the clinic with a smile on your face, and let the staff greet her with pats and treats. If she seems fearful, don't try to soothe her by crooning that its okay. That simply confirms her belief that something awful awaits her. Just ignore her. Let her explore at her own pace; don't pick her up or force her toward staff members. Praise her when she investigates on her own, and ignore her if she's cowering under a chair. When Duchess is being brave or at least calm, praise her and give a treat. Repeat these just-for-fun vet visits as often as possible; there's no charge for bringing your dog to the clinic to be weighed and then giving her a treat.
Use this same technique anytime you take Duchess someplace new or introduce her to someone. Keep treats on hand so strangers can give one to Duchess when they meet. If your dog is reluctant to approach a new person, lay a trail of treats to him or her so Duchess can move toward the new person gradually and not to mention happily.
Remember; never force your dog to go toward someone: Fearful dogs bite! This advice applies to both large and small dogs. In fact, it's even more important for small dogs, because our first instinct is to pick them up and cuddle them. Don't do it. Small dogs need to develop confidence just as much as large ones do, maybe even more so.
It's just as important for you to socialize Duchess with other dogs as it is for you to socialize her with other people. Training class is a great place for Duchess to meet other dogs. Some classes divide pups into groups of large and small dogs, but make sure your dog gets a chance to mix with dogs of all sizes and breeds. If she's big, she needs to learn to step carefully around small dogs, and if she's small she needs to learn to have confidence around her larger brethren.
Other good places to meet dogs are at parks. Plan a play date with friends and their dogs. Because parks are neutral terrain, they don't "belong" to any one dog territorial disagreements are less likely to break out. Supervise the interactions until you're sure the dogs are getting along.