Charlotte Peltz Living with Your Dog "Under Socialized" brought to you by Joy Beckner Artist/ Bronze Sculptor

Living with Your Dog

Under Socialized

by Charlotte Peltz

As I entered the patio the barking got more intense, but the dog was backing up rather than approaching me. I moved very slowly so I would offer less threat and I spoke softly hoping to get some response other than the barking. No luck.

The owner had explained to me that the dog's history was not totally known, but he seemed so sweet that she decided to give him a try. Once at her home the problems began to surface. He was totally unfamiliar with all of the usual household noises and activities, and over-reacted to everything. Mostly the form of the over-reaction was to leap around barking, but he had become threatening on several occasions. He had actually snapped in fear twice during the previous week. Pretty scary stuff, all right.

I got down on my knees, continued the soft talk and presented a tasty treat with an extended arm. The dog would have to come to me to get that treat. After what seemed forever, he did approach very carefully, stretched his head out as far as he could and took the offering. Within the framework of the lesson I was able to get the dog to respond to his name, and even to sit for a treat but all of this was accompanied by obvious anxiety.

After two more lessons, he managed to get in and out the front door without hysterics. Those hysterics included putting on the brakes and not moving, to charging through the door with no regard for the leash or the person holding the end of it. How much progress he can make is highly questionable.

My predictions are that he'll bond well with the person who now owns him, but will never be trusting of strangers. He'll always be a risk to have around children since children simply do not move or sound like people, and are therefore highly suspect. Any situations or sounds outside of his daily life will always cause him great anxiety and, yes, there is a strong possibility that he may bite someone one day.

And all this because this dog was not properly socialized when he was a pup! The damage can never be reversed since the windows of opportunity for dogs open early on and then, for all practical purposes, cannot be opened again. Sure, some progress can be made, but that dog is handicapped!

To have a well-balanced adult dog, it is necessary to expose a pup to the real world right from the beginning. That means it should live in the house as a baby -- right in the house where all the action takes place! As soon as the vaccinations have protected the pup against parvo and distemper, that pup should be out and about getting to see and know his world. Before those vaccinations give the proper protection, however, a lot of socializing can still happen. People can visit -- people with beards, big hats, dark glasses, loud and soft voices, etc. Puppies and dogs can visit to encourage dog friendly behavior.

Short rides in the car are also helpful to the overall training program, and that includes seeing other dogs and learning not to bark at them. Visit the vet just to say hi rather than only for scary things, such as vaccinations and the probing and such that vets are inclined to do. And do not forget that puppies as young as eight weeks of age can easily learn all the basic obedience exercises such as sit, down, stand, and come! No force, mind you. Just a fun and games approach works perfectly. The sooner the training begins, the less the pup has to unlearn. One important thing to keep in mind for your young pups is the "fear imprint period" at about eight weeks of age. If something really frightens the pup at this age, it may prove to be a lifelong fear. So take care of those babies!

What about the dog described in this article? My hope is that he will become a treasured companion. My fear is that he may bite someone. The reality is that the poor dog has been cruelly deprived of a whole life because he was not properly socialized as a pup.

"One can measure the size and moral progress of a nation to how she treats her animals." Mahatma Gandhi.

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