I talk a lot about socialization on this blog. Talos is over a year now and I'm still socializing him. You've heard the mantra: the critical period for socialization is up to age 20 weeks. Here's the important part: socialization never stops!
This morning was filled with errands. I took Talos with me, of course, and he learned a lot today. Our first stop was a networking meeting at 7:00a. He doesn't normally get out of bed until 9:00a, so he was quite the sleepy-head (which means he was quiet and well-behaved).
As the morning wore on, the activity ramped up: Walmart, the bank, and Costco, he livened up a bit as his brain got used to being awake.
We were in Walmart when a loud, wobbly cart came through the aisle. It was one of those huge carts – the big plastic ones where the kid sits inside like it's a train car (or something like that). Talos noticed the noise before I did and peeked out into the main aisle to investigate. I know his body language – this wasn't an "I wanna go see that," it was more of "What the heck is that noise? And will it hurt me?"
Ah, perfect teaching moment for a dog. I quietly reassured him (put my hand on his back) and allowed him enough leash so he could get a good view of the source of the noise. He backed up a few paces as it got closer to us, but as it passed he stretched his neck to see if he could get any more information from it's scent. He didn't try to bolt, he didn't growl or bark, he just wanted to gather more information.
From my perspective, that's a really good thing. Talos is with a puppy raiser to learn all about the world. The scary noises, the funny looking carts, the weird smells in the parking lots, and the list goes on.
I could have demanded that he ignore the noise. I could have insisted that he pay attention to me. I could have assumed he was blowing me off or blocking me out. But that not only would have been wrong, it would have also been stupid. Instead of focusing on me, I focused on Talos – what's the best thing for him? Certainly giving him more information so he could determine the situation was safe was the right answer — for both of us.
The same goes for you, too, if you're socializing your puppy (or continuing to socialize your dog). If your dog isn't paying attention to you or following your requests, it's your job to find out why. Is the situation overwhelming? Are the noises too loud? Is your dog surrounded by too many kids? Are too many hands reaching in to pet him? Are five different people talking to him? Does he need time to investigate and gather more information?
Your job, whether you're a puppy raiser for service dogs or you're raising your own pet dog, is to give your dog the tools and information he needs. Your job is to educate. Keep your eyes peeled for opportunities to give your dog more information. You'll have a well-adjusted, easy-going dog as a result. And here's the bonus: you'll be much better at noticing and and reading your dog's signals, too!