Effective socialization includes ensuring that your puppy experiences early in life some of the things you know he will encounter later on.
Technology requires that hardware devices—computers, smart phones, and so on—have software operating systems that enable them to perform the tasks we want and need. Dog personalities are not unlike technology. Temperament is hard-wired into the individual and governs the opportunities and limitations of the personality. Behavior is the operating system we are capable of controlling and modifying to our needs.
How do we program the behavior we want in our dogs, to meet our lifestyles and needs? One way is socialization. Early socialization is imperative, but equally important are a variety of experiences throughout life from which the dog learns coping skills.
When in New York City for Westminster, I had the opportunity to compare two dogs from our breeding program who had similar early socialization.
The first is Charley Lhasa, age 7, destined early for a pet home because of a cosmetic fault. Charley’s owner flew cross-country to pick him up at age 10 weeks. Until then, as is common here, he lived with littermates in the laundry room off the kitchen, exposed to household and people noises, with trips outside for exercise and potty training, and playtime with willing adult dogs. He interacted with strangers in our home and rode by car and motor home while in a crate. With his doting new owner, Charley immediately learned airplane rides, strolled the streets of Manhattan, rode cabs, played in Central Park, rode the subway in his carrier, and became a photo star.
Charley met us in our hotel lobby and greeted us confidently then splayed on the floor, completely relaxed. He allowed touching and holding, but when I tried to peek at his bite, he firmly resisted, but without aggression. As he and his owner left, I watched him march down the busy avenue with great aplomb, lift his leg on a lamppost (he is neutered), and wait at the corner for the light to change. His owner keeps him in coat worthy of a competitive Open Dog and grooms him daily to keep him clean. Dirty sidewalks did not interfere with his metamorphosis into a city dog.
The 2-year-old dog we took to New York to show at Westminster shares close ancestors and the same early rearing as Charley. He then was socialized at dog shows, in parking lots and at our vendor booth. He is eager to travel in our motor home and van, and he likes our vet. With advance practice, he tolerated confinement in the Sherpa carrier on his first plane trip. However, he was unprepared for being in our hotel room, which was a new and strange territory to him. He refused to eat and would hardly relieve himself in our travel ex-pen. Once at the dog show, he immediately relaxed on the bench, amid the chaotic crowd and dog-show noises. He ate food that was offered, kissed spectators, and watched other dogs. He is well socialized by many standards, but he is considerably younger and less cosmopolitan than Charley. His solid temperament allowed him to cope with the hotel situation without panting, drooling, or whining, but his behavior reflected a stress level we did not anticipate. Obviously, we need to expand his socialization.
Just as we regularly update software programs, socialization is not a done deal at any age. We should anticipate gaps in our dogs’ experience base and continuously refresh their social competence. —Cassandra de la Rosa, American Lhasa Apso Club