Here at Harmony Dog Training we are excited to announce a new addition to our canine family. After having "puppy fever" for the last year and a half, on Monday, May 29, Lowell and I happily picked up a new youngster! Royal is a male Jack Russell terrier born on March 26, and we are so excited to start our adventures with him. It has been almost exactly eight years since we last had a puppy in the house, so we have decided to document our puppy raising on the blog, to show the types of things we do to prepare our pup for his life with us. We hope you will enjoy reading along with this new adventure!
The priority for week one was to integrate him into the household, start developing good habits with housetraining and crate training, begin teaching some foundation skills, but - most importantly - giving him good, safe exposure to a variety of people, places, animals, and experiences. Royal is in the midst of his critical socialization phase right now where he will be making his first impressions about what is safe and unsafe, and what he likes and doesn't like. It is our priority right now to make sure those early impressions are good ones.
I always stress the importance of quality even over quantity when talking about socialization, so the key to all his new outings and interactions is that they are always feeling fun and safe for him. At nine weeks, Royal is also in an age range known as a "fear period" where he may be more cautious than normal, and bad experiences at this time could have a very lasting impact that would be hard to undo into adulthood. So, we want to be especially careful during this next week to make sure all experiences are good ones.
Socialization is not just meeting people and dogs, but being exposed to all types of sights, sounds, surfaces, and experiences. In our first week together, here are a few of the things Royal has experienced:
-Rest areas on the way home with trucks, cars, people, and dogs.
-A "healthy puppy" check up at his regular vet. Royal was not yet due for a booster vaccine, so we took advantage of the opportunity to have a needle-free experience with nothing but love from the staff, treats, and tug toy games in the exam room.
-A couple trips to the park on the corner, getting used to walking on a leash and harness for short distances.
-Walking on grass, concrete, asphalt, wood mulch, gravel, dirt, boardwalk, carpet, tile, linoleum, and epoxied cement flooring.
-Standing on a dock over water, an elevated wooden stage, climbing onto metal bleachers, climbing on wooden steps on playground equipment, balancing on inflatable exercise equipment.
-Borrowing from Kathy Sdao's concept of "take out meals," he ate dinner at the local canoe livery and watched boats and tubers come and go.
-Watching an aid station get set up at a 5K race. Seeing balloons.
-Seeing all manner of vehicle traffic, from garbage trucks to police cars to bicycles. Watching pedestrians including walkers, runners, and dogs being walked.
-Safe introductions to multiple humans of different ages (including one closely supervised toddler), genders, and races.
-Introductions to friendly, appropriate dogs owned by us or our friends. Interactions may include play, but he also practices walking calmly among other dogs, and being able to focus and learn in their presence.
-Hearing sounds of trains, garbage trucks, sirens, and a helicopter overhead.
-Sharing space with other species including parrots, cats, and chickens.
-Having someone else (who he had met) come to the house and take him out to play for a mid-morning break.
With all of these experiences, I am being careful to let Royal make the choice of when and whether to interact, investigate, or take in information. When people greet him, I ask them to pause and wait for Royal to come to them (he happily does), and I make sure he has the freedom to move away again if he wanted to. Teaching Royal that he has a choice, and that he will not be forced into scary interactions, will help preserve his confidence and help him continue to be a social dog. I do not lure him onto new surfaces or into interactions, but will reward him with play, treats, and/or letting him know what a super brave wonderful puppy he is. Right now, Royal does genuinely find us fussing over him to be highly reinforcing, but I also know that some situations will and do necessitate higher level rewards, and will not be stingy with them in this important learning phase.
It is interesting to see the world through the eyes of a puppy again, and to think about all the things we encounter each day that are brand new experiences for him. Royal is proving to be a confident, thoughtful puppy. If he observes something new that he doesn't yet know how to process, he might pause and take in information for a moment, and then bounds forward enthusiastically. I've been delighted with how he is adapting to this big new world of his.
Stay tuned for future posts about Royal's early learning! We are excited to document this exciting time with our little guy!