I had the fun opportunity to pet-sit 3-month old boxer-mix, Mulligan. I haven’t been a 24/7 puppy parent in a while, and this was certainly a great experience!
Mulligan is easily startled by new sounds and objects. It’s very critical that we socialize him in the right way so that he grows up to be a calm and confident dog. Socialization is not just about experiencing new things, but is about developing a positive association with any new/sudden thing.
The most important thing when you’re introducing your new pup to your world is to allow an escape. Dogs don’t “get used to” scary things through repeated and forced exposure. They get used to the fact that they cannot avoid the situation. When they realize that avoidance does not work, they resort to growling, snapping and biting. If Mulligan is telling you he wants to walk away, reward him for communicating appropriately and allow him to walk away.
Here are a few important of things Mulligan experienced the weekend with me:
- Handling – Mulligan was so cooperative (read: couldn’t care less) when I gently held his ears, paws and scratched his body. Hopefully, this makes vet visits easy!
- Unfamiliar people – Being the cute button he is, he got a LOT of attention from people – tall, short, dark and light skinned, loud, people carrying bags/boxes etc! He mostly loved it 🙂 He was terrified of two perfectly friendly white adults sitting on their stoop. When he’s scared, allowing him to walk away is the best thing you can do for him! And that’s exactly what we did. 4th of July shenanigans got a little overwhelming as well. But Mulligan went to the bedroom, found his squeaky toy, and played there all by himself.What a good dog!
- Scary sounds – Fireworks were a non-issue. Mulligan was content with his toys and engaging with people (when he felt like it) that evening. I couldn’t be happier! Other sounds he heard included sirens, traffic sounds, honks and loud music.
- Objects – Mulligan also saw and/or interacted with bicycles, skateboards, garbage cans, leaves and plastic bags blowing in the wind.
Forcing your dog to face their fears only exacerbates the fear. It does not reduce them. Remember, dogs are flight animals, not fight animals. Reward your dog for communicating their fears in a non-violent way by allowing him the escape. You can learn more about behaviours displayed when anxious/scared here.