The best time to capture socialization with a puppy is from five to sixteen weeks. That’s from one to four months of age. Because Rugby was eight to nine months of age when I got him, I knew the ship had already sailed for socialization. I was hoping that if I got right on it, I could capture some of what he had missed and give him a fun life in a big world.
So, I hopped right on the socialization train, taking Rugby everywhere with me. Since his “Gotcha Day” was December 1, it was plenty cool enough in North Carolina to take him everywhere with me, so I did. We went to my corporate office and met the staff, we went to parks to play and run on a long line, we met the neighbors, we went to shopping centers, and so forth.
But….while my intentions were so honest and right, I had seriously underestimated the effect that it would have on my poor speckled and spotted little puppy! He had settled in so quickly, and did so well with our entire family, so I really thought he was ready to move ahead. And he didn’t do too badly given the fact that he hadn’t had much socialization at all for the first months of his life. However, he was more reactive than I had expected, and that only got worse and worse as he couldn’t cope….and I continued to try.
Looking back on that, I really think my epic fail was in assuming that because he had settled in nicely and seemed to love me, that he also trusted me. I think Rugby did trust me on some levels. However, I made a huge tactical error in assuming we were good all across the boards. I had never owned a dog….a puppy….who had had multiple homes in a very short amount of time. I didn’t realize or understand the toll on trust that would happen as a result.
So as I regrouped, I had to figure out how to teach my sweet puppy that he could trust me. I had never had to teach one of my dogs to do this, so fear set in as I realized that I was embarking on a new journey in my own relationship with my dog…despite teaching clients how to do this. It was so different with Rugby, because he just didn’t seem to train in conventional ways.
So I started with tricks and simple commands inside the house. For every step forward, we took two back. I realized that because of the trust issue, Rugby needed interactions with me that did not involve corrections of any kind. For every time that we made progress in training and working together, any time I had to correct him, I watched a cloud of doubt cover Rugby’s face and sweet eyes. That crushed my spirit, because more than anything, I wanted Rugby to feel completely safe with me!
So….I decided that we needed to just simply focus on fun and snuggles. Only fun activities and plenty of snuggles. I worked on tricks, because that enabled Rugby to use problem solving skills and burn some mental energy since I wasn’t able to exercise him as I had planned, with neighborhood walks.
Tricks were fun! I had never done tricks before, so I was learning right along with Rugby. I didn’t have a book, so I just played around with using food as a lure, and I tried to lure Rugby into producing specific behaviors for me. The good news, was that Rugby was an excellent problem solver! He loved doing tricks! He quickly figured out that he needed to keep trying different things until he heard my magic “Yessss!” and a click of the clicker! Score!!
So I shelved any specific work on naughty stuff for a while, and Rugby and I just did tricks and snuggled. We worked for a while, and when we finished, I invited him to hop up on the sofa with me and snuggle. He loved to snuggle and nap tucked behind my bent knees when I laid on my side and napped on the sofa. Often, he would bring a Nylabone Wishbone up on the sofa, and prop it against my legs and chew while he snuggled behind my knees. It was easy to reach back and scratch his head, and rub his ears, and he loved that.
To be honest, I loved it too! I had never owned a real snugglebug of a dog. My Corgis had all loved to get attention for sure, but they had been so much more independent, and never really wanted a lap for long. Rugby was the polar opposite! He was my little shadow, and I called him a “Velcro Dog,” because it wasn’t enough for him to be near me….he had to be touching me in some form or fashion. It was almost like he had a love and attention vacuum inside, and couldn’t get enough love.
And so, for the better part of 2008, Rugby and I were snuggle buddies and mastered tricks. And somewhere along the way, we really fell in love with each other, and lo and behold….trust started to grow.