Flex That Muscle

Victoria Schade Dog Life, Dog Training

If you follow any of my social media accounts (Insta = @LifeontheLeash and Twitter = @VictoriaSchade) you’ll notice a recent uptick in “Millie on the road” content. (From left, that’s her at the post office, a lovely local flower shop and an I-want-everything home shop.)

Puppy socialization is hugely important, but I think we forget about how critical it is to keep flexing that socialization muscle throughout our dogs’ lives. It’s easy to get sucked into the routine of daily life, never taking the road less traveled, but skipping ongoing adult socialization can unravel all of the important work you did with your dog when she was young. Some dogs are able to maintain a cool head no matter how infrequently they get out into the real world, but others might not retain the skills that help them feel comfortable and confident when faced with life outside their own ‘hood. That means that a birthday trip to the dog store might end up being a nightmare instead of a treat.

I’ll admit that I’ve gotten complacent about Millie and Olive’s socialization. They used to be my colleagues in my now closed dog supply store (pour one out), and because of everything they encountered there – new faces, dogs of all sizes, children, delivery people, the occasional meth head –  they could roll with anything. Once the shop closed their world decreased exponentially … we live on a busy street with no sidewalks so walks are a game of chicken with speeding soccer moms and angry dudes driving pickup trucks. Sure, we visit my parents the next town over and my in-laws in Virginia, but their current level of socialization doesn’t compare to the rich variety they used to experience when they went to work with me.

Luckily, Millie’s behavior hasn’t suffered too much. She’s been a kickass co-pilot during our recent field trips, walking politely in new environments, joyfully greeting people, being appropriate with other dogs, and shopping like a pro. But that’s not always the case with dogs that fall off the socialization train. When my first dog as a grown-up was “stolen” by my parents (long, sweet story), he went from socialite to shut-in. He was an incredibly happy dude and he lived a wonderful life with them, but if you tried to take him off premise he was not into it.

So why haven’t I mentioned Olive? Oh, Olive … my furry white puzzle. About a year ago Olive was startled by gunshots while we were on a walk, and ever since then her sound sensitivity has generalized, meaning anything loud during a walk – a slamming car door, lawn care workers loading up their truck – is enough to freak her the eff out and make her stop in her tracks. In nineteen years as a dog trainer I’ve never encountered sound sensitivity that leached this dramatically and quickly, and I’ll admit that it’s rough. That means that going on the road with Olive is a project, and to be honest, not as much fun as going out with Little Miss Perfect. I’ve been working with her on the familiar streets around our house and the parks we like, but now that the weather is getting better I need to step up her real world socialization as well.

The goal of socialization when pups are young is to help them learn that new people, places, sight, sounds and experiences are nothing to be afraid of, but that’s a fine lesson for grown dogs to brush up on as well, especially if you plan to, you know, take them to the vet or on the occasional vacation. Continued positive exposures to the world well beyond your front door is a fun way to keep the muscle you built in puppyhood strong for your dog’s entire life.