Today Chai went to Parque las Américas and saw lots of people and dogs, heard new sounds, walked on different park surfaces and smelled new smells. Before we got there, we had this little encounter:
We then walked all the way to the park on our own four paws and saw and met, among others:
A person who followed my instructions about how to invite Chai to approach: not from above, but from below, being still and letting the dog take the first steps. I decided, after seeing Chai shy away from hands reaching for her a little more than I’d like to in the last two days, that I will make a point of having her meet people “the right way” every day. There is, of course, no one right way – you’ll have to look at the dog in front of you to find out what works for them. In Chai’s case, I opted for asking people to stand still and hold out their flat hand, palm facing up. If and only if Chai approaches, sniffs the hand and looks comfortable, I will then give the person a few pieces of kibble to hold in their other hand and feed them, one after the other, from their flat hand without touching Chai and holding the hand low enough so all four paws stay on the floor.
I would NOT start with food without having Chai opt in and approach voluntarily first, and if she was shyer than she is, I would not use food here at all. Food can backfire extremely easily if used as a lure to get an uncomfortable dog closer to a stimulus they are unsure about: they’ll take the treat and then realize they are WAY TOO CLOSE! With Chai’s level of people curiosity, it is really just the head reaching she has feelings about. And because she is cute, people will reach for her head. I am countering these experiences by means of providing positive ones in the way I described above. My instructions are simple and easy to follow, and they work well for Chai. In the case of my very first helper (random stranger from Costa Rica I met in the street), we chatted long enough that they actually ended up making friends with Chai and being able to scratch her chin:
We also saw a bakery bike!
… and several dogs …
We met another person who also ended up touching Chai on the side of her head – not something I encouraged, but she was okay.
We walked past an outdoors assembly of some kind and saw a person on a skateboard with a dog, a kid in a stroller and more dogs:
And the Chai and I rested in a (comparatively) quiet corner of the park and she posed serenely for a bit before we made our way back home.
How much is too much?
… you may be wondering. Didn’t Chrissi just get this puppy, who had been confined to her house and yard and a crate from 8 weeks to 3.5 months of age, literally three days ago?
Indeed, I did. And indeed, this would be too much for MANY Border Collie puppies with this (lack of) experience. It would have been too much for Hadley right after T got him and it would have been too much for Mick (and would still be too much for Mick today. Mick is a farm dog who wants exactly three things in life: sheep, a person to work sheep with, and zero other people). Hadley today, as an adult, would likely be okay in this environment – he’d just pull all over the place trying to sniff things, I suspect.
Is it too much for Chai? Am I flooding the poor puppy? No – at least I wouldn’t say that I am. But in order for this term to have any meaning at all, I need to first define it. “Flooding” is one of these buzzwords everyone uses slightly differently.
I just looked at the glossary of my 4 go-to behavior books, and it isn’t in any of them. That surprises me – but maybe it shouldn’t. Maybe flooding is a term trainers borrowed from human psychology, or maybe it is simply a layperson’s word. Next stop: Google.
Bingo! I got lucky at the APA Dictionary of Psychology, which sounds like a decent source. Plus it matches my own definition of the term and the way I’ve been using it, which is reinforcing.
So – no, I have in fact not flooded Chai. She is not an anxious dog – just a curious one who lacks experience. I have not exposed her to a maximum-anxiety-producing situation or stimulus. (I would have on day 2 when I was just trying to get a feel for where we were in terms of exploratory behavior, fearfulness and resilience. Based on what I saw on day 2, I made choices for day 3, and based on what I saw on days 2 and 3, I made choices for day 4.
Because Chai is not an anxious puppy and her sensitive socialization window is rapidly closing, I want a lot of exposure to what is going to be normal in her world if she becomes a Mexico City dog. If she doesn’t become a Mexico City dog but finds a home somewhere else, all the experiences she is currently having won’t hurt either. For example if she goes on to be a sports dog, these experiences might help her learn how to focus on what matters (“gate”) in busy trial environments.