Today, we went back to Emi’s café to hang out for a while. Chai got to spend time with Emi, who has already become an friend, and his wife Rosie who I shared I co-working day with today. Rosie will hopefully also be one of Chai’s permanent friends.
I see socialization (of puppies to people) as a two-tierd approach:
- I want the dog to have neutral/positive feelings towards strangers. If a puppy starts out hyper-social, I will work on lowering those feelings to neutrality. If a puppy starts out a little hesitant or shy – like Chai did – I’ll make sure to create as many positive interactions as possible. The protocol for this – for Chai; it might look entirely different for a different dog! – is letting her approach a flat hand voluntarily (no food, no food smells). If she does – give the stranger food to feed from the flat hand; then move on – ideally without them touching her.
This works with Chai because if a stranger doesn’t follow my instructions it won’t be a huge deal. If I had a puppy who panicked if things didn’t go perfectly or a dog who didn’t recover for the rest of the day when an encounter went sideways, I would NOT use random strangers and there might be no food at all.
- I want the dog to have a circle of friends that does not only include me. The reason I consider this important is that I want to be able to leave my dog with other people when I travel, or to have a friend come in and walk or feed the dog if I’m gone for the day. And I want the dog to feel good about this rather than deprived of me.
This is something best built in puppyhood. If you give your dog a circle of friends in puppyhood, they tend to – in my experience anyways – be able to open up to new people as adults as well. Again, there are huge individual differences at play here as well. With some dogs, you get the circle-of-friends behavior for free. With others, you’ll have to work really hard. With others yet, you will never reach this goal despite your best efforts. As always: train the dog you have today, not the one you wish you had.
Border Collies are sensitive and occasionally suspicious dogs, so I definitely want to invest a lot of socialization time in the ability to make friends – human and canine. So far, on Chai’s list of regular friends (who are not me), I plan to have 8 people – friends who are either dog trainers or dog lovers and who Chai and I have regular access to. I want to build out these relationships to the degree that I could leave Chai with any of them and she’d be happy.
This is particularly important to me with Chai because I still plan on placing her – so I don’t want her to depend on me, the person Chrissi, but remain open to letting other folks into her inner circle.
Going to Emi’s café means working on both of the above: Emi and Rosie will hopefully be permanent friends of hers (tier 2), and hanging out at the sidewalk café for a few hours comes with lots of opportunities for (tier 1)!
In addition, we always practice mat work out here: once Chai is tired of the world, I’ll get out her mat, and she’ll naturally gravitate towards it and doze off: that’s how you set the stage for success:
If you want to work on a calm behavior (e.g. relaxing on a mat), wait until your dog’s curiosity and need to move are saturated. If you want to work on a high-energy behavior (such as toy play, recalls etc.), work with a dog who is well rested and chomping at the bit to get moving!
A circle of friends. Left: “Emi always has treats for me!” Middle and right: “I like you, Rosie! Let me climb all over you!”
Apart from Rosie and Emi (tier 2 – permanent friends!), we also worked on our approach-voluntarily-and-if-you-do-so-get-fed protocol with 7 strangers (tier 1 – neutral/positive feelings about strangers). Well – in fact, it was only 4 total strangers: people #1 and #2 were Mitsu and the person who owns the store next door, both of whom we see every time we go to Emi’s café. Person #3 was Hugo who was working in the street and stopped by for some Chai love – and who may end up in tier #2 rather than #1.
Of the remaining 4, one was a kid. I’m always particularly happy about this because kids tend to be more difficult than adults: they move erratically, they can be noisy and they are at a dog’s eye level. It’s easier for a dog to perceive a kid as a threat than an adult, and I want to make sure this does not happen for Chai. Who knows – maybe her future family will have kids, and their kids will have friends!
Here’s our co-working superstar, ready to rest on her mat after some excitement! Rosie is having té chai in her honor.
And the highlight of our coffee and co-working day, caught on camera: Chai was able to keep chilling on her mat in the presence of a strange dog who stopped for a drink and walked past! Go puppy!!!
Later today, we worked on brushing again – a behavior we currently get for free, but need to keep practicing in order to ensure it stays that way! I announce “Brush!” and then Chai gets brushed all over.
It is fascinating to me how different different dogs experience husbandry behaviors: some will really struggle with them. Others couldn’t care less. Chai tends to the latter side of the scale, and I want to keep her there.