One of the most common “problems” in my village is socializing one’s pet(s). In truth I find this issue sad because dogs clearly want to be socialized, they are a pack animal and being around others (dogs or otherwise) is important to their morale and self-esteem. I had people tell me that getting a second dog to keep my first one company was a bad idea. I scoff at them. Why would I want to have a companion for my first dog? Well, I work and spend eight or more hours a day at school, so Nakama was at home, by himself, all day. That has to be a lonely lifestyle for someone with an innate pack mentality. Did I adopt Tomodachi just for him? No, I adopted her to be part of our small family, and give Nakama an opportunity to have a sister to boss around (and boy does he ever, such a bully at times!). When I walk the Appalachian Trail I wanted to have a dog, but I realized that Nakama was not going to be able to walk the entire time with me due to his short stature, so I had it in mind to have a second one before the trek so we could go together. I digress, though with this thought, since it is now more about adopting a second than socializing, so let me get back to that.
Unsocialized dogs can be loud, violent, and difficult to control. When I first got Nakama I let him meet up with others in the area to play when we were on our walks. Sadly, many of these dogs he played with remain unsocialized and have even killed other dogs in the area because of dominance. We no longer socialize with these dogs, and for very good reason. Tomodachi is still a puppy and we are now working on her socializing. She is very good at not barking at the other dogs who bark constantly. However, she still pulls quite a bit on her lead, which means I stop what we are doing (usually walking) and pull her back until she sits down. After she sits, then we continue on. Instead of using the term “down” when she jumps on people, I chose “off” and have advised people to push her off when she does (I do the same thing, whether it be when I want her off my person, or off the table). She is learning that she is not to jump on people when we meet them, and I try to have her see people on a daily basis, just so she learns.
The other day I took her for her first social call to another person’s flat. This type of socializing is important so she knows that there is a big world out there, enclosed. Meaning that the world isn’t just the outside where we walk and our small set of rooms, but there are other places with lots of smells and new people. She did rather well with this meeting and my friend was just ecstatic because she loves Nakama and Nakama loves her, too. Tomodachi was rather timid at the beginning, but she opened up and showered my friend with all sorts of love thereafter. I have some cute pictures of both pups on her lap, but chose a different photo to accompany this post for a reason. In this photo I had someone else use treats to get my dogs’ attentions and look at the camera. I’ve been working on them looking at my camera when I take a photo of just the two of them, and it works well. In this case, I wanted them to look at my friend who was taking a family photo, another part of socializing. I was there, so the dogs were safe. My friend has a dog, so she is aware of how to act. Also, my friend is the one who crocheted the neck warmers all three of us are sporting! She has a major talent. The dogs did well, and while only one picture worked, it turned out rather cute.
Socializing is important and these baby steps I am taking with Nakama and Tomodachi are going to benefit them their entire lives. Nakama does well, but is still pretty skittish in situations. I need to focus on that, but it isn’t something easily attained in bush Alaska. One day we will be in a more urban area, or a rural area with more opportunity. Until that time we will work slowly so my pups have the confidence we all three need to walk the Trail in a few years. I want them to meet people and be respectful. I also want to learn how to help them in certain situations. I feel we are on the right track, but I am open to suggestions. I am new at this because even though I had dogs before and grew up with dogs my whole childhood, things have changed in my mind on how we should work with pets. While I am teaching them to socialize with humans and other dogs, they are teaching me how to socialize with them!