Adventures with Azula: Socializing a Puppy
Socialization may sound like some weird 1984 propaganda thing. But it's not. When it comes to your puppy, socialization is an important part of growth, training, and development. With puppies, proper socialization helps them grow more comfortable in a variety of environments and social situations, as well as around noises, smells, sounds, sights, and other people and dogs.
When my husband and I adopted Azula, we wanted to make sure she would grow into a dog that could remain calm and collected in a variety of situations. We plan on taking her with us camping, hiking, walking, to the park, and yes, even to work, so she would need to be used to all sorts of people, places, and sounds. Getting Azula used to everyday sounds, sights, and smells, as well as introducing her to new people, children, loud noises, and the hustle and bustle of everyday life has been pivotal in developing a sociable and gentle temperament.As it turns out, at 3-4 months old, Azula is the prime age for socialization, so it's been going really well! In new places, she is still quite timid and hesitant, but after a few moments of exploration, she lets her personality shine through!
We adopted Azula from Paws & Co. Adoptions, as mentioned before, and her foster mom had a couple other dogs in the house, so Azula was introduced to other animals from the start. However, the transition from her foster home to our home would be different. We have a cat, but no other dogs, and we knew our lifestyle was going to need adjusting to as we would be taking her with us to places with lots of people.
On day one, we had a couple friends come over and meet our new furry family member! Azula was exhausted and tired, and she didn't interact much with our friends. She seemed to want to be alone, and she even hid under the coffee table for a little bit!
"How odd for a puppy!" one of our friends said. I agreed, a bit concerned that Azula might not be as sociable as we thought. But I worried for nothing! The next time Azula met our friends, she had settled into her new home, and she romped and played and greeted our friends happily. It just took her some time, and we had probably overwhelmed her on day one with all the newness and excitement.
So what did we learn? Yes, let Azula make new friends, but she can also be easily overwhelmed, so we have to pay attention to her body language and behavior!
As it turns out, I also get to bring Azula to work with me, so she's been introduced to a wide variety of buildings, sounds, sights, and people. She loves playing with Tebow, the Jack Russell-Basenji mix you may recognize from our Live Demos with Brandon. She loves the ladies in customer service, and she'll wander around the warehouse greeting all the staff as they're pulling orders. It is now like a second home to her! She isn't nervous around the new sounds here, and she wanders around like it's her own place without appearing anxious or fearful.
She is also doing very well riding in the car. She is calm and relaxed, and she listens well. (After two weeks of tagging along with Mom to and from work, and to and from parks, and to and from the vet, I guess a pup gets used to it!).
Nick and I meet up weekly with friends to play a game of frisbee, and we thought it was the perfect opportunity to socialize Azula in a completely new environment: a big park full of children laughing and playing. It was a great experience for her. When a particularly loud or energetic child would run by, she would growl and cower behind my leg. I knew she was afraid, but I was concerned about how she may react if the child were to come toward her. Rather than test her more, I decided to walk her to a more quiet area so she could relax and watch the kids play from afar.
It worked well! When she was approached a cute family with two children, she walked toward them and licked their hands gently. I praised her, letting her know that her gentle reaction was a good one! I have been told that treating social situations as good, pleasant experiences will help the puppy develop more calm, pleasant social skills as a puppy gets older.
Nick and I lucked out since we adopted Azula from Paws & Co. Adoptions. She came to us fully vetted, as they say--fixed, almost fully vaccinated, and healthy to boot! But chances are, you will need to take your puppy to the vet right away to make sure he/she is all healthy! Plus, getting your dog used to vets and all the sights and sounds there, as well as all the touching and petting she will receive from the vet, will lessen the anxiety she will feel later, as there will be many more vet visits to come (yearly check-ups are a must, after all!).
Our first vet visit went swimmingly, and she listened well to me, even amidst all the hubbub. She was obedient with the vet and the vet techs, and she hardly flinched when she received her canine distemper vaccination. The sights and sounds hardly intimidated her.
In time, I know Azula will be socialized well enough to be comfortable in large crowds in our home or outside the home, and eventually she'll be calm enough to be without a leash in certain designated areas. The more I introduce her to children, adults, and other dogs, the less I have to worry about her future interactions with them. (She also tuckers herself playing with her new friends, which makes putting her in the kennel at night a short, easy process! I've also found that a tuckered out puppy listens to me a bit better since she's not running off after every moving thing she sees.)
Socialization will take a lot of your time and patience. It will mean trips to the park, longer walks, social visits, playdates... you name it. But all that time is worth it since you are helping your puppy grow into the best dog he/she can be!
According to the ASPCA, "well-socialized puppies usually develop into safer, more relaxed, and enjoyable pet dogs" because they are less likely to be reactive in new situations. It's a lifelong process, too, and it isn't necessarily all or nothing. Your dog can be highly socialized, not socialized at all, or somewhere in the middle depending on your lifestyle. The important thing is that you continue to introduce your dog to new surroundings and interactions with others even as your dog grows. Just like with children, there are periods of a dog's life that are characterized by growth and changes--even behavioral and temperamental changes. During adolescence (around 4 and a half months or so--so soon, for Azula), a puppy might become more aggressive or stubborn (hm, just like teengaers). Even between 8 months and 2 years, a dog can experience personality changes, so it's important that your dog's calmness and adaptability in social situations isn't lessened. That's why socialization starts early, but continues all the way through adulthood.