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Posts Tagged ‘dog socialization’

My first visit with Sugar to a dog park was likeĀ approaching a playground with a bomb in hand.

At age 3, my adopted Lab/Beagle mix exhibited extreme territorial possessiveness. I had to quit boarding dogs for my pet-sitting customers. Sugar attacked them all, from a miniature Poodle to a Rottweiler/Mastiff mix three times her size. The last straw was when my 90-year-old father ended up on my kitchen floor after diving to rescue his little Bichon/Cavalier mix, Heidi, from a snarling, snapping Sugar. Heidi’s crime? She had walked past Sugar’s empty food bowl, which I had forgotten to pick up before Heidi’s arrival.

Leashes, owners and home ground can all trigger this canine behavior. So the only way to give them playtime with other dogs is off-leash on neutral territory.

That first time, we stood at the gate, wondering whether to go to the big-dog side or the small-dog side. Sugar weighs 30 pounds, but given her out-sized attitude at home, I opted for the big dogs. In we went.

She avoided them all. She got scared whenever any approached for a friendly, introductory butt-sniff, tucking her tail and dashing away. When a couple of Saint Bernards entered, we decamped to the small-dog side.

To my huge relief, this went well. Sugar progressed from fearful avoidance to mere social awkwardness. She enjoyed being approached, but didn’t know how to initiate an encounter. She was like the geeky kid watching the others play, hoping to be included but too shy to join in.

Over the next couple of weekends, she progressed to chasing and being chased, jumping on and being jumped on. She began issuing tail wagging, butt-in-the-air play invitations. She also charmed the other owners by eagerly soliciting their friendly attention and by not snapping at their dogs.

Twenty to 30 minutes is her limit for socializing. Then she needs to go home, flop out and nap. Me too.

 

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