Soundness And Socializing. What, really do they have to do with each other? Some dogs are naturally confident, others not so much. What issues like sound sensitivity, traffic over-awareness, stress on outings, overall "softness" are caused by inappropriate socialization?
Some will argue none of them are. Others may wonder what I'm refering to.
Too much socialization, too early, can cause soundness issues. How much is considered too much depends on the dog and type of socialization. GDB puppies are allowed to go in public at varying ages, depends on the club. Locally, it's immediately. Others have to wait until they're 16 weeks of age.
Iverson didn't go on many outings as a baby baby puppy. We went to club meetings and maybe a small store every now and then but we were careful to follow the socialization guide in the manual. He got plenty of practice behaving in jacket at home and on walks. It didn't help that we were in school full time and he couldn't go, but he did go to work with our mom at the dealership. He did well there, no fear reactions. Iverson was a very sound puppy, confidence was not something he was lacking. He could have handled going out in public more as a pup. The question is, would it have been beneficial? If we'd taken him to an overwhelming place during a fear period, his soundness could have been compromised and it could have taken much time to rectify, if at all.
We didn't do this on purpose, it's just how it worked out. As first time raisers, we didn't know this from experience. I may give fear periods a bit much power, however, I don't believe so. Below are two pictures of Eclipse being held after the wreck. In the first one you can see how tight I am holding him (sorry for the quality, these are cropped out of the backgrounds of photos of the scene). In the second one Coreena is holding him (Eva was there too but someone else had her) he's obviously not comfortable at this point. There were cop cars, firetrucks running and an ambulance, not to mention the emotion charged air. He was in a fear period at this time, I believe. He had confidence issues when he arrived, but I'm sure the wreck didn't help his overall soundness at all. I strongly feel that his later fear of cars was not due to the wreck, but I digress.
Three weeks later we got their jackets. Eclipse did fine on the short, unassuming outings we took him on. He went to quiet, small stores with us. You may remember he also accompanied us to the mall. In this case, I don't think it was too much for him. He was happy and relaxed and our mall is extremely small and quiet. I don't think the mall here would be overwhelming for even the most insecure dog in training.
We also took him and Eva to a restuarant. Looking back on it, that restuarant may have been a bit loud/busy for these particular puppies but we can't change it now.
I'm sure most, if not all, of us have taken a pup on an outing that we later wish we hadn't. These few occurences aren't what affect a dog's soundness. What does is the constant, immediate high-stress/energy/stimulation outings that some raisers subject their puppies to.
GDB says warehouse stores like Costco (or scaled down in this area, Big Lots even) are reserved for puppies, I believe, five months and over. Some raisers ignore that and take their 8 week old puppies in, just have them sit in the shopping cart. While sitting rather than walking can lower the chance of over-stimulation on a puppy, it's not by much, especially not in a situation like Costco with people everywhere, items stacked to the ceiling, the echos, the machines, the smells, etc.
Other organizations say amusement parks, fairs, circus' are out until the pups are a year or older.
Each organization has different policies, but each of them are for a good reason. With guide dog organizations (especially GDB) breeding softer dogs, early socialization is even more important than it was even five years ago. A soft puppy can require special handling but also special socializing.
Is it appropriate to take any 8 week old puppy to the grocery store the minute you get them home? Possibly. What certainly is appropriate is giving the 8 week old puppy time to adjust to living in a home, relieving on leash and learning to interact with humans much more exclussively than before. When they seem to be adjusted it's appropriate to introduce them to riding in cars (if not earlier), wearing their jacket (if not earlier) and walking around the outside of a quiet store. The doors, windows, displays outside the store, shopping carts, parking lots is plenty for a young puppy, maybe a bit much. If the pup is fine maybe it's okay to walk inside the door a little ways, then sit and watch the activity. If not, find a spot outside and chill there, letting the pup take it all and get comfortable with it.
Does it take time? Yes. Does it contribute to returning more sound dogs to training? Certainly.
Outings should start out short, sweet and fun if possible. Only after the pup is completely comfortable in public should outings become long, challenging and very active.
Our end goal is to return a balanced, sound, comfortable dog to the organization for training. Routine (to begin with), a slow, comfortable introduction to public and regular socializing contribute to that. Remember, being in a home with humans, vaccuums, dishwashers, washers and dryers, running water, bathtubs, vehicles, etc IS socialization. Socializing starts at home, progresses to neighborhood walks (some people don't agree, but depending on the neighborhood it's fine for a pup to walk on the pavement before they have all their shots, much safer than going to petco), outside a quiet store, inside a quiet store/coffee shop where the pup can sit and watch, walking a short time in a store (say a quiet video store) and progressively longer, harder, more stimulating situations. (work is generally a different story depending on the dog/work environment)
A puppy shouldn't be expected to go into a home, learn commands and go on full-blown outings that they'll be going on when working all at once. If socializing is taken slowly, easily and according to the puppy organizations will be getting more sound dogs in for training, the dogs will have a greater chance of graduating and everyone will be happier. *Edit* Thank you to Penelope and Brianna's raiser for pointing out that on the flipside it's important to listen to the puppies no matter their age. Evett wasn't able to go on the easiest outings even though she was 5.5/6 months. You shouldn't take a puppy on an outing that could be detrimental to them, no matter their age and no raiser should be looked down on for listening to their puppy. Thank you, Brianna's raiser!
I didn't come up with this on my own. Kimberly with Rufus mentioned that at a guide dog conference many of the organizations mentioned they're seeing soundness issues due to inappropriate/too early socializing of their puppies.
Even long time raisers need reminded every now and then that socializing needs introduced, starts at home and should be slow and painless, not rushed and immediate. I forgot this when I got Eclipse and while I don't regret it and there's nothing I could have done to prevent the wreck, I will certainly remember it for the next little one that graces my life.
If you have anything to add/say please feel free to comment. Socializing is a big part of our jobs as raisers and it should be discussed every now and then ;-)