Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hats, scarves, and mittens, oh my!

It was bitter cold yesterday. With 40 mph winds it wasn't conducive to spending much time outdoors! I had the day off, so Melissa and I did a few errands.

Our first stop was the bank. No need to use the drive thru.... not when I have a puppy to socialize. Out of the car Melissa comes, she stays nicely at my side as we walk across the parking lot. Voices....coming thru the intercom at the drive thru. Melissa hesitates for a second, and then continues on with a silly Borzoi grin on her face.

We enter the bank and Melissa stops. She has been inside before, but this time someone was sitting in a chair adorned in a hat, bundled in a coat and wearing boots! The person leaned towards Melissa. I doubt Melissa could see a face! From a dog's perspective this can be mighty odd, for a pup who has not seen something like this it can be a bit scary. I immediately began talking to the person. Ok, I've been known to start conversations with anyone about anything if I think it will help my dog. The person answered me, and just hearing a voice Melissa got her wiggly body and Borzoi grin on. Melissa immediately approached for pats and scratches. A lesson in different looking people? Objects that look scary that turn out to be ok? It sure was!! Another page in Melissa's chapter on maintaining her confidence around new and different looking objects.

Next stop, a local pet store, not only to buy some treats for Melissa, but to expose her to even more sights and sounds. You guessed it...more hats, scarves and mittens, but this time they were moving. Children bundled up against the cold wind dressed in snow pants and heavy jackets, adorned with hats and mittens offered another great opportunity for another learning experience for Melissa. Many of the children wanted to pet her. I was very impressed with one of the parents who took the child's hat off and said 'now the puppy can see who you are'. It is something about our eyes and mouth that dogs focus on. If a puppy can't see them, they approach hesitantly. Dress the person or child up in a heavy coat with swishing sounding snow pants, a hat,a scarf, and add mittens and a puppy is surely going to take a second look.

Several of the children wanted to pet Melissa. She was not all wiggly, but standing calmly still sizing up the situation. So I asked the children if they could help me train Melissa to take a treat politely. They all obliged...and they more they talked the more comfortable Melissa became...and a bit too interested in scarves with fringes! Each child held their palm upward and I placed a treat into their hands. I told them to stand very still, that it was important that Melissa come to them when she was ready. One child, then the next, Melissa walked towards each to take the treats. This gave Melissa a nice association with being close to children bundled up in cold weather gear. We repeated giving treats and Melissa was now eagerly going to one child to the next. Another good experience for puppy Melissa; when the children left to go, she wanted to follow them and did a play bow and toss of her head....a sure sign she was comfortable with hats, scarves and mittens!

Melissa is being exposed to a variety of sights and sounds and continues to develop into a happy outgoing girl. She just turned 4 months of age a few days ago. Is her socialization over? Not by a long shot. I will continue to expose her to new and different sights so she develops into her full potential. The prime socialization period is over, but puppies still need to experience new and different things several times a week in a variety of settings well into young adulthood. Follow along on Melissa's adventures as we enter a New Year.

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