Monday, January 18, 2010

Sensory Overload?

Picture a crowded lobby at a good sized hotel on a Friday evening. Lots of teenagers moving around, parents standing in line to check-in, luggage on wheels, luggage being dragged across the tile floor, lots of laughing, a hockey team with sticks and all the equipment that goes with the game, good smells coming from the restaurant.

Enter puppy Melissa. Within minutes adults and teenagers were surrounding Melissa. Long hair in Melissa's face, purses over Melissa's head, backpacks being placed on the ground near her, teenagers and children on the floor with her as they gave her kisses and hugs. Was this sensory overload for a 4 and a half month old puppy? It could have been. But since Melissa arrived back in October I have been preparing her for such an 'event'. Melissa walked into that lobby and thought everyone was there to give her a party! She loved the crowds, the chatter and laughter. She moved among them confidently, and was eager to greet.

Melissa had been exposed to LOTS of new different sights and sounds and people and objects over the past few months. It is all part of socializing a puppy. I have exposed her to new items however one at a time, then added two different items. For example, the first time she saw someone with a hat, it was on my husband. A familiar person, but with a strange object on his head. She meets new people all the time so a stranger + hat became just part of Melissa's life.

Another example. Stationary shopping carts were introduced to Melissa by the two of us walking up to one. I allowed Melissa to sniff, walk around it, then I rolled it a bit. No problem for Melissa, she had seen many moving objects while we had watched teenagers skate board in the fall. She had seen cyclists zip by.

Socialization by layering many different things: a stranger + hat + shopping cart. I never overwhelmed her, learning about new and different things was taken slow. We met new people and saw different things nearly EVERY day. People/objects out in public, people in our house, people in different houses. A puppy can miss out on so much if they have limited exposure. They need to experience new and different at an early age to help them develop into confident adults.

Here is a list of what Melissa has experienced to prepare her before she entered that crowded lobby this past weekend.

1) People all different sizes and shapes, people sitting, standing, jogging. People with hats, glasses, beards. People carrying objects.

2) People approaching her slowly, walking fast, or running. People bending over her to pet, squatting down to pet, getting on the floor to pet.

3) Surfaces: of all types. Grass, asphalt, gravel, wood chips, tile, linoleum, wood, rubber matting.

4) Objects: backpacks, brief cases, balloons, handbags of all sizes, bikes, snow shoes, tractors, wheelbarrows, shovels, rakes, the list goes on.

5) Objects that were stationary, moving, or smelled different.

6) Sounds: laughing, high and low tones in voices, people yelling to each other from a distance, car traffic, buses that make that loud swish when they stop, squeaking of brakes, hockey pucks being hit, banging of pots and pans, the thump thump on different types of flooring to list just a few.

If you pup is fearful about new people or objects, please do not force him to approach. Allow him to approach at his own pace. If he continues to be fearful, please get help from a certified trainer who uses humane training methods. Do not overwhelm him, you may do damage to his psyche that may last a lifetime. You want to socialize, not terrorize.

I travel a lot with our dogs. To seminars, workshops, dog shows. On hikes, in public places such as hospitals, nursing homes and schools, they sometimes get to go on family vacations. By exposing Melissa now, as a young pup, she will be able to handle just about anything that comes her way. Even though the critical time for socialization has past for Melissa, puppies still need to get out in public and continue to develop their skills. Melissa continues to learn about new and different. I am taking the time to build a solid foundation now for Melissa to become a calm and focused adult. Was she experiencing sensory overload in the crowded lobby? Not at all. By taking the time to gradually expose her to new and different over the past few months, she was comfortable in that crowded, noisy setting. She thinks life is one big party!

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