By Dianna Young
The call came in about noon, and the caller turned out to be an official at a nearby county jail. A felon had escaped, he said, and he wanted to know if we would help round the escapee up.
This happened when I lived in West Virginia, where I was attending a school that trains dog trainers. Residing at the school was one of the most talented bloodhounds in that entire section of the Appalachians, and it was this dog’s help that the caller really sought.
The next thing I knew I was out in the West Virginia hills huffing and puffing up a steep ridge behind that amazing dog, which was snuffling her hound-dog heart out, hot on the trail of the former prisoner. I figured it was only a matter of minutes until she and I had this guy up a tree.
That, however, was before we reached the top of the ridge. Because when we did, that old girl stopped dead in her tracks. She melted into what we call “passive immobility,” and refused to take another step. Forget about the prisoner’s trail. Forget about the prisoner, in fact. She had lost him for good.
The reason? A herd of harmless cows that stood gazing dully at us from just over the brow of the hill. This phenomenal bloodhound never had seen cows before, it turned out, and her first encounter with them had just overwhelmed her.
A dog trainer would tell you that that bloodhound had not been socialized to cows, and my experience offers a good example of why it’s so important to socialize your pup properly to as many things as possible while you have the chance.
Socialization is the act of introducing your pup to situations and experiences, and teaching him or her to deal with them in a calm and confident manner. It is the foundation for any dog’s life, whether he’s a service dog, a hunting dog or a companion animal. Socialization is the imprinting on his mind of resource material that he will use throughout his 14 or so years of existence.
You won’t have long to do the job right, either; only a little more than two months. The critical socialization period for any dog is the 63 days of its life between seven weeks and 16 weeks of age. This is the period when socialization will leave the strongest imprint. The window starts to close rapidly after 16 weeks, and although your pup still will be able to receive information, it will not do so as readily or as effectively.
What are the things to which you want to introduce your dog during this impressionable period? Everything you can think of. Introduce him to people, to other dogs, to farm animals and wildlife, to noise and confusion.
In my next column, I’ll discuss ways to do this.
Dianna Young is a certified, professional dog trainer and canine behaviorist from Camano Island, where she operates Camano Island Kennels Dog Boarding and Training Facility. She can be reached at (360) 387-DOGS or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her web site address is http://www.camanoislandkennels.com. Or visit us at facebook.