I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how overwhelmed Zebby is when he gets to busy places, either where there are lots of people, lots of dogs and/or a combination of both with added new smells and lots going on, i.e. dog agility shows, puppy class, outdoor shopping village, residential estate, etc.
He will pull on the lead, try to get to everything, whinge / whimper and pant.
It’s not just excitement it becomes a level of stress as he is just over-stimulated by it all.
I often find myself thinking why is he like this. Is it something I’ve done… or a lack of something. We live on a farm 0.6 miles from the nearest road and therefore don’t see many people. Our daily walks consist of fields full of wildlife, but no people, no dogs, no bustling coffee shops or busses passing or children going to school.
I have tried to get him out and about in to different environments but could only really do it on a weekend every so often, and then places are much busier.
A few years ago socialisation was interpreted as needing to get your puppy to experience EVERYTHING before they were 16 weeks old. Now we are much more aware of careful and positive exposure, ensuring the puppy is not frightened by any new situation. Further to this discussions are becoming more about no exposure is better than bad exposure. Yes some positive exposure is really beneficially, but if it’s the choice of your puppy having a negative experience or not experiencing it at all, then it’s better to bring them away and not let them experience it. You can always build up to it at a steady rate later on.
I also need to consider Zebby’s mechanics… he is a working cocker, a breed known for their sensitive nature. I know that his mother was similar to this at times as a puppy, whereas his dad would walk in to any situation and take it all in his stride. He is also right in the middle of adolescence so is going through a rollercoaster of emotions at the moment.
So with this all in mind the most important thing is how I handle the dog in front of me and the behaviours he is displaying at that moment in time. If he is over-whelmed then he needs to be removed from the situation, or taken back to a distance he can cope with. He also needs to be gently introduced to new situations, reading his body language the whole way and trying to keep him at a point where he is relaxed and able to have a positive experience.
I know that throughout the next 12 months Zebby is going to develop so much as he matures, so every day / week / month you need to r-evaluate the dog in front of you and go with what they are offering you. My gut tells me that maturity is going to help Zebby a lot, but I can also be doing things to help.
So to answer my title question… I don’t know. There’s no way of actually knowing as I can’t go back to when he was 8 weeks old and do a different journey to then compare. At the end of the day his genetics set him up to be a sensitive dog which therefore can make him prone to being over-whelmed by some situations as a puppy.
What is more important is what I do going forward. Thinking back to “no exposure is better than bad exposure”, plus the downsides of flooding, I don’t think putting Zebby into busy situations frequently is the way to go. I seriously doubt he will learn to cope with them by being exposed more often, and instead the emotional state he gets in will only go up and up. What will be better for Zebby, and arguably a better socialisation plan for any puppy, will be to set him up for short periods of low level, good exposure… arriving at an agility show and playing games away from all the hustle and bustle of the rings. Hanging out in a quiet shopping car park with a tasty stuffed kong. Relaxing in a quiet, dog friendly pub in a spacious corner away from people. Going for walks around the same, quiet residential route.
And most importantly evaluating every step of the way to make sure the exposures are good exposures.