I do a therapy dog visit with Anubi once a month. We encounter over a fifty people at the assisted living and memory care facility. There are walkers, wheel chairs, braces, casts, odd smells, loud noises, and often other dogs. One time while we were there the paramedics had to show up and we encountered a stretcher in the hallway. These are all things that my very special dog takes in stride.
Therapy dog work isn't for every dog. It's definitely not for most azawakh. For instance, neither of my girls would be interested in the work. But we do regularly go to dog sport events and festivals. I regularly take my dogs into dog friendly stores. My dogs come to work with me at a busy training and daycare facility (over 200 dogs come through a day) every single day. All of this is made possible through early and continued socialization and exposure.
There is a critical/sensitive (the terminology has changed throughout the training industry) window from roughly 8-14 weeks where your puppies are most receptive to introduction to new and novel items and scenarios. During this window even one positive exposure to something can create a positive association that lasts a lifetime. Similarly, one negative association can last just as long and prove very tricky to shake.
Amidi's breeder, Kel Simoon and Sambala (Deb Kidwell, Norma Spivey, and Vicki Harrison Williams) have a rigorous socialization protocol. Vicki has called it Puppy Culture on steroids. They work to make their puppies completely bombproof and it shows. Here she is at 8 weeks meeting a chicken for the first time. She doesn't encounter chickens often in her day to day life but she can be off leash in a friends yard with the chickens loose and not take off after them.
Here's the list that they follow when socializing their puppies:
100 people People with beards People in hats People in uniforms People in skirts /trench coats People in loud high heels Bald people People wearing sunglasses People wearing hoodies People with noisey bangle bracelets and necklaces with pendants that swing Wheelchairs Crutches Walker Scooter -medical Loud screaming children Running children Babies /toddlers Different races/colors Joggers/runners Shuffling people Slouched people Shaking people People wearing perfume, cigarette, fresh nail polish, hand sanitizer Costumes/mascots Statues Roller blades Scooters/skateboards Bikes Trash can rolling Luggage rolling Carts moving People carrying large objects/Rubbermaid totes Large stuffed animals /taxidermy Christmas blow up figures Flailing arm man at Car lots Mirrors Moving fans Vacuum /Roomba Mop Broom Helium balloons Hot air balloons Umbrellas Wind socks Flags Bright lights/camera boom/photo shoot/tv camera moving
Football/soccer game Basketballs bouncing /sneakers squeaking on court Open back stairs Fireworks Crates /tables being collapsed and dropped (shows) Parade loud music bands Concert Thrown things Baby strollers/dog strollers Flashlight Plastic bags on a stick / garden flags popping in the wind Traps blowing in the wind Bells or wind chimes (walking thru) Walking on straw/hay Feather dusters Gunfire Thunder Sirens Loud cars/ mufflers Airport Buses/ popping hissing Trains Construction site Shopping cart Lawn mower Chain saw Large equip / tractor Remote car/toy Elevators Automatic glass doors Camera /cell phone Clicker Whistle
Wire crate Plastic crate Soft crate Goggles Party hats Balance object on head Coat/shirt/costume Doggie shoes Vet wrap or bandage on leg, body, head/ear, tail Brush/comb Hair dryer Dremel Groom table Nail clipper hair clippers Bath/ walk up stairs into tub Open air ride/ golf cart, boat, 4 wheeler, wagon Jingle bells on harness or coat Ceiling fans Medical exam by stranger Ride in crate
Walking over different surfaces Frozen towels Wet tarp Tarp over foam Mud Tippy board/teeter Standing water - puddles/pools Spraying water-hose/fountain Moving water -stream Footbridge /swinging bridge Walk In bubble wrap Heights Beach -winds/waves/birds Walk In rain Rain loud on car Drive thru car wash-brushes/brushless City grates/drains Step up on command - scales/benches/stone wall/ walkways
Animals Horses Mini horses Horses moving on pavement Cows Llamas/alpaca Donkey Cats Dogs -unfriendly barking Mice /rats Rabbits Chickens /ducks Baby chicks /ducks Sheep Goats Pigs
They don't necessarily do every piece on the list while the puppies are in their care, but it's the list they've comprised and recommend everyone use when socializing their puppies. And when we say socializing we don't mean run them right up to things that they're terrified of and just expect them to "get over it". Dogs don't speak English and they won't understand why you're dragging them around making them do scary things. You can't just explain it to them in words and so you very quickly start to get a break down in trust.
Instead, take a minute out of your day, slow down, take out your treats and let your dog approach at their own speed. Or let them stand at the end of the leash and go touch and interact with the scary object yourself. Dogs learn a lot more by seeing their owner interact confidently with the new and novel than they do if you just tell them "it's okay" in a high, tight, seemingly worried voice.
If you have to have them interact with something in a negative way, do your best to mitigate the experience. If you're going to the vet, take along a dog buddy who's not nervous of the vet. Or pop into the vet just to say hello and to take cookies. If you need to administer medicine use yummy pill pockets, etc. Sometimes life just gets in the way and you do the best you can.
"But my puppy isn't fully vaccinated yet" This is a common refrain and I'm seeing vets more and more frequently recommend waiting until your puppy is fully vaccinated (around 16 weeks) before beginning the socialization process. However, if you note the sensitive period age range about (that typically ends at 14 weeks at the latest), 16 weeks is too late to get the most bang for your buck. For environmentally sensitive, primitive breeds like azawakh, it's absolutely too late.
I take my azawakh puppies out as soon as I get them home. I use pee pads for public places (if I must). I wipe their feet off after they come inside. I carry them a lot of places. I attend classes and puppy daycare at facilities (my work) where dogs are required to submit proof of vaccinations and fecal examinations. I'm aware of the time frames when my puppy is at risk and limit exposure (this goes back to the general public having huge misconceptions about how puppy vaccination schedules work (but that's another post)). But bottom line, my puppies go everywhere with me because I want to be able to take them with me everywhere as adults.
This is the only way you get well-adjusted adults, and sometimes, even then, a nervous temperament likely due to genetics can play a huge role in overall confidence. In the first picture you see a Soft Coated Wheaton Terrier (4 years old) perched on a rock while a construction vehicle passes by. Notice her neutral tail and is overall in a relaxed posture (despite balancing on a rock). She looks toward the vehicle with confidence. As a puppy, the Wheaton attended three puppy classes, our Training CAMP program, regularly does daycare, and refresher training days.
n the next picture you have a golden retriever puppy (6 months old). This puppy has gone through two puppy classes, is currently in our Training CAMP program, and regularly has done our puppy daycare. She is also perched on a rock (a good way to help both focus (they have to focus on their body) and confidence (elevating her physical position to give her a better vantage on the world) but note the hunched body language, panting, and that she's turned away from the scary parked motorcycle. Up until about 12 weeks, this pup was very confident. Her owners have done everything right and are excellent about using positive reinforcement to counter condition any scary new and novel situations. It's possible that this dog is in an extended, non-traditionally timed fear period (I've seen this specifically with goldens before), but more likely, she is timid because her mother was timid despite both owners and breeders doing everything right.
Socialization is so much more important than training. There. I said it. I don't care if your puppy can sit. Can they walk across a crinkly tarp? Can they interact with other dogs and people? If they're nervous, do they look to you instead of trying to run away? Those are the things I like to work on with my puppies. It's not to say that training can't help you with socialization- a puppy that knows how to sit is more likely to offer a sit in a new situation than bolting, for instance, but it's not my focus. I work very hard to socialize and expose my dogs to as much as humanly possible in as a positive manner as possible and I feel like it shows. Honestly, a well adjusted dog is what I want for all dog owners.