In general, the socialization period for dogs is from about three to twelve weeks old. Lack of socialization during this time period can result in dogs who are frightened of “the new”: people, places, objects, and activities.
Usually, dogs that are handled and petted by humans regularly during their first eight weeks of life, and have visited several places, plus met other dogs, those dogs make the best pets. But Wolfee had been missing some important experiences in her socialization period:
- In the first 2 months of her life, Wolfee had social play with her brother and guidance from her mother to learn dog-specific behaviors.
- In the third month, also the sheep taught her some good manners.
- During the first two monts, she only met the farmer - whom she had become a bit afraid of after he had caught her mother and brother.
- She'd never left the field.
- And never had the opportunity to meet and greet other dogs.
And she was already almost 12 weeks old. Since the lack of a broad range of experiences, I worried a bit whether it was too late or not for setting things up for the best lifelong interactions with humans and other animals. Nevertheless, I did my best to catch up, and the most important thing in Wolfee's socialization process was:
A young animal is an animal is an animal. Of course, there's a difference between species, but both a young dog and a young horse have a lot in common when it comes to learning new things. Especially if the dog is a bit shy, scared, withdrawn, unsociable, afraid, introvert, anxious or fearful - then although a dog is a predator, also their flight instinct is easily triggered. Trying to feed a shy animal by chasing them won't work. They will run away, of course. But if we quietly and patiently offer food, shortly, the animal will eat out of our hand. In general, behavior is best given by an animal rather than enforced by a trainer - whether or not an animal is socialized well or not. Therefore, we have to be patient. Then, once a behavior is given, we can use it and refine and optimize it. So patience is the most important quality anyone who works with animals can have. By waiting as long as it takes, we can gain the animal's trust. And with trust, we can develop communication.
So Wolfee could decide whether it was the time to investigate and take the dog treat that was outside the crate. When she discovered nothing happened, she was confident enough to take a few more steps outside the crate. And after a short time, in a natural and organical way, she started to play.
Observing First, Producing Later
In Straightness Training, a very important philosophy is: "Observe First, Produce Later". And this not only applies to horses, but also to Wolfee. Now, when we immediately want to "train" and produce behavior in our new dog, horse, bird, or whatever animal, we can get into trouble. Especially if we want to be accepted as the one who is the leader, and we want that to happen right away. So the best things we can do is to build a great relationship with our new animal first, to get to a place where the new dog or new horse is interested in us and likes to figure out what we're doing. Then training is 100% easier. And to be able to build a relationship we need to get to know our horse, dog, or cat not only as an animal, or a species, or a breed, but also as an individual.
Now, just like with a human being, we don't become best friends in a day. So, the first week, I went through life with Wolfee, and to get to know her, I carefully exposed her to different situations, places, toys, and treats.This way, I could observe:
- Does she like a particular food?
- Does she favor certain toys?
- How does she react to other people?
- Our horses?
- Other dogs?
In general, the good thing about "observing first", is that we're not only going to see what our new dog or horse likes, but also the things our new friend does not like:
- Is she hesitant to go in a certain place?
- Is she scared around a moving object?
- Does she not like certain noises?
And we don't have to create these situations, they happen organically, when, for example, we start to clean the house with a vacuum cleaner. Of course, with everything we do, we need to be aware and introduce new things in a well thought-through way to avoid conditioning in the wrong direction. Then, when we observe and take note, we know what we can use as it's already there, and what we need to develop in the future.
Building a Relationship
Once Wolfee trusted me, and I knew what she liked and disliked, I could take it a step further. To grow the relationship, I mainly focused on doing the things she likes. In general, when we do fun things with our horse or our dogs, it will increase the so-called relationship "bank account". By doing interesting and enjoyable things, we can make deposits. So in the first few days, Wolfee and I just spend time hanging out together, and we walked together, as this builds the deepest kind of bond between human and dog. Plus, I focused on building a routine to provide structure, predictability and security. The next thing was increasing Wolfee's confidence by helping her to deal with challenging situations, such as the vacuum cleaner and strange people and dogs. This also strengthens the bond. Now at first, Wolfee was a bit shy when it came to new people and dogs. But by making it happy experiences, she easily overcame her shyness, and started to enjoy figuring out new things, people, animals, and places.
Allow The Use Of Senses
To approach and explore new things, Wolfee used her nose, ears, eyes, taste and touch to investigate things and this way she easily got comfortable with new experiences, people and places. In general, we need to give an animal time to investigate new things with their senses - they need to smell, hear, see, taste and touch it. Okay - not all things 😉- because then you can easily end up with blue stains in your carpet and on your dog when they start to figure out what you can do with a pen:
So within certain boundaries, and by setting rules for the investigation game (no pens, no shoes), it's important to allow the use of their senses to explore new things. Now, humans are wired differently when it comes to making decisions:
- People approach the world by thinking, and they ask themselves the question "should I do this or that?". It's best to use our "gut feeling" as well, but a lot of time, people list the pros and cons to make a rational decision.
- Animals approach everything by using their senses. They use their nose, ears, eyes, touch, and taste to investigate new things and explore new ways. They check the consequences of their investigation, which causes them to do this or that.
When we are not aware of this, we can easily start to work against Mother Nature instead of with it. When it comes to horses, we can easily see this with truck or trailer loading:
When loading a horse, it’s VERY important to allow the "investigating phase" so that a horse can see, hear, feel, smell and sense that all is okay. But when people a sort of rationally "decide" for their horse that it's okay, they often don’t allow the horse to figure things out at his own pace by using his senses. Then, at the slightest hesitation, they add pressure to the horse, and this often creates tension and trouble. Or people start pulling and pushing when they misinterpreted the "investigation phase" by believing that the horse is "naughty" or "disobedient".On the contrary!By nature, animals are not counteracting the human – they are just animals, figuring out if their comfort and safety are still preserved. So a lot of trailer loading issues can simply be avoided by giving a horse time to investigate with his senses. Just give him time to figure things out with his nose, eyes, ears, smell, touch. This way, he can make a choice from the "inside out", instead of being forced from the "outside in" to get on the truck or trailer.
Let It Arise Organically, Don't Produce It Mechanically
Now, I already spoke about the very important philosophy in Straightness Training:
- "Observe first, Produce Later".
Then, when it comes to the "producing" part, we apply this philosophy:
- "Let it arise organically, don't produce it mechanically".
So, during investigation-time and playtime, I let Wolfee wear a leash, so she could get used to it during pleasant experiences. This way, she organically and naturally got used to putting it on and taking it off, and the feeling of the weight. She also realized that the tool meant nothing except happy experiences, which increased the bond. With horses, we do the same. When we introduce, for example, the cavesson, we let him wear it during feeding time. This way, the association with it will be that the tool is okay. Then, using the tool is not such a big step. For example, with Wolfee: walking on a leash. In general, young animals are a sort of "programmed" to follow - it's in their DNA. So it was not necessary to "train" Wolfee to follow, but by using the leash, I could organically build the association that the leash means "follow me". This way, I could easily take her to places outside the house to explore new things, such as the horses, the car, the beach, and so on:
Observe First, Let Things Arise Organically
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