You can build all the attentiveness, intellegence and curiosity you want, but if the pup is overwhelmed by the stimuli of public places, they won’t be able to handle the stress of a service dog‘s work outside the home. A pup has to be fairly calm and comfortable to concentrate.
Socializing is the single most important thing for my carefully picked and primed to learn puppy to be sucessful later on. The earlier you can start the better, and I start their socializing before they even start going places. I just call it “pre-socializing”.
The world outside your home is a big, loud, smelly, exciting, scary, unexpected place. Having come home with you at 8 weeks, the puppy in now in a development period called “fear imprinting”. A fright at this age can stick for a long time.
So I try to seperate the sensory input they will experience in say, a restaurant, into sound, sight, and smells, then introduce those things individually before they are faced with them all together in unfamiliar and uncontrolled settings.
My Great Danes at least, have been rather noise sensitive. They would tend to get scattered and overwhelmed in very noisy, busy places. So I will work most on sounds for the next tot. I want to digitally record the sounds in schools, in contruction sights, in playgrounds, in restaurants, in pharmacies, in grocery stores, shopping malls and the like.
I focus most on places I will go frequently, like groceries, and be sure to get “trigger” sounds, like rattely shopping carts, skateboards, or loud dropped cans and stuff. Then I play these sounds as background noise while we do other things most of the day.
I will then take a few moments to turn up the sounds to noticable levels, and watch the pup’s reaction. Curiosity, of course, is rewarded and a name put to the sound they noticed. As fast as the pup’s attention returns to something else, that’s when they get the big reward! I’m teaching them to recognize and ignore unimportant sounds.
I tend to be a quiet person, so I have to make a point of being noisy when I get a new puppy. I intentionally drop things, run the sweeper and make it a game to move back and forth with me, I have the radio on while they chew a bully stick, I will sing with the music, I will clang pots and pan lids, I will drop spoons…I have to make myself be loud.
A dog’s nose is astonishingly sensitive. A simple grocery bag has the smell of carrots, the soil they grew in, the human hand that picked them, the plastic scent itself…We are visual creatures, we humans, but dogs are nose first, ears next, and eyes last in terms of how they perceive their world.
I want a puppy to smell everything in my home, and everything I bring into the home. Words are applied to smells, to help with their verbal recognition, but really, I can’t tell everything they are picking up in a scent. I have no idea what walked through that grass before we got there, but the puppy does!
I can introduce them to the scent of detergent, by letting them sniff the open bottle. I can tell them what leather smells like by offering a glove for a sniff and mouthing. Soil in my garden, and what zuchinni smells like, or clam chowder. The more curious they are, the more scents they will identify and become non-chalant about later.
Movement of crowds, kids playing, and many sights have to wait until we start going out, but the pup can watch my neighbor’s kids play from the back yard or through the window. They will get the sounds as well, in a controlled and familar setting which helps them accept it more readily.
But they can watch me load and unload shopping bags, we can “practice” walking together while Mom or my neighbors move around them randomly (there’s a pretty please in there!). The trainer can also bring friends along for that!
I’ve had Danes that watched tv with me, and some that never gave it a second look. But if my new pup would watch, I’d put on every kind of show there is! Cartoons, nature programs, sports, you name it! They would get both the sight, and a controlled amount of sound.
Since I don’t have children, I would like to convince my favorite clicker trainer to bring her kids over with her. She can help me introduce them to playing gently with little ones, and just being well behaved.
My new neighbors have a foster child who is a toddler, and an older boy, so I’ll be asking them to come and visit as well. All of this is happening the first few days at home with me, before we have even begun our daily outings. Other neighbors of mine are retired folks, very enthusiastic and funny people, so they will have to come and meet my new tiny toddles too!
I will also ask my trainer to bring some well behaved dogs to visit, that are all up on their shots and stuff. Perhaps a little puppy and an older dog would make for a good play date.
I want to be careful about dog parks, ’cause ya never know what sort of behavior can happen outta the blue, and with a brand new little one…well, call me a ninny.
So a new puppy is at least familiar with one type of stimulus before adding the others. Or they can recognize and be unconcerned with kids coming towards them before they go to the park. It makes the transition into noisy, busy places easier after their first few days at home “settling in” and bonding with you.