Now I am pretty much expecting a loose leash walk most of the time, and hopefully the pup’s pace-with-me games and attentiveness rewarding will be working well.
Crowds present both a noise level distraction, and movement distraction. We humans are relatively oblivious compared to dogs, who will notice alot more of the noise, movement, smells, and emotions around us. We tune out much easier!
But before diving into a Black Friday shopping experience, I will have started at home: using the recorded noises at a higher volume than before, while we have obedience, ignore that, and pacing with me games. We will have prepared for a skateboard going by, or a bike whizzing past, or a group of teen suddenly cutting in front of us.
I will have little 10 minute (or as long as they can focus) pace with me practices in a busy park, with lots of extra high value rewards for them. We would practice the pacing in a shopping mall or farmer’s market some afternoons. In between we just walk around or sit down and rest my legs.
I cannot expect a 4-6 mo old to completely ignore what’s around them for long periods, and being in a new developmental stage, they will likely be experiencing and understanding even familiar settings in new ways. Those “breaks” aren’t just breaks for me and my legs, but for the pup too.
Another benefit of sit n watch breaks is to help them realize what they need to notice and what they don’t by using a clicker to reward ignoring some things and noticing others. They put their head down and relax while the world goes by, they get rewarded!
Yet a third benefit is the opportunity to practice change my mood games even when there’s lots happening. They get rewarded for attentiveness, a touch alert, as well as hugs and affection.
I know I am prone to anxiety in loud and busy places, having a sensitivity to noise and rapid movements around me. Oddly, this gives me a little bit more of a window into how a puppy will experience a big crowd than someone who is better at “tuning it out”.
I don’t however want my anxiety to rub off: this is when I want them to be the most calm and focused. So I will need our trainer to do much of the socializing in such places, sometimes with me, often without me. And sometimes I go without her if I feel I can handle the crowds that day.
My expectations of a pup will go down as the difficulty of either setting, task, or distractions go up. That is why I really only want them to walk beside me their first few times in a busy place without getting rattled by crowds and noise.
I’m not going to ask them to do what’s difficult for them in a difficult place–I want to reward success as much as possible, building their confidence. If I’ve been really fortunate and the pup is totally bombproof, then hey, I will up the ante and reward the dickens out of them!