MAYBE COVID WAS GOOD FOR OUR SHOW PUPPIES
strangers from a safe distance, and social butterflies learned they could see strangers without directly interacting. Secondly , many owners focused on the opportunities that they could offer their pups despite COVID restrictions. So, they introduced their pups to sights, sounds, and places, if not directly to people or dogs. Most are socializing their pups lon- ger and are intentionally and carefully introducing their pups to new experiences with fresh concern for, and an awareness of, how the pup is handling things. Lastly , many owners (though not all) have spent extensive time with their pups that, in the past, was consumed by com- muting, social events, and other activities. Yes, some pups became overly accustomed to constant companionship but they also formed tight emotional bonds with their owners.
COVID changed all of this! There were no shows, puppy classes, or play dates. Social distancing required us to keep other people, even friends and family members, and their dogs away from our pups. In some towns, we could only walk our pups in certain places. We couldn’t go into the veteri- nary clinic with them and many groomers were closed. In the eyes of many, pups born in 2020 missed their entire critical socialization period. HOW MIGHT THE PANDEMIC HAVE POSSIBLY BENEFITED PUPPIES? First , during the pandemic, pups were no longer forced into close, casual contact with strange people and dogs. They weren’t approached or greeted when they weren’t ready. Intro- verted pups had the time and space to get accustomed to
These unexpected changes realigned our socialization plans to better fit our pups’ natural development. This is because:
1. The socialization period extends throughout puppyhood, from 3 weeks to adulthood. Despite the common emphasis on our pups’ early months, socializa- tion should continue throughout the juvenile and adolescent periods with as much vigilance and effort as the first 4 months. During these later stages, matu- ration processes make pups so hypersensitive to fear-inducing events that a single frightening event can have lifelong consequences. 2. Socialization is a trust-building experience, not a to-do list. Most current approaches to puppy socialization treat it like a list of things to check off when accomplished. Meet a man with a beard. Check. Visit a shopping center. Check. Grab the pup’s tail. Check! However, socialization is NOT a to-do list. It’s an exercise in building our pups’ trust that all of these new experiences are safe. The foundation for this is the pup’s relationship with its owners and caregivers. Pups that learn to trust people, the world around them, people’s expectations of them, and themselves become stable, confident dogs. 3. Quality matters as much as quantity. It is not simply the number of experienc- es a pup has that matters, it’s also the quality of those experiences. Positive experi-
Our pups won’t all have a first weekend out like one-year-old Harper, Prairiewind’s Harper’s Song at Kindred (Breeder, Nancy May; Owners, Roxanne Chumbley, Michelle Hanson and Matt Chumbley) but she’s a great example of savvy socialization during COVID! Best in Sweeps, 9-12 Month Puppy Bitch, Winners Bitch, Best of Winners, Best of Breed, 2021 BSCA National Specialty
ences build trust slowly in pups but negative experiences rapidly erase that trust. We need to vigilantly monitor and quickly respond to our pups’ emotions throughout puppyhood. In addition, we must assertively defend our pups from people, places, dogs, and things that are making them feel uncomfortable, because discomfort can rapidly become fear. Will there be pups that don’t come out of the pandemic in good shape? Of course, and we’ll need to care for those pups with tailored responses. But there will be many more that blossom due to extended positive experiences and strong bonds with their owners.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Dr. Gayle Watkins, PhD Dr. Watkins founded Avidog University and is Head of Education at Good Dog. She is a Gold Breeder of Merit who has been named AKC
Good Dog is on a mission to support dog breeders and educate the public. We provide members of our community with free and exclusive education, including Savvy Socialization, a free course for breeders and their puppy buyers (valued at $60) led by Dr. Watkins. Learn more at www.gooddog.com/join.
Breeder of the Year four times, with dogs from her kennel achieving over 150 AKC and CKC championships.
142 | SHOWSIGHT MAGAZINE, JUNE 2021
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