Last week I attended the Association for Pet Dog Trainer‘s annual conference Atlanta, then drove to visit my sister and her girls in Nashville. I caught a ride with Charlotte, a fellow dog trainer. Charlotte volunteers at the local shelter and also fosters puppies. I don’t know how the girl finds time to sleep! For the last few weeks, she has been fostering four German Shepherd/Pitty mixes in her home. They are well-cared for, but they’ve yet to learn much about the world around them: they’ve spent most of their lives in an X-pen in her yard.
When we arrived at her place, I asked Charlotte if I could sub-foster one of her seven-week-old pups. She handed over Frankie, the smallest of the litter. She got her name because she has one blue eye, like Frank Sinatra. Frank actually had two blue eyes, but whatever.
The first three months of a dog’s life are critical, so I thought it’d be fun to help socialize her. Seven weeks is a time when a puppy’s gray matter is particularly malleable. If a puppy is going to grow up to be a well-adjusted pet, she needs to get exposed to as many real-world situations as possible. Otherwise, she’ll be more likely to later develop aversions to everyday sights, sounds, and smells that she didn’t encounter when her brain was still forming.
I once fostered a puppy who had been chained to a fridge for the first seven months of her life. When she got to me, she was terrified of grass, cement, trees–you name it. She’d already formed an idea of a world that included little else other than linoleum and kitchen appliances. Everything else was as comforting as a trip to outer space.
So, that’s how I showed up at my sister’s doorstep with a tiny puppy. My sister Leila is a pet photographer and just had to put down her beloved Shepherd mix, Pepper. So she was happy to have a little ball of warmth to snuggle with for a few days. My eldest niece, Lyra, has been helping me do some clicker training with her. She has wanted to name her “Goldie,” so that’s what I’m calling her for the moment. Aliya, my other niece, has kindly shared some of her stuffed animals with the little puffball.
Here are some of the things we’ve exposed her too so far:
Cars, laps, beds, sofas, brooms, vacuums, leaf blowers, playing dress up, sitting in a carrier, cats, very tall men, men with beards, very small girls, stairs, Target, riding in a shopping cart (at Target), parking lots full of cars, and walking on cement.
This weekend I hope she’ll see lots of people in costumes. It isn’t unusual for dogs to be fearful of people are dressed differently from normal–that’s one reason there is the stereotype of the dog who hates mailmen. So, even when it is not Halloween, it’s not a bad idea to play with your new puppy while you’re wearing a weird hat or a fake beard or very high heels. It may seem like a funny thing to do, but in the long run you’re doing yourself –and your dog–a favor.
I’ll return Goldie back to Charlotte at the end of the weekend unless I can find a good home for her before then. She is sweet as can be, and we’ll all be sad to give her up. But I hope that this one week will help her be a better pet to whatever happy family takes her in. If you’re interested in adopting her, call me at 718-354-8374. I will offer five free hours of training to her lucky new owners.