A to Z Challenge: M is for Mistakes

QQ is our first dog. As first time dog owners, even though we did a ton of research and tried our best to make every decision with as much knowledge as we can garner, we still made a ton of mistakes.

Some of these mistakes were minor, and some were just plain stupid. Such as trying on a backpack on QQ when he was 5 months old. He was so filled with energy we kept thinking of ways to work it off. We read that carrying a backpack on walks help to release extra energy from dogs, so we tried it on QQ. We didn’t consider that he was just a small sized puppy. We put it on him, and he basically sat down and didn’t get up. When we did succeed in luring him to get up with treats, he promptly flopped over and couldn’t get up because of the weight of the backpack.

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This backpack is half my size. What on earth are you thinking human? Nope, not getting up.

Silly mistakes aside, there were some pretty major mistakes we made.

I think the worst mistake we made was socialization. To be accurate, the lack of socialization. We were told that we should socialize QQ before he hits 16 weeks old. However, because of QQ’s vaccination schedule, he was only due to get his rabies vaccination when he is 16 weeks old. I was extremely paranoid and didn’t want to expose him to any possible dangers before he is fully vaccinated.

We only socialized QQ with our neighbor’s dogs that I trust is fully vaccinated, and we did playdates with a few of the other puppies that our trainer was also training. We did have our friends over to play with QQ as often as we could. But it was not enough.  We took him to dog parks and took him everywhere once he got his rabies shot, but it was too late.

What we should have done was to take QQ to puppy socials. As frequently as we could, preferably every other day at least. Puppy socials give all the puppies a chance to get to know the world at their own pace.

Someone also told me about a couple that brought their puppy downtown, sat at a highly visible chair with a jar of treats, and basically invited people to pet their puppy and feed him treats. They sat there until the jar of treats was empty and they did this almost daily.

If only I could turn the clock back, this is one thing I would change in a heartbeat. I will socialize QQ everyday between the age of 12 and 16 weeks.

Because of the lack of socialization during this crucial period, QQ is very leash reactive. He goes crazy barking and lunging when he sees a passing dog when he’s on leash. Sometimes, boisterous children also triggers his reactivity. We have been working on controlling this reactivity for a long, long time. It’s very disheartening and it kills me to know that it’s because I was so paranoid about keeping him safe and lack of complete knowledge that caused it. I didn’t believe that waiting  4 weeks before socializing could make such a difference.  But it did.

An article I read said that once the puppy crossed over into 16 weeks, the door slams shut. Dogs mature at a much quicker rate than humans. We always speak of how a dog ages at seven times that of humans. At 3 months, a dog can walk and run whereas a human baby can’t. The article likened it to learning a language. If a kid learns a language well before he turns 12, he speaks it like a native. If he learns a new language after the age of 12, it will always be a second language for him, he can be fluent at it, but it takes a lot more effort and it’ll never come to him as naturally as a native language. Dogs can be socialized after week 16, but it’ll be so much more difficult and they will never have the same ease as dogs that were socialized between week 12 and 16 in the presence of strangers. I’m not sure how much of these information is based on fact, but it do make sense to me. Naturally, this is speaking of dogs in general. Just like there are children that are more linguistically inclined and could still pick up languages easily even after the optimal age, there are probably dogs that have very sociable personalities that are unlikely to show anxiety-related aggressive traits even if under-socialized. Unfortunately, QQ isn’t one of those dogs.

I blame myself often for failing QQ in this matter. So if there’s one advice I can give new dog owners, it is to socialize, socialize, socialize. Especially between the ages of 12 and 16. Play it safe, take your puppy to puppy socials. Take them often. Don’t do it only once a week. Do it daily if you can. It’s only 4 weeks. Work hard for this 4 weeks and it’ll save you so much heartache in the future. And you get to play with so many puppies! It’s definitely a win-win all round.

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8 thoughts on “A to Z Challenge: M is for Mistakes

  1. Chin up! If I could, I would socialise Mango at an earlier age too (but I got him only at the age of 2), and though he isn’t reactive, he’s not willing to play with other dogs. And this is after 2 years of socialising. We’re good with other dogs, but we have not reached that play stage yet. We’ll get there some day!

    Also, I’ve a friend whose adopted dog growls and snarls at other dogs when she was first adopted, but after months of training in a controlled environment, she can now walk up to and past other dogs with no problems! I believe even though “that door has slammed shut”, with determination, you can still pry it open, like how things have been going with Chyler (her transformation is amazing, good job!).

    So chin up, buttercup! You can do this!

    • Oh thank you for the encouragement! Mango is such a gentle dog and he seems so happy in all his photos of the outings with other dogs. You’ve done an awesome job.

      We are not giving up by any chance. QQ is our greatest love, and we will continue to work with him day in day out. It’s just that we have been trying something for a long time and to see no improvement makes us exceptionally disheartened this few days.

      How did you friend train her adopted dog? We’ve worked our way through 2 trainers and both couldn’t really find a solution to help us.

  2. OH, don’t beat yourself up too much. You’re human. Enjoy the dog you have, know that the next one will be different. It’s OK. I am the Queen of Guilt and if I’m careful I can worry myself to death. I’ll give you a heads up (you only, everybody else look away). I cover this very topic on my Z day — which is also my birthday. Come by and we’ll compare notes!

    • Thank you! We had an exceptionally good day today where we took QQ to the park where there’s an outdoor class going on and he didn’t bark at a single dog, in class or out. We walked around for about 30 minutes and QQ was perfectly behaved. Naturally, he lunged at a husky just when we were heading out to the parking lot, but I’m already very happy.

      I’ve been reading all your posts daily (although I haven’t been commenting, bad me!) And yep, I will definitely head over on Z day! Thanks for the encouragement and the heads up!

  3. Hi there! I also have the same problem with my dog, also very leash reactive and would lunge occasionally. But I also see a lot of pictures of QQ off leash in off leash areas. Just wondering, how do you manage with that? Do you get nervous at all when a dog passes by? For me, it is hard mentally to transition from “leashed mode” to “off leash mode” since when my dog is leashed, he is difficult to deal with.

    • QQ is leash aggressive. When off leash, he is usually quite okay, especially if there are a lot of dogs around. Sometimes when there aren’t many dogs around and we suddenly come across another dog, he does run up barking. In those cases, we lure him back with treats and leash him up. We also watch him like a hawk at all times. But we generally find that he isn’t as aggressive when he’s off leash as when he’s on leash, he might bark but he doesn’t lunge toward the other dog like he does on leash. When a dog is on leash, he is unable to escape when sometime strange comes close so he lunge and act out more to scare the strange dog away. Whereas if he’s off leash, he always have the option of running away so he doesn’t need to go into full attack mode.

      • Thanks for answering! It’s always good insight for me to see what other dog owners are doing with their leash reactive/aggressive dogs as well. 🙂 It seems like my dog is almost exactly like QQ in leash aggressiveness. He also runs, barks and makes a b-line towards other dogs if he sees a single one around him, which is a little scary for us, even though in his mind he’s probably only going over to say hi (although, not “correctly”). It is hard for us to lure him back with treats at that point because he is so “involved” and fixated in looking/going toward the other dog. Do you have that problem at all with QQ?

  4. No problem, I understand the frustration of dealing with a reactive dog. Talking it out with people helps a great deal.

    QQ is similar, sometimes if we see another dog coming and we see signs that he’s about to run up barking, we try to distract him first with treats, or making him sit with his back towards the oncoming dog. Other times we are too late and he starts running and barking towards the dog, but we can still call him back by pretending to run off in the opposite direction (he has a bit of separation anxiety and we call out that we are leaving and make like we are going off, he’ll come dashing after us). But like you said, there are times that he gets fixated on barking at the other dog and during those times, it’s like he cannot hear us anymore. On those occasions, the only option we have is to try to corner and leash him up. The good thing is that if he is off leash, all he does is bark at the other dog. What scares us is that he sometimes do this to bigger dogs that get irritated at him, and even though he is the one that initiated it, he might end up being the one that gets hurt.

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