Maximus’s Guide to socializing
*My research specialty is behavioral social neuroendocrinology, thus being heavy on the biology.
Socializing is an integral part of development for all species; in fact, teenage humans will die without socializing every few hours. In order to be good citizens in public, dogs need to be very well socialized. This applies to all breeds, not just Swissies. The new theory on the neurobiology of socialization is the developmental receptor sites theory. In a nutshell, the more stimulation (in our case: socialization) you get, the more your receptor sites (for adrenaline, oxytocin, endorphins, etc…) in the brain get stimulated ,and as Emeril says “get happy happy.” On the other hand, if there is no regular stimulation, more receptor sites will develop leading to an over-abundance of sites. When stimulation finally happens, overstimulation or overload of the abundant receptor sites will occur. This typically causes the subject to shy away from the given stimulation in the future. One analogy to clarify the concept is to that of vision. When you are in a dark room (lack of stimulation), your pupils will dilate, thus more receptors are available. Then when the light goes on (stimulation), your eyes hurt (overload) and you turn away from the light source. Unlike eyes, we can’t turn receptor sites in the brain off and on so easily. Regardless of the theory, socialization is still one of the most important things dogs need.
Note: references to stimulation in this article refers to positive stimulation i.e. petting, greeting, food rewards, etc…
Before we get any further, there are also a few basic rules to follow:
- Not everyone likes dogs. No matter how cute or well-behaved your pooch is, there will be others that will be deathly afraid of dogs, especially ones weighing over 100 lbs. Steer clear of these people. They are the ones most likely to complain to the management and try to get dogs banned from wherever.
- Not all other dogs are friendly. There are people who will take their very unfriendly dogs out in public. Stay away from those too. Not only can your baby get hurt, but you can also get hurt trying to break up a fight.
- Don’t let your pup get in contact with strange dogs before vaccinations are complete. This includes stray dogs that probably don’t have the best medical care. They could be harboring all sorts of diseases, fleas, mange, etc…
- Its a good idea to keep a copy of your rabies vaccination in the car, just in case.
- Don’t allow your dog to destroy or eat items in stores. This will get you a quick “bye-bye.” Also, pick up after your dog. No one wants to step into puppy poop.
Start small and then get creative. Don’t take your pup to see fireworks the first day home. Moving to a new home is a pretty big change already, and the risk of catching parvo, distemper, or other diseases is still a danger. Puppy playdates, puppy kindergarten, and short trips to the vet or pet store are some good activities. For example, one of my training schools had doggie personals for dogs of all ages. You could search for playdates or even other single dogs to hang out with when owners are at work.
After vaccinations and having gotten used to a new home, move on to bigger activities such as parks and outdoor events. There are leash-free dog parks that should be used with caution. Not all leash-free dog parks are totally enclosed with a fence, meaning your dog could run out into the street anytime. Also, you have less control over your dog and other owners have less control over their dogs. Going off-leash in public is a privilege that can be taken away by the actions of a few ill-mannered dogs.
In addition to the usual dog places, there are other stores and restaurants that allow pets. Generally, places like car dealerships, home improvement warehouses, and outdoor equipment stores will allow dogs. This does not mean they welcome pets, it simply means if you and your dog get an invitation don’t abuse it. Many stores that have an official no-pet policy don’t enforce it, and sometimes even oppose it. This is especially true if your Swissy is hooked up to a cart with a flag stone, patio stones, and enough flowers for a wedding at Lowe’s. Some outdoor restaurants that have patio seating will not object to a well-behaved dog. Maximus has had ice-cream and ice cold water on many patios. He’s even been given permission to eat at The Old Alligator Grill which is a pretty pricey seafood place in Austin.
Here’s an example: I’ve been to our local Midas so often for oil changes and a brand new set of tires that they know my voice when I call. So when I bring Maximus, the manager is welcoming and works on my car himself. Maximus has even gotten to sit in the car when it goes up for the oil change. I don’t even get to sit in the car while its being worked on. Put it this way, if you have money to spend or have spent alot of money there lately, management will be reluctant to ask your friendly 4-legged-100lb child to leave.
Check if your city has a list of dog friendly places. The internet is a great tool as well as word of mouth or from other local “dog people.” I know there is at least one published list of dog friendly places for Austin,TX, cuz I spent weeks working on it before Mouse. In St. Louis, MO, you can take your pooch to the AKC Museum of the Dog, or in Hot Springs, AR, you can take your dog to Garvan Woodland Gardens. Garvan Woodland Garden’s beauty is unsurpassed with plenty of ponds and streams for the dogs to play and cool off, just don’t get lost in the woods like we did!
Rescue groups also make great resources as well. Be it purebred rescue or all breed rescue, they usually have many fund-raising events that are dog friendly. I’ve worked with 2 different ones (Gold Ribbon Rescue of Central Texas and Woodstock Animal Foundation), and Maximus is a regular at their events. Gold Ribbon Rescue has an Annual Fun Day, a Swim Party in the Summer, and sometimes pictures with Santa around the Holidays. Woodstock has adoption hours at Petco which we regularly attend (although I have to inform people that he already has a home), a Fun Day with CGC testing, Halloween Costume contests, and even a fund-raiser dog show. Outdoor events are also great; work picnics and barbeques are good opportunities because you can only talk about the boss so much. Other events we’ve been to include musicals at Zilker Park, outdoor concerts, and the Bats at Congress in Austin. Anything outdoors is generally dog-okay unless specified.
Do you have a friend that owns their own business such as photography, home decor, pottery making, or even a medical practice? If your friend is a dog lover, you might be able to bring your 4 legged buddy into the store. My friends baby-sat Maximus for a day and told their employer all about it. She, being an animal lover and having her own eye clinic, invited Maximus to the clinic. In addition to another place to socialize, we also get free eye exams.
Now to get in “No-dog zones” is a little bit more complicated, but do-able. There’s a couple of strategies I use, most of them exploiting the rare breed factor. First step is to pick a store that isn’t a no-dog zone by the health department or the government. Places you’re looking for are sometimes in outdoor mall types settings. Some of these places are Wal-Mart, Bath and Body Works, Wells Fargo, and Bed, Bath, and Beyond. When going by these stores, Maximus and I window shop taking care to not let him in without permission. I’ll just poke my head in the door and ask the salesperson to bring items to me or to hold them up to the window. Then they will ask, “Why don’t you just come inside the store?” This is when Maximus must play the part of “sweet rare breed dog who will die if left in the car” (and yes, dogs will die if left in the car on a hot day). He usually starts to roll on his back or frog dog while I tell them about his showing, obedience, or whatever else we’re training for. The store employee falls in love and we get an invite into the store. Bonus: when the employee calls the manager and you get a permanent invite to the store. At Bed, Bath, and Beyond, we even had the manager and employee come out of the store to get us. Last week, Maximus even finagled a $13 plate of meat loaf from the Cheesecake Factory. Talk about having tricks up his sleeve.
The basic game plan is to draw the attention of store personnel (by asking for help at the door or with the help of the crowd that usually gathers around a Swissy), have them fall in love with your Swissy, point out that you couldn’t leave your baby in the car so you’ll have to shop from the window, and bingo. This works best when business is a little slow and the employees are bored. They would be more than happy to get away from restocking the shelves. Plus, Swissies usually attracts more people to their store anyways so managers aren’t opposed. We’ve done this so many times, every time Maximus sees glass doors he gets excited and does the “Its hot out here, can I come in?” routine.
The other way Maximus gets in is to just barge right in. Then I apologize for letting my overly-friendly dog into the store, and they usually say “its okay, ya can stay.” I don’t recommend that route; it just happens when doors open and Maximus feels the air conditioning on his face. In fact he pulled this one the other day and surprised me at work. I walked into the hallway and saw his face staring right at me. Apparently, he had followed two ladies into the building.
So now you know a few tricks of the trade, get out there and socialize! Its fun for the humans and great for the dogs