Written by Pilar Kuhn
What does socialization really mean and how long will you have to work at it?
First of all, it is an ongoing part of owning a Bouvier. It never really stops. Why? They are scary smart. They are thinkers. They were bred to problem solve on their own if their master wasn’t around, guard you and your property if they ever felt a need, and they don’t back down easily. Most people really aren't ready or prepared to be “Bouvier consistent”. Understanding the challenge of having a dog that is actively trying to think ways around your rules or out think you in general is what you are now facing for the lifetime of the dog. They're smart and manipulative in a way you might not expect. These are all fantastic traits to have in a Bouvier, but if they are fearful, unsure, insecure, or don’t trust you as the leader, you are in for a trying experience. And honestly, we don’t ever want one of our dogs back. We will take them back, but we don’t hand over a four-legged puppy we’ve worked hard to get into this world and start off on the right paw only to have them return as “damaged goods”.
We think it’s great you’re planning on attending puppy training classes at your local PetSmart or Petco or doggy day care center. But just because they may pose you and your pup with a graduation hat doesn’t mean your job is done. It actually means your job is just about to get harder. Why? Because dogs are living creatures and puppies don’t just turn into awesome dogs overnight. It takes work. Consistent work. Sometimes it takes time and activities you may not want to do, but by buying one of our dogs, you are making a commitment to us to help that dog be all it can be (and maybe then some).
Fear periods are real. One day your puppy may be fine with something and the next day he or she is totally unsure, scared, and reacting differently than they did previously to the same item or situation. This is normal. But do not make it a big deal. Do not force them to “get over it”. The best thing you can do is to not react, but to take charge. If they are suddenly unsure about that big looming garbage can and don’t want to walk over to it, you take the lead. Walk toward it. If they stay back, let their leash extend while you go over and stand next to it, touch it, then extend your hand so they can smell it, and encourage them to come forward. Let them figure it out, though. They will. Sure, they may try to run away or go the other direction, but you are the one in charge. If they start freaking out, help them calm down, but remember that if they “get away” with that kind of behavior, you are solidifying in their puppy brain that a freak-out moment gets them what they want. You want your puppy to trust you implicitly. Positive reinforcement is important at this stage. Don’t force them into being okay with the situation. Keep it happy, praise them, carry lots of treats. Move toward the scary thing in baby steps, rewarding them and taking "brain breaks" for the puppy along the way.
Puppies go through different fear periods. Between weeks 9-10 they experience a pretty noticeable fear period. It is one of the reasons we tend to hold on to our puppies until they are closer to 10 weeks old. Shortly thereafter at 4 months of age, they go through another fear period. And again around 7-8 months. The best things you can do for your puppy is to allow them to experience different people, places, noises, smells, and all along the way, praise them as soon as you notice they are accepting of a situation. Another good thing you can do for your puppy is to let someone else take them on their leash away from you for a short stint. Sometimes puppies get very attached to their people early on and can react in undesirable ways. Their reactions can be akin to a toddler having a major hissy fit. Do not let them get away with any type of behavior like that. Remember your cute, fuzzy, doesn’t-weigh-that-much-yet puppy will one day be big, strong, and not as easily reprimanded and put in place. Do it fairly and consistently while they are young and you will have a better shot at having a great experience with your dog for the rest of his or her lifetime. They WILL try you for their entire life and they WILL make sure your rules are consistent. If you decide one day to change your rules, brace yourselves for months of re-training or wondering why your dog doesn’t respect you. The last thing you need is a Bouvier not respecting you.
And dog parks are not a great place for socialization, contrary to popular belief. Dog parks are rife with diseases and out of control dogs with most owners treating their dogs like they are children. Dogs are dogs. Dogs speak dog. And a Bouvier puppy may frolic around the dog park without much to worry about, but as they get older, they will be more intimidating to other dogs or they may feel the need to step in and put order into chaos amongst other dogs. Humans have very little control over their dogs at a dog park. Help prevent any potential issues and just try to avoid them. If you live in a smaller environment and your dog needs to stretch its legs off leash, find a park where you can work off leash. Your dog will appreciate the mental workout as well as the physical. Bouviers love their physical exercise, but they also cherish having their minds worked with their human in charge.
Socialization is not an option. Socialization is a MUST when buying one of our dogs!