While Future Leader Dog (FLD) puppies need experience in settings a family pet is typically not allowed, proper socialization of any dog before the age of six months assures a friendly, approachable adult dog that accepts unfamiliar situations in stride. Exposure to the "3-P's" (PEOPLE, PLACES, PRODUCTS) during your puppy's critical development age of eight to sixteen weeks helps your puppy to grow up without fear of new things.
Don't wait until your FLD puppy is "potty-trained" to take him or her with you in public places. Carry clean-up equipment in your Leader Dogs for the Blind puppy-raiser bag (an enzyme cleaner such as Nature's Miracle, paper towels, "poop" bags) and get your puppy out into the world right away!
Start with short visits--enjoy a cup of coffee at your favorite bistro, drop off your library book, make a deposit at the bank. Practice "settling" exercises as you sit with your puppy on a bench at the mall.
If your puppy pulls away from something new and strange (such as a statue), draw back to a distance where your puppy calms down. Keep calm yourself and gradually heel him or her closer. Use diverting techniques to distract your puppy's attention from the strange new thing. Verbally encourage calm behavior.
SOME "3-P" SUGGESTIONS FOR FLD PUPPY-RAISERS
(most can apply to family pets as well):
Take a walk in the downtown area of a nearby city; plan a walk past a schoolyard during recess; bring your FLD puppy to family gatherings. Explain Leader Dog "rules" to those not familiar with how to approach a working dog--even though your FLD puppy is not yet a Leader Dog, it is important to "set the stage" for what is to come. Your puppy should remain calm and keep "four-on-the-floor;" don't let your puppy lick or mouth; don't allow anyone to play fetch or tug-of-war with your puppy.
- Different ages (kids, adults, elderly).
- Different cultures (clothing, skin colors, languages).
- Animals (dogs and cats, farm animals, fish tanks, birdcages, other pets).
Consider all the places you go--a vision-impaired person who relies on a Leader Dog will likely do the same. Consider places you might not go to yourself (if you don't have kids, you probably won't attend school plays or band concerts) and make the effort to expose your FLD puppy to these types of places too. Take every staircase you see whenever you are out and about. Attend as many puppy-outings as you can--puppy counselors and veteran puppy-raisers can offer different perspectives and are more than willing to share their experiences.
- "Outside" places.
- Neighborhoods and streets.
- Parks (for picnics, hikes, camping, and boating).
- Transportation (car, truck, bus, train, and plane).
- "Inside" places
- Stores (grocery, department, hardware, "big box," and malls). *Keep out of pet stores until your puppy has had all of his or her shots.
- Businesses (library, post office, bank, cleaners/laundromat, doctor and dentist office, fire station).
- Entertainment venues (sports arenas, ball-field, bowling alley, theatre, museum, art gallery).
Introduce your puppy to as many different things as you can at that early age between 8-16 weeks. Run the dishwasher when your puppy is nearby. Drop a pan on the kitchen floor; of course, be careful not to drop it too close to your puppy--the idea is to get your puppy comfortable with surprise noises. Open an umbrella during your daily walk.
- Grooming tools (brush and nail clippers).
- Household items (vacuum, broom, dishwasher, washer and dryer, hair-dryer, power tools, lawnmower, umbrella, sprinkler, ladders, etc).
- Toys (playpen, bouncers, riding toys, remote-control cars, etc).
- Vehicles (bicycles, motorcycles, cars, vans, big trucks, delivery vans, etc).
- Statues and fountains.
Taking your FLD puppy with you everywhere you go (remember to ask permission before entering a place of business--your puppy is not yet "certified" as a working dog) is a great way to socialize your puppy. It's also very fun! You'll meet interesting people and help spread the word about Leader Dogs for the Blind. So, take your puppy and get out there!