Sweet Oliver. He definitely did not have the best beginning. From what we can cobble together he went from a puppy mill to a pet store, ended up at a shelter where he was adopted at 5 months old, then we got him as an owner relinquishment at 11 months. That’s a LOT for any dog, but especially a puppy! (Read more about Oliver’s beginning here)
There are critical times for socialization with a puppy. From 7-12 weeks old it is considered a critical period for puppy socialization with humans.
Making sure puppies get positive interactions with many different types of people- adults, children, people wearing different clothing, beards, hats, etc- during that period will help form a confident, well-adjusted adult dog.
Well, Oliver missed out on all of that. By the time we adopted Oliver he was way past his critical socialization period and was pretty much afraid of everything, including us. Oliver’s first night with us did not go very well. He and Parker hit it off immediately, but he could have cared less about Kevin and I.
It took time for the bond between Oliver and us to grow, but now he is definitely a Mama’s boy! With strangers, however, he hasn’t improved all that much in the past 2 years. I’ve half-heartedly worked on it, but always found an excuse to shelve his stranger issues because he is wonderful with other dogs, and generally good with people the second time he meets them. Not too helpful on walks or trying to take him to one of Chicago’s awesome dog friendly restaurants, though.
So, I challenged myself to socializing the stranger danger out of Oliver! He may be almost 3, but it’s never too late to work on your dog’s confidence. So, what am I doing to make Oliver a more confident dog?
LOTS of positive reinforcement! Oliver is clicker trained. He knows a clicker is a reward marker, so when he hears a click, he gets a treat! Right now we’re playing the “look at that” game. The goal is to keep Oliver far enough away from what he’s anxious of (strangers) that he’ll still happily take a treat, but close enough that there’s still a bit of a challenge to it.
My favorite place to take him to practice is the big box pet stores. Oliver only feels confident sitting in a cart right now, and with him in the cart we can make a quick getaway if people get too close for his liking.
What is the look at that game? Basically, he gets rewarded for looking at what he’s worried about- people. We started off by giving a click/treat the second he would look at a stranger. Now we are playing with duration (the amount of time he has to look at strangers) and distance between Oliver and people. He’s doing amazingly! I’m excited to be highlighting his progress on the blog so stay tuned for more updates!
Want to learn more about clicker training? Check out Karen Pryor Clicker Training!