This week the ‘Stare of the Dog’ reminisces on the very best part of puppy life – socialisation training. It is in my opinion, about the most important part too. The books tell us that young puppies are born with a sixteen-week window, a glorious and empty space in time in which the little blighters have virtually no fear and, if used correctly, a place that can be exploited to great effect by their new owners. And the downside to this four-month porthole? It is already shutting with alarming speed from the moment you get your new puppy home, and that leaves you in a rush to cover ground fast.
There is in effect no limit to the sounds, smells and general experiences you might consider exposing your dog to in those first weeks in order to ensure that the little blighter matures into a beast that can exude confidence and self-assurance no matter what the occasion. With this in mind, I was all for doing a spot of wing walking or taking Dudley on a sky dive over the Mojave desert, that is before it dawned on me that such experiences, while seminal, could hardly be seen as essential to the lifelong wellbeing and happiness of a brown Labrador and instead looked more like ambitions of my own. So it came to pass that Dudley’s original and hastily drawn up socialization itinerary was left on the cutting room floor, replaced instead by something altogether more mundane, beginning with a trip to see his uncle Mac for the first time, the results of which can be seen clearly enough below.
Next up, my wife and I threw everything the house could offer at the brute. Doors slammed aggressively, piano tunes played at full volume, motorbikes revved loudly right under his nose and all manner of phones, hoovers and other electrical gadgets thrust at him in quick succession. A flash mob of modern living if you will, one that resulted in a cacophonous sonic boom rippling from the bowels of our house like a tsunami. Passing this audio challenge with flying colours, we moved our ‘emotional blank canvas’ into the garden, where again a range of household objects was brought into play. Flailing spades and shovels, sweeping brooms, wheelbarrows and an electric lawn mower all filed past Dudley in quick succession, as he stood by and watched like a military dictator, eyes glazed and belying a steely dispassion.
Before moving to phase two, I wanted to ensure the hound didn’t develop an annoying tendency to bark at visitors approaching the front door and so offered him up to the postman and refuse collection team a few times. As the bin lorry made its way noisily down our street, devouring rubbish meticulously and disgorging wheelie bins like a bird regurgitating food for its young, I felt young Dud tremble ever so slightly. Squeezing him tightly within my furled arms, he soon settled down, even finding the bravery to accept a pat and a stroke from one of the mysterious men dressed in high-vis gear. Job done I thought with an enormous sense of pride. Dudley it seemed was unflappable.
Moving away from the premises to complete phase two proved trickier. New puppies cannot be placed on the ground until all their injections have been completed and Dudley, by now 12 weeks old, was beginning to take on the bulk of something built for comfort and not speed. With the summer sun on our backs and struggling to support the weighty brown lump, the three of us set off through our local town centre, my wife and I taking it in turns to carry the wriggling hound. It wasn’t long before I realised just what a powerful weapon a puppy is about the metropolis either. Cooing grandmothers, excited children, even the grumpiest looking of types all risked their lives crossing two lanes of traffic to get a cuddle with Dud. And why not? You’d be hard pressed to find anything cuter in infant form than a Labrador pup, biased though I am.
Beyond phase two, motorway service stations proved ideal hunting grounds for our socialization training. Masses of people, all ages, colours and creeds, corralled together and forced to funnel passed a cute and cuddly Labrador waiting patiently at the entrance. The thought did cross my mind to take a bucket along for that one and drop a few coins in the bottom to kick-start the donation frenzy, but at the last moment my conscience got the better of me. And as that precious window closed, inch by inch, day by day, it acted as a potent reminder of just how innocently naïve and optimistic we all are upon entering this crazy world. Now young Dudley is nearing his second birthday, I realise something that makes me quite envious.
Un-phased by life’s slings and arrows, young Dud continues to maintain his joyful disposition long after us humans of an equivalent age have succumbed to the melancholy moments of modern life.