I remember as a little girl putting Muggins, my Munchkin Cat (a breed of cat with a regular sized body but 2” legs), in a dress and baby bonnet and pushing him around in my doll’s pram. Did this hurt him? No. Did he enjoy it, probably not, but he tolerated it well. I also remember dressing my dog Springdale in Bermuda shorts (the fly made a perfect tail-hole), Hawaiian print shirt, a hat, and oversized sunglasses and having him pull me around in my Radio Flyer red wagon. Again, something most adults would never ask of their dogs, but children might. Along those same lines, I grew up with a Border Collie mix named VT (named because he adopted my brothers and I while we vacationed in Vermont one summer), who I loved to play with. VT was an excellent fort making companion, and together we would spend hours constructing forts out of blankets, pillows, sofa cushions, and cardboard boxes. He was a high energy and high strung dog, but a complete love, and great to play with. When I’d fight with my brothers, I would take VT into the back of my closet, and we’d sit together, crammed into the tiny space, disguised by hanging dresses and boxes of winter clothes. Of course, these probably were not my dogs’ favorite activities, but they relished in the attention, and tolerated my creative childhood antics quite well.
Sometimes, it’s hard for me to think of ways to keep Hush and Milly child-ready. I’ll occasionally dress them up, lightly tug on their ears and tails, use Milly as a pillow while I watch TV (which she loves!), and a few times a week stick my hand in their food bowls while they are eating their dinner. With any new experience or socialization exercise you do with your dog it is important to make it a positive experience. Last Saturday, I had my friends Kyle and Kevin over for a relaxing day of eggs benedict, beer and mimosas, and movies. Neither Kyle nor Kevin had pets growing up, nor do they have pets now, and both are fascinated by dogs, especially Kyle. With limited canine experience, Kyle often suggests things to try with Hush that I, as a dog owner, would never think of. On this particular day, Kyle discovered my yoga balls, and began rolling them around Hush on the floor. At first, she was nervous with balls being rolled towards her, but she quickly realized this was a fun game. While some people might balk at the idea of doing things like this with their dogs, I think it is excellent preparation for when I visit my nieces with the dogs. Content that Hush was in good hands, I went back to cooking and left Kyle and Kevin to amuse themselves with yoga balls and my dogs. When I heard laughter resonating from my bedroom I decided to check on the situation. I found Kyle on the floor, the yoga balls in Hush’s crate, the door to the crate open, and him attempting to coax her into the crate. With no treats, Hush just wagged her tail and looked at him like he was nuts, and the two boys quickly gave up on their creative plan.
In this corner of the crate she could not get around the ball, but the other corner had ample room. I took this picture just before she realized to go to the other side of the crate.
The next night, I was thinking about what they had tried to do with Hush, and it reminded me of my fort building days with VT. I grabbed a big handful of treats, put one yoga ball in the crate, and bribed Hush into it. She happily followed the treats, sniffed the ball wondering why it was in her crate, and settled right in. Next, I took the ball out of the crate, again, rewarded her with treats and praise, and then put the ball back in the crate with her already in it. Once we had mastered the ball in the crate with the smaller of the two yoga balls, I decided to try both in it with her. I let her out of the crate, put the balls in, and encouraged her to “kennel up” with treats. Once she was in the crate with both yoga balls I closed and locked the door. Again, throughout this process I gave her plenty of treats. I would like to preface this with saying the entire experiment was for socialization and to build her confidence, not frighten her, in weird situations. I would never leave her in a crate with yoga balls in it unsupervised, and I was careful to make sure she had fun throughout the process. I was amazed. She seemed confused as to why there were two giant balls in her crate, leaving her little room to move around, but she went along with it beautifully. Once the door to the crate was locked, I praised her again, gave her more treats, snapped a few photos, and removed both her and the yoga balls.
She sniffed the new objects in her crate inquisitively, but was never distressed or nervous.
A lot of times, us humans, get very excited during dog training, especially when our dogs are doing what we’ve asked of them, and seem to be enjoying themselves. It is easy to want to keep going with the training session, and put more challenges in place, and push the dog a bit too far. This is frequently seen with newbies in agility, so impressed with their dog’s willingness, talent, and enjoyment of jumping, the new handler raises the fence height, and wants to keep going. This usually ends badly, with a dog that has been over faced with a new challenge, hitting or refusing the jump, and ending in shattered confidence. Knowing when to stop a training session is just as important as the training itself.
Perfectly content and standing happily with her tail wagging, waiting for more treats, I concluded the socialization experiment on a positive note.
I went into the crate and yoga balls experience with an end goal in mind – get Hush to accept the balls in her crate – and as soon as that was accomplished, I ended the session (with treats and tons of praise). Of course, I was thrilled to see her take to it so quickly, and in my mind wanted to continue with other things a little kid might do, like cover the crate in a blanket, or remove on ball and climb on in there myself. But, I didn’t want to throw too much at her at one time, our goal had been accomplished, and we can now build off of this positive experience in our next socialization training session.