An interesting walk with Crush (our 4 month old Vizsla puppy) yesterday

I wanted to write a quick note about my “interesting” walk with Crush on Tuesday.  Crush is just over 4 months old.

I bring Crush to work most weekdays (I park in a safe garage) and Aaron and I walk her through the often hectic, loud and rushed downtown life.  This has proved to be great socialization for her in regards to her seeing all sorts of interesting people of various shapes/sizes/ethnicities.  It’s also been great for introducing her many different sounds (think construction, ambulances, horns honking, people shouting, the lightrail, buses, etc) and textures (we look for a variety of surfaces on our walks and do lots of treating while we walk over/through).  In addition to the excellent socialization these daily downtown walks provide, we also practice “heeling” nicely, “leave it” (it’s incredible how quickly Crush can inhale a variety of natural, unnatural, and plain disgusting objects), “here”, “stand”, and “down” (consider how challenging this one is with so many distractions!).

There is a grade school a block away from my office and I’ve made it a point to walk her past the schoolyard during recess since we brought her home and began our city excursions (we don’t have human kids so I needed to make sure to really proof her against children).  Though she’s always found the sights/sounds of the playing children curious, we’d worked to make her comfortable rather than cautious.  She had gotten to the point she would hear the kids and wag her tail/body. As she gained confidence/comfort, we would go over to visit through the fence.  She had lots of gentle kisses for the small fingers poking through.  On Tuesday though, we were approximately a half of a block away from the schoolyard when she heard the kids.  She stopped and stood for several minutes.  Her tail dropped and her hackles rose very slightly…her demeanor was screaming “uncertain”.

My puppy is entering another fear/shy period.  I know this is a natural phase in her development and I know she’ll come through it fine because thus far, she’s had tons of constant safe exposure/socialization (from the time she was with her breeder, Judy Hetkowski of Boulder Vizslas worked hard to socialize the litter from the time they were born and continued to do so until the pups  went to their homes).  This is a great time to hit the books again–reread all of those chapters on a puppy’s development (among the books we find to be most valuable are “My Smart Puppy” by Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson, “Puppy Primer” by By Brenda K Scidmore and Patricia McConnell, and “Ultimate Puppy Toolkit” which is out of print but SO WORTH searching for a used copy).  I know it’s important to keep the socialization up and not get frustrated.  In addition to this new phase, she’s growing like a weed and experiencing the discomfort of teething.  I also know it’s especially important to not coddle her during this time or when she’s feeling shy/afraid/nervous.  It’s also just as important to not overwhelming her during this time either (doing so could create lifelong phobias/fears).  It is very important she continue to experience a wide, but safe variety of people, sights, sounds, textures, etc.

She’s also hitting the juvenile age where her “puppy license” is expiring.  Adult dogs will interact with her differently now…become more serious in their corrections and less tolerant of her behaviors they deem “rude”.  Knowing this, I can be prepared and keep her safe when she’s around adult dogs.  I would never scold an adult dog for giving her safe and  appropriate corrections (which can sound/look scary).

During this phase she’s also gaining more independence from her humans.  It’s especially becoming apparent in our training.  My cute pup is starting to think twice about the commands we’re giving.  So, now more than ever, it’s important to reinforce those commands.  I keep those treats handy and put my pup back on a lead/tether to practice, practice, practice!

As far as Crush’s uncertainty with the schoolyard full of young kids…we took the approach at her pace.  I fed her a lot of treats in very small tidbits and we moved forward as she was comfortable.  We eventually made it to the fence and 6 excited young girls came over to coo at my puppy.  This was too much for Crush so we stepped back to a spot on the sidewalk where she felt safe.  I fed her treats and she observed the 6 headed-twelve-armed-high-pitched-noisemaker on the other side of the fence.  Eventually, she felt safe enough to approach the fence and lick a few wriggling fingers.  That was enough and we decided to continue our walk past the schoolyard.  You can bet we’ll be visiting the schoolyard often–it’s unfortunate school will soon be out for summer.  But, I do know of a couple of daycare centers with outdoor playgrounds!  :-)

Written by Mel Reveles and Aaron Davis of We are proud to be founding members of the Rocky Mountain Vizsla Club–”The Specialty Vizsla Club of Colorado”, and members of the Vizsla Club of America. We are also members of the American Kennel Club’s Breeder of Merit Program.

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