Socialization and Scary Turtles
Socialization at a young age makes encountering new things in adulthood easier. The Dog Trainer has an example of adult behaviour that you want to prevent.
In my articles and podcasts, I often mention how important it is to socialize puppies appropriately. Up till about the age of 14 weeks – maybe just 12 weeks, if we’re being cautious – puppies are developmentally primed to accept whatever they encounter as normal and natural. “Whatever they encounter” includes everything from surfaces they walk on, to sounds they hear, to people wearing big hats and sunglasses, to gentle poking and prodding that resembles a checkup at the vet’s. Your young puppy needs pleasant, relaxed experience of the wide, wide world to grow up with good behavioral health, just as she needs good nutrition to grow up with good physical health. Undersocialized puppies are at high risk of growing into adult dogs who are “neophobic” -- they respond with anxiety, fear, and often aggression to new people, new places, and changes in routine.
Usually, well-socialized puppies generalize the lesson that “new” doesn’t equal “bad and scary.” So, for example, my dog Juniper was only mildly startled by his first elevator ride, when he was well past puppyhood. The sound of a motor was not new to him, and neither was the experience of being in a little room that moves – what else is a car, from a dog’s perspective? Now he found himself in a room that moved up and down. Oh-kay! Who knows, maybe he was disappointed by the lack of a view.
Just this morning, though, on our daily park walk, Juni gave me a little demonstration of what might have been. He’s accustomed to most domestic and many wild animals; he might like to chase squirrels, raccoons, and ducks, but they don’t wreck his nerves. A turtle laying her eggs, though – that was completely new. And he didn’t like it one tiny bit. His hackles went up. He rocked his weight back and forth, torn between retreating in fear and advancing to chase the creepy THING away. He barked relentlessly. To put words in his nonverbal doggy thought balloon: “What the heck?! It looks like a rock. It doesn’t smell like a rock. Did it just move?”
I tethered him at a little distance, so as not to upset the turtle, and took the picture you see here. Then I thanked my lucky stars that when I was raising my Juni pup, I knew enough to socialize him thoroughly, so he doesn’t panic in elevators, and he doesn’t freak out when people come to visit, and he doesn’t lunge and bark at kids on Razor scooters. All those things are a-okay by him; if we see another egg-laying turtle, I’ll make it my business to help him accept that oddity too.