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  • Writer's pictureReyna Bradford

Two Different Dogs (written 11/24/20)

Butterscotch embarrassed me last week.

Socialization opportunities continue to be few and far between for him.

My dogs and I are still not attending events or trials, and in the past, that's where my puppies have gotten a hefty portion of their social foundation. Dog shows are great places to socialize young dogs. There are all kinds of other dogs to get accustomed to. There are unique noises to experience -- scattered applause, banging chairs, squeaking crates, and sudden salvos of barking. There are all sorts of vehicles to work around, as well as real anomalies that a dog doesn't see every day, like wagons stacked with occupied crates headed for the breed ring, or the occasional golf cart.

And best of all, dog shows are jam-packed with dog people, many of whom have lots of time on their hands as they wait for their classes to be called. Dog people are wonderful socialization machines.

But Scotch hasn't experienced any of these novelties. And at least for the foreseeable future, it doesn't look like he's going to.

So whenever I can, I load him up and take him with me on sporadic trips to town. We go to the farm supply store. We go to the pet supply store. Every so often we make a special effort and seek out pedestrian-friendly venues where we can accost total strangers and plead with them to give Scotch treats.

And it is working. Slowly, he is becoming more curious and less shy of new people.

The new places don't bother him as much. All those places just listed he can walk through with no trouble. Automatic doors, shopping carts, shiny floors, traffic, people carrying sacks of grain -- none of those faze him. But let one of those people stop and take notice of him, and Scotch begins to shut down.

Still, even keeping that in mind, I was mildly humiliated by his reaction to the head trainer at Petsmart last Wednesday.

Yes, I did say the head trainer. My mom and I had gone in to the store to grab a couple of items. I had Scotch in one hand, trotting comfortably along on his leather lead, and I had a bag of fresh-made tuna fudge tucked in the baitbag clipped around my waist. Perfect. Let's find a few people to feed him some cubes of that stuff, and he'll be one step closer to positive interaction with strangers.

And as luck would have it, the first person we flagged down was the aforementioned head trainer. I'm telling you, that's all they need to say. Animals just know, don't they?

I handed off the fudge, and Scotch velcroed himself to my shins. The head trainer sat down on the floor, offering my boy a nonthreatening side view and a tempting cube of fudge. Scotch scooted behind my legs and cowered.

I moved, positioning myself beside the head trainer so that Scotch would have to get closer to him if he wanted to get closer to me, which of course, he did want to. He veered around my opposite side and attempted to plaster himself against my calves before I shortened up the leash and stepped around him.

The head trainer made encouraging noises and gently offered the treats again. But Butterscotch wasn't having it. Once he saw there was no escape, he lay down at my feet, his face turned away from the completely terrifying stranger, and absolutely froze. He totally ignored the tuna fudge. I think he might have even closed his eyes. You could almost hear the quavering wail, "We're all gonna die!" echoing in the distance.

"Well, thank you for trying," I told the head trainer as he got up and prepared to make his exit. "I know he'll get there, it will just take some time."

The head trainer nodded and smiled and walked away, taking the handful of tuna fudge with him.

But that was okay. I still had an entire baggy of it slung around my waist. And as soon as the head trainer was about ten feet away, Scotch bounced up and gulped two cubes of it out of my hand.

It was hard not to remember this incident when my brother and his ten-year-old daughter came to visit today. Brother is not an animal person, but his little girl certainly is. They live about five hours away, so we don't see them often. But whenever they come this direction, Reyna's house is at the top of the list for desirable destinations. Dogs, cats, rabbits, goats and rats are a pretty attractive offer to a pet-crazed ten-year-old.

I decided to leave Scotch loose when they arrived and give him yet another opportunity to experience something different. I would watch him and prepare to run interference if he got freaked out. Not that I expected any aggressive behavior. It would probably be more along the lines of Scotch woofing a couple of times and retreating to the back bedroom.

But dogs will do nothing if not surprise you. As soon as my niece walked in, Scotch was all over her. Licking, bouncing, wagging his tail, and following her all over the house. He was delighted to see her. And even my brother got the welcome wagon. Wow, that's saying something! Good boy, Scotch!

The dog training moral of the story is that Scotch's sticking point seems to be unfamiliar people in unfamiliar places. Unfamiliar people in familiar, comfortable places (like our house) are no problem. That makes things easier for me and my socialization efforts.

The dog mama moral of the story is that I'm just proud of him. This was a big and encouraging step forward. I mean, if he can be okay with my little brother, he's gonna be just fine. LOL

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