Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Socialization Phase

Hamilton's first 6-9 months after he is weaned is the 'socialization phase' of his life, whether he was to be a service dog, or not.

Socialization is sometimes what determines the "good dog" from the one you can't take anywhere.

Key elements of socialization are that the dog learns how to behave properly. When Hamilton is first weaned from his mother and begins to go out in public, he will be small enough, and cute enough, to attract attention on his own. For a while, he will just look like legs and feet (BIG FEET) attached to a nose and some funny looking ears.

That cute little floppy pup is going to get BIG. Fast. It is important for us, as his owners and trainers, to recognize that and just like in a human child; we are to prepare him for the world around him- what is appropriate behavior and what is not.

I can't think of much that would be worse than a 150 pound dog with bad manners. I really don't think that is something ANYONE wants to deal with, but many people have dogs of large breeds and they skip this portion of the pup's learning process.

Two types of socialization: human and canine. Let's start with human.


Hamilton has to learn how to walk with me, stay by my side, sit when I stop, and to lay down when I stand in one place or sit down. This is for my well-being as well as his. It is important for Hamilton to learn to react properly when people approach me, whether they are going to pay attention to him or not. It is HUGELY important for him to not jump on, lick, or show anything but aloof interest in the people and things around me, unless they qualify as something he is trained to react to.

That, takes practice.

As a puppy, Hamilton will need to be exposed to people. Lots of people. Children, men, women, elderly, of all races, of all ages. He will need to gauge a person by appearance and demeanor, as well as to allow people to approach us and for him to react calmly.

It is very important he learn to behave well around children, so we will be doing quite a bit of practice with children of all ages for him to learn to stand still, sit still or lie still to allow the smallest child to approach him with no fear of his reaction, and to enjoy his presence whether they want to touch him or not.

Situational, with humans:

It is also important for Hamilton to learn to see and hear things and understand what is important, and what is just part of everyday life. When you think about the numbers of sounds and sights we see...and watch a small child with wide-eyes looking around in wonder....it's no question there is a great deal for someone 'new' to the situation to absorb.

A simple trip to the grocery store for milk: car noises, parking lot noises, crashing of carts as they are moved, the sounds of wheels on those carts, the whoosh of the automatic doors, the bells that sometimes chime when you enter a store, the clatter of baskets, people and things. The change in the light or the temperature from outside to inside, the noises of conversation and transactions. The noises of computers, fans, cleaning machines, compressors and other equipment that is often in operation. The smells of people, foods, products and things around us. It's a sensory onslaught. Hamilton needs to see this enough that he is calm and cool about going in and out of such places.

I once had a service dog in training that HATED escalators. It took 200 rounds of going through an airport escalator for him to work through it. As a pup, he'd never seen one, been on one, and was PETRIFIED it was going to 'eat' him, paws first. I had another service dog I trained, and as a pup, he rode on it five times, and for the rest of his life, it wasn't an issue.

"Can I touch him?"

The simple answer to this is, yes. Please do. Help me show him people are OK, and that he is OK to just trust and relax.

The more complex answer involves some requests for YOU:
  • Please ask first
  • Please let him smell you first
  • Please speak calmly and don't wave your arms or hands, nor shout or scream.
  • Please understand he's new at this.
  • Please respect me, and respect him in your words and behavior
  • Please keep your touches to petting and a scratch behind his ears. He's not a horse, nor is he a toy.
  • Please don't offer him foods, treats or anything 'people food'. He is on a good diet, and giving him people food may push back boundaries I need him to have later. (See a 180 pound dog helping himself to the beef section in the grocery store??!)
  • If you are afraid of dogs, please don't feel that you need to test yourself, or him, by trying to force yourself to touch or approach him. My job is to control him and teach him to behave. He is like fine art; it's fine to appreciate him from a few steps away.


Hamilton must learn to basically ignore other dogs. This doesn't mean he isn't allowed to have his own set of 'friends'...just that we do not want him barking, growling or 'grumping' when he sees another dog. I am SURE we will encounter other dogs (usually tiny ones) that think they can 'take him'. Yeah, right.

A dog that goes, well, berserk around other dogs hasn't been properly socialized. It's fine to have a sniff of a new 'friend' in the doggie world, but it should stop there. Aggression and posturing by a service dog is not acceptable, especially toward other dogs and their owners.

I am 100% responsible for Hamilton, and his behavior, at all times. I expect the same from others. With this in mind, if you have your dog and Hamilton is in view, please know a few things:

  • I spend my entire waking day training my dog, he does not sit in my car and wait, or get tied to a post outside where I am going. He does not sit at home waiting for me in the garage, a crate, or the yard. Hamilton goes with me everywhere. Period. My dog is better behaved than some people's children.
  • My dog may weigh as much, if not more than you do. I can promise you that when he is full grown, he will most likely outweigh you AND your dog, by quite a bit. That is not a fair fight and I appreciate owners who don't let their dogs start fights they will lose.
  • Hamilton is a pure-bred dane from championship lines. A pup of his caliber can cost $3000. A trained service dog of any breed can cost $2000-5000, and if you add Hamilton's initial cost to his training value, he is a $10,000 dog. In addition, his vet bills can be 3-5 times what a smaller dog might have.
  • I have a very good, very expensive, lawyer.

Now, having set out some of the basics for socialization, please feel free to approach us, and ask questions....just bear in mind that for his 'socialization phase'...he's going to wag his tail and lick your hands, alot.


Woofs. Ham's rating system.

  • Five Woofs = I REALLY LIKE IT
  • Four Woofs = I like it
  • Three Woofs = It was OK
  • Two Woofs = Meh.
  • One Woof = No, thanks.

Hamilton's family



Hamilton. Copyright 2009 All Rights Reserved: Tatanjia McNamara :|: Email Taj