Lessons & The Importance of Puppy Socialisation Classes

Steve Jobs died October 5, 2011 and left behind a legacy that we will never forget. Personally the most important thing he gave me was not the technological advancements he made and gadgets he created, but his words. In the face of adversity, he said: “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life, because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”

CJ in our kitchen

I made a big choice this week, knowing full well that it may fail, perhaps even cause me some heartache and embarrassment in the face of great external expectations, but felt I needed to give it try in order to turn a rather bleak situation into a happy one – or at least try to anyway. The choice I made was to introduce a rescued adolescent 1 year old female Pit Bull mix called CJ that has diabetes into our small pack of two dogs and clowder of five cats (bet you didn’t know a group of cats is called a clowder!?). There aren’t many people who are prepared to adopt rescued Pit Bulls let alone one that is insulin dependent. You may not consider this a big choice, however I don’t take adopting a new pet into the family lightly, as they will remain with us and be part of our family for life.

After considerable research on the subject of diabetes in dogs, CJ’s diabetes didn’t worry me at all, as it’s a manageable condition with her twice daily shots of insulin – far more manageable than our Pit Bull Bruno’s hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia and luxating patellas (gammy knees) etc … All the diabetes meant was sticking to a routine of feeding two meals a day at the same time, medication with meals, regular exercise and managing what she eats – all of which we do anyway with Bruno and Kira our female Jack Russell.

The main challenge I saw at the time was going to be with our rescued male Pit Bull Bruno who lacks socialisation skills as he only got the opportunity to start any form of basic training and socialisation from 16 / 17 weeks and is a dominant male. Kira on the other hand is the alpha female in the house and has had the benefit of puppy school from the early age of 8 weeks. I knew from previous experience however that with a bit of patience with Bruno, he would accept and bond with a submissive female – but she would have to be completely submissive for this to have any chance of success. In addition to her being submissive for Bruno and to a lesser degree for Kira, she would need to get along with cats, which included not chasing after them and in the process terrorising them.

The introduction between Kira, Bruno and CJ took place at a local park around the corner from our home. It was immediately obvious who of the 3 had received the benefit of early Puppy Socialisation Classes at this meeting. Kira remained calm, confident and playful through the entire experience. CJ and Bruno however were both tense, resulting in CJ barking loudly at Bruno setting off his trigger. It was not a good start at all. After some time, we decided to move the ‘party’ to the front area of my house and remove me from the equation – therefore taking away any protective instinct Bruno might have to protect me from this ‘intruder’ or simply just act up. The person from the rescue organisation and the animal behaviourist continued to do exercises with Bruno and CJ with me watching from a window. About half an hour later, Bruno was accepting of CJ which was great, however CJ continued to be wary and somewhat reactive towards Bruno, which I could see once I was asked to re-join them.

We later moved to the back garden where things improved further between them and the cats had now introduced themselves to the equation. Whilst CJ initially showed no interest in the cats, as soon as one sprang into action, she gave chase which was not a good sign at all.

CJ and Bruno

That afternoon and into the evening, once everyone had left, there were periods of complete calm with everyone relaxed and others where CJ would occasionally start with a low growl if Bruno came too close to her and then launch herself at him causing him to respond. As to why she took such a distrust or dislike to my boy I don’t think anyone will ever really know. During the evening after their supper he had tried to play with her in his goofy and clumsy way in the garden which again resulted in a brawl when she misinterpreted a rather hard but playful shove he had given her as threatening. Perhaps she had been attacked and bullied by other male Pit Bulls at the place she had been rescued from. We will never truly know for sure. Pit fighting is apparently big business in that region where males are typically used for fighting and females for breeding, so this theory may very well be true. At the time CJ was rescued she was chained to a pole by a thick heavy chain outside her owner’s a shack.

Following the first night, during which everyone thankfully settled and slept soundly, Bruno was miserable about being on the receiving end of CJ’s intermittent attacks without being able to retaliate as I wouldn’t allow it, the cats were stressed and wide eyed because of this new creature that kept jumping at them and giving playful, but determined chase and I was second guessing myself. Had I made the right decision? Would I ever be able to confidently leave Bruno and CJ alone without the risk of CJ turning on Bruno and him potentially killing her in an ensuing fight that I wouldn’t be around to stop? After all Bruno is at least 15kg heavier than CJ. These are individually two delightful and loving dogs whose introduction to life as young puppies was far from ideal which means both lack the finesse and interactive skills that are learnt at puppy socialisation classes.

I emailed the rescue organisation with an update in the morning that things weren’t looking very promising, although I was happy to work with CJ for another few days to see if there was any improvement on which we could continue to build. Integrating CJ into our family was going to be a full time job with risks involved and would also mean that I would be living under siege and on constant guard at home, not being able to leave the house, as the only alternative if I did go out was to separate CJ from my pack and from the cats, leaving her on her own in an unfamiliar environment which wasn’t a healthy situation for her.

A decision was made by the rescue organisation that CJ go back to her foster home. With a heavy heart I said my goodbye to CJ with the recommendation that she be homed where there are preferably no cats and only small to medium sized dogs that are well socialised – an environment in which I believe that she would fit into well and flourish.

The importance of Puppy Socialisation Classes cannot be stressed enough as seen by our experience this week, especially when it comes to having a ‘power’ breed in the home. A puppy’s adult behaviour is shaped during early puppyhood (8 – 16 weeks), during which time their brains absorb the experiences that they are exposed to – both positive and negative, which then become imprinted. Therefore if you want them to be well adjusted, confident, stable and sociable pets that can easily co-exist in the home with the family and other pets, it’s a developmental step that should never be excluded. Puppy Socialisation Classes should be attended once the first inoculation has been administered and during the most important formative period of a dog’s life (starting at 8 weeks to 16 weeks). They learn in a slow paced and fun environment:

  • how to get along with other dogs through lots of positive interactions with them. A dog that misses out on these social interactions can grow up to be fearful or aggressive around other canines.
  • to get used to the hustle and bustle of family life. Most puppy classes will expose your pup to sounds of dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, other pets, cars, hooters etc … basically all the things your puppy will be living with as a family dog. Through this early introduction / desensitization your puppy will be more likely to take all those things in his stride as an adult.

I’m extremely heart broken that CJ took a distrust in / dislike to Bruno and that I wasn’t given more time to work with her. I hope that an understanding and loving home will turn up as she has so much to give despite her diabetes – a condition that I’ve now learnt is easily managed.

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