Monday, July 28, 2014

Socializing an Akita

I got some great advice from an amazing trainer when I got Coco. He told me to socialize her with everybody I saw, everywhere we went. I always told a person Coco was in training to be a service dog and asked if they would be okay with her socializing training. I only think people said no 2-3 times. She met construction workers, postal workers, police, firemen, kids, old people... everywhere. When Coco was around 1 year old she did something new. We were in the library the first time it happened. A man who seemed to be living rough was just walking in our direction and Coco barked at him. It was the first time she did this. I was surprised by it and I didn't tell her no, because her trusting her own instincts are imperative with my disability. I'd go into that but the focus of this is socialization. I did quietly give her a sit hand signal and watch me and quiet (shhh finger to mouth signal). I brought her attention around to me. Some time later she did this again, at the library. While I wanted her to cue me I did not want her to bark at anyone. This time the man approached me and talked to me. This time I gave Coco a hand signal to sit, to lay down and stay. And I talked with him. This was the beginning of letting her know that I was going to determine if we were safe or not. The last time was at the train station in Chicago. This time it was a young man and quite frankly, he did look like he was being clever, up to something. This time I gave Coco the hand signals and she listened and quietly I told her to watch. And she didn't take her eyes off of him. But she also didn't bark and while it was clear she was alert she wasn't being aggressive.

I realized I needed to work with her instincts. Akitas are protective. But to be a service dog she needed to be able to go everywhere. This was going to be a challenge. I want to say here that just because our dogs, any dogs, are great with us, great at home and great with people in general; that does not mean that they will be great with everybody. When you have a large dog that is capable of putting the hurt on someone or on another dog; it is your responsibility to to protect your dog from danger. Just as your dog would protect you from danger. And to keep your dog leashed when out in a public space is an important way to keep your dog safe from getting hit by a car or getting into a dog fight or hurting someone. Our dogs are dogs, they are not people. The deeper their love is for us, the more protective they become. Add children into the mix and they become even more protective of them as well. We may look at someone and determine they are a friend but our dogs determine this by scent and behavior.

So I worked with Coco and incorporated three commands using hand signals. Watch me, two fingers together drawing her eyes up to mine (began with a treat in it) and I see it (by looking at what your dog is looking at) and then saying we're safe. The we're safe they put together when nothing bad happens after you say it. I use this when I vacuum (and I don't chase them with it!) and then I say I hear it, its loud, we're safe. I have two commands that I've trained my dogs to listen to when I feel caution is in order, one is simply watch. The other is a secret.

If you do this during your everyday walks, it is amazing how much your Akitas, your dogs, are able to learn and understand. This helps you and your dog and Akita to be a reliable companion with good manners wherever you go. Its a fun type of training and like I said, it is amazing what our bears can do. Oh and one more thing, we need to watch their body language. If someone is getting too close, you may see their muzzle get puffy, that's a warning sign. Step in between and say, my dog is in training and we are working. Thank you for saying hi but we need to get going. You can be polite but be firm. Its your dog and your dog's safety and most importantly, and I can't stress this enough, it is your opportunity to establish with your dog that you are going to make sure your dog is safe. You are establishing a trusting bond that will enrich your relationship and last a lifetime.

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