There are as many different views on socialization as there are books on the subject and trainers asked. Northwest Lagottos’ approach when introducing your new Lagotto puppy to a dog at home or in the neighborhood is to be deliberate about it. As with all things, we want to set our puppy up for success and we always want her to have a positive experience.
Prior to picking up your puppy, give some thought to those you know who have a dog. This may be amongst your family, friends or neighborhood. You are looking for an older dog of six or more years, a dog that is calm, who is tolerant of high energy active youngsters (has kids in the house). You are looking for a paternal/maternal role model to help show your young puppy the ropes. This is a dog that is not competitive for food or toys, who is tolerant of a young puppy’s tendency to leap at their face or ears, who will not snap, but simply turn away in disinterest if your puppy gets too excited. Size matters only in that you want as many different shapes, sizes and colors of these dogs are you can find, but one at a time.
To set up your puppy’s introduction to their older playmate, you want to find a safe, secure place. This may be in one of your homes or enclosed, secure backyards. You want to provide some furniture that your puppy can use as a retreat – chairs, a picnic table, or other small enclosures that your puppy can hide in. By doing so you allow your puppy to control the tempo of the encounter. When this larger, older, strange dog walks up, your puppy will likely climb around you or under something too short for the other dog to get under. She will observe the situation and gauge the other dogs’ intentions for some time before stepping back out and making another introduction.
When you are ready to introduce the dogs, you want to set your puppy down first – especially if it is in the other dogs’ ‘space’. This gives her the chance to smell the other dog, to get a lay of the land and to get accustomed to potential escape routes. Your puppy is not on leash. When the other dog enters, they are also off leash. A restrained dog is automatically more anxious and we want to avoid adding stress to the situation. Allow them to interact intervening ONLY to prevent harm or in the case of an extreme fright response. Your puppy, given the opportunity to retreat, will control the tempo and if you have chosen the other dog well, they will give your puppy that space until they are ready.
We discourage entering your young Lagotto puppy in puppy class at 8 weeks. Lagotto are slow to warm up and the puppy class environment is the opposite of what we have created above, often a large room, with no escape, full of lots of energetic, playful puppies! This is a nightmare to a young Lagotto. Far better to go one at a time, in a quieter setting, with a mature dog, in a room that allows your puppy to control the engagement.