A Milestone for Clara: Socialization Work Pays Off

Clara keeps racking up the successes. I don’t mean awards, ribbons, or titles. I mean socialization successes, which are far more meaningful to her. These successes mean that her world gets bigger.

A couple of months ago I posted a short brag about her progress at the vet’s office. The socialization and exposure work we have been doing regularly has been generalizing more and more. Nowadays she is less afraid at the vet than many dogs with more normal puppyhoods.

This success got me thinking. I was able to take her into a completely new environment (the vet specialty practice) without graduated exposures. We just started going there for appointments. And although she was nervous at times, I felt like the experience was a positive one. She was more comfortable each time we went, which is pretty amazing without any deliberate desensitization.

What I thought: Maybe she’s ready to go to my office!

Tan dog with black face lying on a carpet with a red rubber ball in front of her

Clara, the newest office dog–a bit concerned but glad to be there

 

Dogs at the Office

Tan dog with black face holding a red rubber ball in her mouth

It was a good move on my part to have two of Clara’s favorite balls waiting for her at the office

I have the good fortune to be able to bring a dog to my office whenever I want. I work in a two-person office in a small, quiet four-storey building. Having the office available for my dog friends has not only been  enriching for them and pleasant for me–it has been very handy. When I had construction at my house for more than a week, Summer and Zani “went to work” with my office partner. This left me with only Clara to help through the chaos at home. And as I described in my book, going to the office provided Cricket with gentle enrichment even when she had advanced dementia. It also let me keep an eye on her.

I’ve long wished Clara could go to the office. A few times over the years I have taken her to the parking lot and to the lobby door for quick trips with counterconditioning. But I had a hard time keeping her under the threshold of fear so I hadn’t tried lately. Plus, there was what seemed like a difficult problem. An elevator. My office is on the fourth floor. And before you say stairs–they are dark and echoing and probably as scary as an elevator to a dog who’s never been exposed to either of them.

I knew if I could just get Clara up to the office, she could get happy and comfortable there. Her comfort at the vet was what prompted me to try taking her to the office with Zani. And it worked out great. When the elevator doors opened, she just walked in with me. I kept her clear of the doors and she watched them close with interest. She calmly rode up and was excited to see the fourth floor. Whew! 1)This was a calculated risk. Failure would have meant flooding and scaring my dog and setting her back. So I’m not advocating for others to “just try stuff.” Keep in mind that we have been working up to this for six years.

Stress

Tan dog standing stretched out, looking out a window under a blind

Leaving her back legs in another county is a sign that Clara a bit anxious

You’ve probably noticed that Clara looks a little stressed in the photos. Yes she is. She has her characteristic wrinkled brow that usually indicates some worry. But that’s a bad as it got. She wasn’t very nervous. She handled it far better than I expected for a first visit. She explored, she played, she solicited attention from my work partner, and she got plenty of treats.

She was most worried when she heard people in the hall. (You can see her lie down and look at me one time in the movie below. That is a trained default behavior for worrisome stimuli.) I expect as she gets some more experience at the office her worries will dwindle.

The “Social” in Socialization

Two dogs lying on a carpet. The bigger dog has possession of three toys

Zani is probably thinking, “This used to be my private hideaway. And those are my toys.”

 

This was such a joyful experience for me. It makes me so happy to see Clara coping and happy as her world expands. I have long believed that if she hadn’t had such a problematic start to life, she would be a friendly, extroverted dog. Clara is curious. She loves new things and new places, and she is affectionate with the people in her small circle. She likes fun, commotion, and group activities. I can’t even express how happy it makes me to see her world grow and see her grow closer to the dog she was meant to be.

Link to the movie for email subscribers. 

Copyright 2017 Eileen Anderson

 

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Notes   [ + ]

1. This was a calculated risk. Failure would have meant flooding and scaring my dog and setting her back. So I’m not advocating for others to “just try stuff.” Keep in mind that we have been working up to this for six years.
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12 Responses to A Milestone for Clara: Socialization Work Pays Off

  1. Eileen says:

    As someone who is currently at work with her dogs (and yes I feel very lucky too!) I loved this story. I work at a shelter so it can be overwhelming but also extremely interesting (all the smells!) for my dogs to come to work with me. They are both social with people so love all the pats from the staff and volunteers.

  2. Chris from Boise says:

    SO proud of Clara, and you, and all the work that made this a ‘non-event’! And I know that had Clara had worries about the elevator, or even entering the building, you wouldn’t have pushed it.

  3. Tyson says:

    What harness is Clara wearing in the video? I’ve been looking for something similar.

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      That is a Hurtta Padded Y Harness. It’s a couple of years old and they have changed the design somewhat. There are now two adjustment buckles and different attachment rings. But it appears the basic design is the same, with the dog’s shoulders unimpeded.

  4. Lydia Bendas says:

    Well done, both of you!

  5. John says:

    Congrats on the success!

    It’s perfect when you can bring your dog to work. They get a much better and more stimulating experience than staying at home, and the human doesn’t have to feel bad about leaving them alone.

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