Going back to see my family is like entering an entirely different world as far as dogs are concerned. My family and larger circle of acquaintances thinks the stuff we do with Silas–crate training, obedience classes, keeping him on leash outdoors–is crazy weird.
Some of what I see there is just wrong. Even on busy roads, for example, people allow their dogs to roam freely. Very few of them are altered or provided with adequate veterinary care. There’s also still a lot of misguided punishment–my cousin, for instance, saying that her dog “didn’t want to come when I called, because she knew I would spank her for barking at the mail man when she got back.”
What I found a lot more interesting was what I’ll call the better side of hands-off dog rearing. The dogs themselves were, by and large, friendly and outgoing. My aunt’s sweet and friendly nine week old puppy got passed around a family gathering of 30 people, which my aunt hosts every week. Her older dog watched quietly from the sidelines, but clearly wasn’t phased by the crowd. This wasn’t a deliberate effect of “puppy socialization”–it’s just living life and assuming that your dog can handle it.
Interactions between the dogs were interesting, too. One food dish shared peacefully among three resident dogs and one guest. Two adult dogs reacting appropriately to two puppies, two puppies playing well with everyone.
It made me wonder, thinking back to my own “well-trained” dog who could never have handled the crowd, if the most modern and up to date training methods are maybe too structured and regimented. Or, more to the point, if things like “puppy socialization” are a crutch we’ve come up with, because by and large modern people live extremely isolated lives.