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Rufus & Riley:

By David Dickey

Rufus and Riley are two, 15-week-old, Black Lab/Golden Retriever mixed puppies. They are brothers that initially had little opportunity to socialize with the outside world. They were born in a backyard and only ventured out to play in the street. “They hadn’t even been handled by their original owners,” says current owner Mark Enfield. “The first human contact they had was being picked up out of the gutter at 7.5 weeks. The mother and father dogs were raised outside, the only human contact they had was when they were fed.”

Situations such as this can create many problems, because the puppies miss a critical period in their lives for socialization. The first 16 weeks are critical to the overall well-being of the dogs’ mental health.

Mark and Amy Enfield of Torrance are the new owners of Rufus and Riley. “The first thing I noticed when I met them was that they were initially fearful of people, and it took them a while to relax around each new person.” said Amy Enfield. When the puppies came home they were “shaking because they were simply scared. They seemed to like their surroundings but just could not settle with us. For the first three or four days, it was as if humans were foreign to them” Amy Enfield commented. Over time, the puppies became accustomed to their owners, but “they hid behind us any time we had guests over to see them” said Mark Enfield.

Mark and Amy have owned Rufus and Riley since the pups were 8 ½ weeks old and have progressively helped them socialize with people. “We’re exposing them to many people, and they’re getting more comfortable ” said Amy Enfield. Meeting new people is crucial at this point in their life. Many animal behaviorists and trainers feel puppies should meet 100 people by the 16 week mark. This is good advice.

Mark and Amy have done an outstanding job of introducing the dogs to many people outside the house. “We’ve probably seen 40-50 people every weekend since Rufus and Riley were 11 weeks old” says Amy Enfield. “We’ve also introduced them to other dogs althoughwe waited until they received their 11 week shots in case other dogs weren’t clean of diseases” Mark Enfield said.

The strategy they follow is simple, “We sit at the Redondo Beach Brewing Company in the Riviera Village for about an hour-and-a-half every weekend and socialize the dogs with people” said Mark Enfield. The owners are making up for lost time, and it seems to be working. This has probably averted many behavioral issues that can emanate from fear. Many of those issues are a leading cause of animals being euthanized.

Based on that information, early socialization is extremely important. Dr. R. K. Anderson, DVM Diplomate ACVB and ACVPM and Professor/Director Emeritus of Animal Behavior Clinic and Center to Study Human/Animal Relationships and Environments University of Minnesota recently wrote a letter to puppy owners, dog trainers and Veterinarians. It states that, “Puppies begin learning at birth, and their brains appear to be particularly responsive to learning and retaining experiences that are encountered during the first 13 to 16 weeks after birth.”

Therefore, socialize your puppy early and make certain the experiences are positive ones. The rule of thumb is to concentrate on socialization with other animals for the first eight weeks, a skill most puppies learn from their siblings and parents, and spend the next eight weeks socializing with people.

Mark and Amy are helping their puppies become well socialized dogs. Although the puppies are still fearful at this point, they are progressing well. Massive socialization that is non-threatening is the key to success. The owners are giving these dogs a new leash on life (pun intended).


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