At 13 weeks old Kitto already knew the basic commands, but the first day of Puppy class was humbling. Our perfect little buddy didn’t know what to expect from other dogs, and it showed.
Imagine a large room with 8 or 9 annoyingly-quiet puppies present, ranging from 8 to 20 weeks old (under 14 weeks was required to start the class). All of them 20 to 40 lbs giants next to Kitto, with giant clumsy feet and tails and wriggly bodies that were resilient to puppy bonks and pawing. They ran about, some with leashes on, dragging, and some without, having a great drooly time falling all over each other.
Kitto wasn’t sure of himself, and his quiet, intense interest turned to sharp fast barks when puppies got closer than three feet. He was the only one barking.
This is a good point to stop and mention that Alaskan Klee Kai stereotypes, like most stereotypes, can have truth to them. AKK have a reputation from early on of being skittish, and it isn’t completely unearned. As a result breeders have worked diligently to breed for health and great temperament, and it really shows in purebred AKK puppies today. Still, the conventional wisdom is: socialize, socialize, socialize. And it’s right.
We put a wire barrier up between Kitto and the other puppies during playtime. He’d charge the barrier and yap, and they’d come over to sniff noses and meet the fussy little guy with their easy, confident giant puppy smiles. I sat on the floor next to Kitto for the entire class, encouraging him to say hello and be friendly. I petted the dogs that came by, shared treats with them, let them sniff and lick my hands so that I could share with Kitto moments later. After a bit, we were all covered in the slobber of ten puppies, and Kitto was still wired up tight. Precious moments!
We moved to a small room without quite so many distractions, and I sat with Kitto in a chair or in a corner so that Kitto could hide behind me while he interacted with just one extra-gentle puppy at a time. Kitto would growl softly with equal interest and frustration as they got close, even climbing up into my lap for protection. Yeah. My tiny sled dog could off-balance even the best of them. It felt a little like I could put a “My delinquent beat up your honor student” sticker on the car there for awhile.
Puppy school parents and trainers are great. Just like with human kids and school, every parent has a good idea what the others are going through. Everyone made room, gave Kitto his space, and let him find his footing at his own pace. He made visible progress at that meeting, they all assured me.
Alaskan Klee Kai Dog Socialization: What Works For Kitto
A data sample of one dog barely rises to the level of “anecdotally unreliable information,” so you can take this with a grain of salt, knowing your mileage may vary if you try to apply our experiences directly to yours with your own dog.
The key to Kitto is to know him well and to watch for the signs that he is feeling overwhelmed, and to back him out of that situation or distract him. Feeding him his favorite training bait (Allprovide) works very well because it is irresistible even with major distractions going on. Eating makes him happy, and takes stress out of the equation.
One trick with Kitto is to introduce dogs slowly over a couple of sessions. He’s a gentle spirit at heart, and this comes out as he relaxes.
Puppy class helps with socialization like nothing else does. We HIGHLY recommend it. The $150 or so for Puppy Class is dirt cheap compared to the benefits of going.
Kitto watches other puppies play, and learns how they play. He couldn’t join in this first week, but he watched, and by the end of the hour he no longer barked at three feet away… he let them come to within a foot, behind wire fence. It reads funny, but remember that he needs to learn that he is not the defender (certainly not all the time). If I’m not stressed, he doesn’t need to be either. If I’m having a good time, he can too. If I am playing with other dogs and being licked and sniffed and feeding them his treats, then he can interact and have fun too. And he’d better, because I only have so many treats to share, and playing nice means he eats too.
Alaskan Klee Kai are strongly food-motivated. All food is mine, and I share it as I will, with dogs who are patient and sit nicely and are quiet. This is a big help to me in helping him learn to be friendly to a new dog.
Be sure that your dog is already trained not to food guard before you try sharing food with other animals. Kitto accepts me as the source and boss of food, and he never lacks, and so he doesn’t feel protective of it.
Have fun with your dog and keep at it. They learn FAST!