If you look at the Cardigan breed across the entire world, let’s be honest with ourselves. They’re a spooky, shy mess. They can’t stand still on the table, they flinch when you reach for them, they hide in corners when you walk in the room. They get a panicked note in their barking when they see strangers.
I believe, ONE HUNDRED MILLION PERCENT, that this is NOT genetic. I believe it’s because most Cardigan breeders don’t socialize their puppies the way you have to socialize a super smart, sensitive, incredibly intuitive, vibey herding dog like a Cardigan.
Socialization has never been preached in the Cardigan world the way it has been in other breeds. Maybe it’s because they’re more rare, or because they’re small enough that a spooky one can be safely managed at home without hurting people. Whatever it is, I see far too many entire litters of puppies kept in ex pens in the corner of the kitchen until they’re five months old and the breeder finally decides to get one or two of them out. There might be a flurry of activity in the week around the puppy party/evals, but after that the puppies meet nobody except family for weeks and weeks on end.
OK – here’s how it should be done, based on every scrap of evidence and data on behavioral success:
Read this link. Now read this link (Chapter 3 is the one I am talking about – the whole thing is well worth reading, but the section that basically addresses “How your breeder should have raised your puppy” is the most important for this discussion).
From the first:
…socialization with an average of 100 different people, of all ages, sizes and shapes, before they go home… daily woods walks from six weeks on… beach walks… swimming…
From the second:
How to Select a Good Puppy
Your prospective puppy should feel thoroughly at ease being
handled by strangers—you and your family. The puppy should
be fully desensitized to sounds before he is four weeks old.
Likewise, his housetraining program should be well underway,
his favorite toy should be a chewtoy (stuffed with puppy chow),
and he should happily and eagerly come, follow, sit, lie down,
and roll over when requested. If these are not so, either your
puppy is a slow learner or he has had a poor teacher. In either
case, look elsewhere.
An essential ingredient of puppy husbandry is regular (several
times a day) handling, gentling, and calming by a wide variety of
people, especially children, men, and strangers. These exercises
are especially important during the early weeks and especially
with those breeds that are notoriously tricky when handled by
strangers—that is, several Asian breeds, plus many herding,
working, and terrier breeds: in other words, most breeds of dog!
The second most important quality in any dog is that he enjoys
interacting with people, and specifically that he enjoys being
handled by all people, especially children, men, and strangers.
Early socialization easily prevents serious adult problems.
Please remember, the single most important quality for a dog
is to develop bite inhibition and a soft mouth during puppyhood.
I have done the above programs for all of my Cardigan litters so far (I did it with the Danes before that). IT IS A FULL-TIME JOB. I am not exaggerating; I found it completely incompatible with working. In my last litter, a family situation kept me from having people come visit puppies. I had to bring every single puppy out with me and find 100 people before they were eight weeks old. I did it (thank God for the holidays), but it about killed me.
It’s also impossible to do solo, once the puppies hit eight weeks and should be experiencing all the things by themselves rather than with their litter. It is killer difficult to find a hundred people – there’s no way you can find four hundred. You’ve GOT to get the puppies out of your home and into new homes or socialization placements (Amanda, Brittany, Bri, and the others, you know how much I adore you).
I cannot do it well and be a great show breeder. I’m third-tier at best and I’ll never be above that. Cardigans cannot be well evaluated at 8 weeks because of the weird growth of a dwarfed dog and because fronts and turnout will fool you. There’s no reliable “puppy puzzle” type eval for Cardigans. You get some idea at 8 weeks, more at 12, and the final decision might be made at six to twelve months. If you get them out the door, you can’t keep them long enough to evaluate a bunch and keep only the one who is going to go great guns in the ring.
But, I would strongly argue, our ambition to be better show breeders MUST take a back seat to this need. There’s nothing wrong with our dogs; it’s our fault that they have this reputation. When are we going to have as much peer pressure to socialize and consistently produce friendly, confident dogs as we do to finish our dogs in the ring? Because until we do, we’re not going to shake this, and it’s bad for our dogs. They don’t live as happy life as they should if they’re meeting every activity with an immediate fear reaction. If it has to be an either-or choice, either socialize well or consistently succeed in the breed/group/BIS ring, which is our responsibility?