We recently took the puppies down to visit friends at Snofall Siberians for a play date. It was a warm day and we had a lovely BBQ lunch in the backyard, and the dogs had a great run around the property.
Socialising huskies has some key challenges - firstly that they are large and energetic dogs, who can be very physical in their play, and secondly that they can have strong pack instincts.
One of the key breeding aims of Snofall Siberians (along with many other husky breeders here in Vic) is a good temperament, producing dogs who are going to be good pets, working well with people and good with children. This gave us a great level of confidence that if we introduced the dogs appropriately, everyone would be able to run and play well together.
Initially, the dogs were separated into different runs. Bolo and Czar loved trying to climb on the curved metal roof of the dog house in the run that our guys borrowed, while Ishka sat as close to her daddy as she could get - squished against the pen door!
The Snofall kids were largely in one pen, except for Zed, who is a bit old for some of the hi-jinks - not that he'll admit it!
There was quite a lot of barking and carrying on between the pens. The physical barrier increased some of the excitement, and the more vocal dogs were quick to announce their thoughts on the matter. Molly and Charlie kept reporting on everything that happened - who had arrived, where they were, who had stepped on whose toes and so on. Trip kept reporting back to Zed about the visitors. Chermani sat back and watched them all royally. Bolo, Czar and Ishka complained about being shut in a pen, especially when there were BBQing sausages being eaten. Despite their claims that they would be perfectly behaved, we left them in the pens while we ate, which resulted in a certain amount of whinging "oh muu-uuum!" but we ignored them and they settled down.
When it came time to let them mingle, we put the boys and Ishka in the dog float, where they settled quickly. They couldn't see the action and were much quieter. The most social of the Snofall kids were let out of their pen, and then we let the boys out one at a time. This is a great way to make sure that our dogs meet the new pack in a one-on-one fashion, minimising opportunities for pack instinct to set up territorialism or other competitiveness.
First of all Frankie came out, and wandered around with his "I'm lovely" expression on - bright eyes and curved tail. The mostly female crowd around him was quick to admire those rock hard abs visible through the shaved patch on his belly.
As is normal, there was a lot of butt sniffing, lots of friendly arched tails, and a couple of attempts to put a head over Frankie's shoulders and show him who's boss. We monitored all the interactions carefully, staying close to the dogs and occasionally moving to separate and calm dogs who were getting a little too hyped.
The next dog to come meet the crowd was Czar, who, like Frankie was very polite in his body language. Czar is a big flirt and loves hanging out with the Snofall girls. Some of them were happy to let him sniff up and down, and others moved away. Czar didn't chase anyone down, and listened when he was told to go away by any particular girl.
Lastly we introduced Bolo. For safety, Bolo was wearing his muzzle. Bolo is a very mouthy dog (both verbally and physically). He has occasionally tried to interact with other dogs by putting not just his hea over their shoulders, but his open jaws. We assume that this is due to his poor socialisation as a puppy, as he shows no other signs that could be considered aggressive. However, this is the kind of bad behaviour that other dogs will protest and even punish. We take great care that Bolo has no opportunities to scare, upset or damage any other dogs, even with other dogs who are matched to him in size, weight and confidence, so he came out with his muzzle.
(For the latest discussion about socialisation, this post from K9 dog trainers covers some of the issues arising when people DON'T take care to educate themselves and manage their dogs properly when socialising.)
After meeting everyone, Bolo was first released from his muzzle, and he behaved very well. We continued to monitor him very carefully, and didn't push our luck. After meeting Bolo, most of the Snofall puppies went back in their pen.
One factor in our favour was the heat. People often ask how huskies cope with the Australian weather - they cope pretty well actually, but they do tend to be less active in the heat. It was noticeable how the sprinting around the house dropped off after a lap or two, and the chest bumps were relatively limited too.
The last of our puppies to be introduced was Ishka. Ishka is known to be a very dominant girl, and although she's mellowed in her middle age, she has been reluctant to tolerate other girls especially, and other dogs in general in the past.
To avoid any issues, most of the Snofall girls were put away, and Ishka was introduced only to young Tig. Chermani sat and royally watched the scene, but didn't get in Ishka's way. Ishka pretended Chermani wasn't even there, which was fine with all of us!
By this stage, Frankie, Czar, Bolo and Ishka were all enjoying a run with Tig, exploring the yard and regularly stopping by the water bucket. Of course, Frankie decided his feet were burning, and kept dipping them in the water bucket - sorry about the mess, Chez!
It was a wonderful day out for us and the fur kids. When we got home, all the dogs (and J!) conked out and napped for the afternoon and evening. They had run themselves out, sniffed every corner of the yard, learnt to jump on the dog house, tasted watermelon (big thumbs up!) and played with lots of other dogs. Their bodies and minds had been thoroughly stimulated and exercised, and they were a very happy crew.
Big thanks to the Snofall ladies for having us over. It has been a pleasure to handle and run their dogs this year, and we look forward to a great season again next year!