Socialization Checklist For The Queer Puppy
Welcoming a new puppy to the queer household.
Home Depot socialization
With a new puppy in the house this month I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to queerly socialize our dogs, aka make sure they are prepared to live in a queer household. There are a lot of online lists generated by dog trainers of all the things you should (positively) expose a young puppy to in order to ensure they are well adjusted to the diversity of people/experiences/places they are likely to encounter as an adult dog. If you do an online search for “puppy socialization” you’ll get a number of solid lists to follow: getting your puppy used to nail trimming, having their feet/ears/mouth handled; responding to people who are wearing hats; interacting with children, or people who are using mobility devices; and environmental experiences like walking on slippery surfaces, on metal grates, through crowds etc. I especially liked this one from the amazing late canine behaviorist Dr. Sophia Yin.
All this is awesome and super important when raising a puppy to be well-adjusted, but are there special things that dogs of queer folks need to be socialized to? I started thinking about this when we brought our Newfoundland puppy Sirius to meet the Easter Bunny for the first time last month. Sirius handled the whole experience like a pro—totally not concerned by a person in a fur suit, and was totally happy to pose for a picture. As we were leaving the pet shop (Instagram updated, and a bag full of novelty Easter treats/toys for our fuzzy kiddos) I commented to my partner that this had actually been a great experience for a queer pup to know about—since you never know when she will met a Furry identified community member, and I wouldn’t want that to be alarming for her. This got me thinking about what other queer specific things our puppy should get socialized to in order to ensure she is a well adjusted member of our queer family. I came up with the following (not exhaustive) list that I think nicely augments some of the general/straight world socialization suggestions
Top 10 Queer Puppy Socialization List
1. People In Fur suits: I love furries and I want my dogs to be properly socialized to them! Did you see the article about the therapy dog whose mom accidentally brought him to a furry convention? Super adorable story!
2. Parades and other large/loud crowds: I don’t recommend bringing most dogs to pride celebrations because they can be overwhelming, but if you plan to bring your dog start slow while they are young socializing them to being calm in big crowds
3. Flags waving: The movement/sound of waving flags can spook dogs who haven’t encountered them before. Don’t wait until you put a rainbow flag up in front of your house to see how your dog will react!
4. People of diverse races: Be sure your new puppy is having positive and regular interactions with people of different racial backgrounds than members of your immediate your family.
5. People of diverse genders: Be sure your puppy is comfortable socializing with people of all genders. When we rescued our dog Charlotte dog a few years ago, we realized a few weeks after bringing her home that we hadn’t sought out socializing her with cisgender men (thankfully it turns out she loves them!)
6. People of diverse abilities/people utilizing mobility devices: I want my dogs to be comfortable meeting everyone. My queer family includes people who use wheelchairs/scooters/canes and so these are things I expose my puppies to early in life so they don’t see them as something to be worried about.
7. Fetish gear: Are you a kinky family? If so, familiarize your dog to the sounds of anything you might regularly use. Also reinforce that just like you don’t chew on your puppy’s toys, she shouldn’t chew on yours—no one wants puppy tooth marks in their leather flogger or harness
8. Diversity of facial hair: Our puppy fell in love with facial hair on some of our friends, but we’re teaching her that not everyone with a full fabulous beard wants it to be licked so she’s ready for Bear Week in P-town our family’s favorite gaycation spot.
9. Flamboyant outfits: The regular socialization lists include things like baseball caps—but let's be real, our community has way more elaborate fashion our puppy needs to get used to with our high femmes and drag queens—boa anyone?
10. Sex noises: Crate training comes in really handy here if you or your partner(s) don’t want a dog in the bedroom. I once wrote an article about this for a straight publication and got lots of “think of the innocent puppy!” reader comments! You aren’t going to traumatize your puppy by having sex while they sleep in the same room, but it’s totally legit to want to teach them to be comfortably occupied in another part of your house.
Sirius is our youngest of three dogs, but the first time my partner has ever had a puppy, and the first time I’ve had a puppy since my 14.5 year old, Mercury was little. Mercury got the best socialization of any dog I’ve ever had. He spent his formative puppy months hanging out with me in a punk queer youth recreation center where I was an active youth member. He met pet rats in the sweatshirt hoods of traveling punks, other dogs, drag shows, kittens on leashes, and dozens of really diverse people every single day! I’m really glad to be in a much more stable place in my life, but it does mean I have to work a lot more intentionally to make sure that this puppy gets the same solid queer cultural socialization!
About the author:
Sassafras Lowrey is the 2013 winner of the Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Award. Hir books—“Lost Boi,” “Roving Pack” “Kicked Out” “Leather Ever After” and “A Little Queermas Carol”—have been honored by organizations ranging from the National Leather Association to the American Library Association. Ze is a Certified Trick Dog Trainer, and assists with dog agility classes. Sassafras lives with hir partner, a senior chihuahua mix, a rescued shepherd mix, and a Newfoundland puppy along with two bossy cats and a semi-feral kitten. Learn more at www.SassafrasLowrey.com.