A Guide to Socialization

A Guide to Socialization

socialization

Socialization is a pretty general term with more significance than you may think. The word socialization, in terms of raising a puppy, is all over the pet community yet I find that many new puppy owners do not truly understand the entirety of it. The social process needs to be incessant and it can be inconvenient at times, but it can also be a tremendous amount of fun.  A large number of dogs end up in shelters every year due to behavior problems. Many of those cases could have been prevented thru proper socialization and training early on.

Whether you chose to get a dog from a breeder or a shelter, it is your responsibility to socialize the puppy. In some cases, the breeder may start the socialization process and I would consider this a wonderful gift, but don’t count on the breeder to do it all.  Yes, properly socializing a puppy is time consuming and there is no way around that.  Because socialization is so important, if you do not have the time to socialize a puppy, do not get one. There are many other alternatives available to find that perfect companion.

In its entirety, socialization needs to include anything and everything that the puppy will come into contact until, well, for the life of the dog really. Things to include would be dogs/puppies, children, places, objects and different environments. Socialization is a continuing, lifelong process needs to start immediately, not at 7 months of age or 4 years of age. The rule of 7’s will give you a guide to follow, 7 new places, 7 new people, 7 new dogs (the right dogs) per week in as many unfamiliar environments as humanly possible.  Below is a very basic and general outline of the entire social process.

Dog to dog socialization

No one can educate a dog how to be a dog like another well rounded dog and it’s amazing to watch if you are aware what you are looking at.  They need to learn how to properly greet one another and have off leash interactions. It would not be sufficient for a dog to meet another only on leash for a quick sniff. There really is a tremendous amount for a young pup to learn.

Socializing your puppy should include more than just the other dogs in the immediate household and should involve other social dogs of all ages and breeds.  Learning how to play is significant and a very healthy aspect in dog to dog relationships. Dogs also have the right to correct each other for inappropriate behavior provided that they are justified.  If your puppy has only pleasant experiences with social dogs, chances are that he/she will mature into a confident social dog.

I find that for most puppy owners, dog to dog socialization is the most difficult part of the social process to fulfill. I would recommend a puppy socialization/training class in a safe environment in the early stages of development.

Dog to Human socialization

Who would balk at a chance to interact with a cute little puppy; people are more than happy to lend a helping hand! Pick them up, pass them around, let your friends take turns holding the leash and your new puppy. Be sure some of your meet and greets occur in your home and remember to incorporate other environments as well.  If your puppy is shy, give them a minute to get used to your guest, there is nothing wrong with that. How many people has your puppy met to date, at least 10 per week?  You could cover that in a weekend with a trip to the local shopping center.

If you have children and you want your puppy to grow up and be around children, make sure they meet and greet and the children’s interactions are appropriately monitored. Instructing children how to appropriately interact with a puppy is paramount! Now a days, there is far too much unfair tolerance expected of a dog/puppy and if not monitored properly, the puppy may be the one paying the price later in life. There should be  NO ear/tail pulling, NO hitting/smacking, NO poking. Teaching children how to interact with the puppy and to be gentle is of great importance.

Take them out, let them be seen, ask random strangers to come say hello and maybe hand out a treat. I have never been turned down on that one no matter where we go. A common misconception amongst  puppy owners is that if the pup, at 16 weeks old is “good with people and children”, he/she will remain that way. That is not always the case as the social process needs to continue in it’s entirety.

New environment socialization

The number of places/ stimuli a puppy gets to experience makes a difference as well as how you intend to get them there.

Getting a puppy used to a car ride takes time, vomiting, salivating and the like dissipate once the dog has habituated in most cases. They will get accustomed to the bumps and turns and learn how to shift their weight. If you stop taking them on car rides at the first sign of trouble, it will only make it more stressful for the pup later on. Some tips you may want to consider would be having your puppy ride in a crate. Many like the fact that they can lay against something until they get used to the ride as it will help them stabilize themselves during frequent turns and speed changes.

The environment we live in is packed with visual and auditory stimulation. If we expect them to be well balanced in our world, let’s be fair and prepare them for it. Take your dogs to as many places as you can and do it every opportunity you get. They need to experience all of it, everywhere, including the veterinarians office, which brings us to our next endeavor.

Handling drills as socialization

Teaching your dog to be tolerant to touch goes way beyond touching feet for 10 minutes while watching TV. There is a process to this and is a wonderful way to bond with your puppy. Trust building exercises like gentle handling drills speak for themselves and the bond you start to create through handling will aid in a trusting relationship. Trust must be earned and takes time.  Some puppies will indicate that they are uncomfortable by squirming, biting or even vocalizing.  It is cause and effect that they learn very quickly. Remember, they are taking notes too!

Teaching your puppy to be tolerant to nail trims, bathing, ear cleaning and even simple examination should be a priority for every new puppy owner, just ask someone who does not have the luxury of such.

If your puppy is showing signs of potential aggressive behavior while being touched, examined, nail trims, restraint/hugging, it can, in many cases be resolved. Biting will not go away on its own and should be taken seriously, even at an early age. If it should escalate, as with any other behavior, it can be very difficult to fix, if at all.   Preventative measures are ideal, as it is less stressful on the puppy and owner. I never met a dog that likes it’s nails trimmed, but they must be tolerant to it. That can be taught.

As a whole

The entire socialization process should also intertwine within itself. For example, if you socialize your puppy with other dogs/puppies and at a particular doggy day care facility or other familiar area and have never take the puppy to different environments, a strange new environment may be stressful and that one  element may affect overall sociability in that particular circumstance, not only with dogs but humans as well. Please keep this in mind, it matters. While mostly we are attentive to what the puppy is doing, take note of what the puppy is not doing. If your pup is not interacting at all, that could be a sign of difficulties later down the road.

If your puppy is showing early signs of behavior problems or if you are uncertain about something, find a professional in your area that has the knowledge to help you. Do not wait for the pup to “grow out of it”, chances are they will “grow into it”.

All you need to have a happy, well balanced companion is the know how and follow through. It all starts with the social process.

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