SOCIALIZATION. By definition, this is the process used to teach your dog how to appropriately respond in society.
The concept of socialization can be an easy one to take for granted… until you experience a dog whose natural responses are to be overly protective and aggressive with other dogs or innocent kids who want to “pet the doggie” at the park. Or maybe you have one of those extra-loving, highly-energetic dogs that just wants to jump all over every guest who walks in your door, or may even run after and tackle hikers along the trails. Granted, this may help alleviate some unwelcome solicitors at your door but nobody wants to be at the wrong end of a scared and angry outdoorsman.
The bottom line is, the canine world is much different than our human world. Their responses are not what we’d always like them to be for peace and harmony in our society. This is where proper training and socialization come into play. It is OUR RESPONSIBILITY as owners to properly train our dogs to live happily and safely in our homes and in the everyday world.
Proper socialization exposes your dog to a wide variety of experiences in positive, controlled ways that factor in the dog’s emotional responses. Experiences should include people, animals, sounds, objects, textures, and locations of various sizes, intensity, speed, etc. A lot to think about, isn’t it! Which is exactly why being a dog owner requires commitment to developing your dog into a happy member of society.
Here are some steps to successful socialization:
1. Choose a quality breeder. Happiness is an emotionally created state of mind that is filled with optimism for the world, not fear and anxiety for daily experiences. A high-quality breeder should be dedicated to exposing their litters of puppies from just a couple of days old until they move on to their forever families.
2. Take advantage of the “Golden Window.” Prime socialization skills can begin from birth to sixteen weeks of age when dogs have limited opinions of the world. This period of time is when the least amount of effort—just practical exposure to the world—pays the highest dividends in molding your dog's perceptions of experiences in its world. Socialization should continue throughout a dog's life, but this period is critical for a dog to absorb as much as possible.
3. Say Hello to 100. Have your dog meet 100 new people and numerous trustworthy dogs within the first month of joining your family. Take your dog with you on your adventures out in the front yard, to dog-friendly stores, etc. Go to the homes of friends and family who welcome and can enjoy your new addition. Find dog socials hosted by knowledgeable dog trainers who can help guide you and your dog through appropriate play scenarios. Dog parks are not our favorite because of the wild card of temperaments from both the dog and their owner. Be very cautious if you choose to take your dog to the dog jungle!
4. Pace their exposure and use high value food. Food is a great way to keep your dog feeling optimistic about new experiences. Watch their body language and honor the emotions they are expressing. Don't saturate your dog in experiences that seem challenging. Rather, simply let them dip their toes into tricky situations for a few seconds then remove them and move on to an environment in which they are completely comfortable. Then repeat once more before moving on to exposure for another day. Always be prepared with high value food!
5. Acknowledge fear periods. Fear periods are times when your dog goes through a change of emotion about their world. They can last one day to several months, so be patient. One day your dog may be completely fine with bearded men in hats or kids on scooters; the next day they act like they just saw a ghost! Don't panic. Pace the dog's experience based on their curiosity level. Reward any interest in the experience that is causing them concerns, even if it’s just looking at an object for a moment. The more micro elements of curiosity you can acknowledge with positive reinforcement, the better the dog will feel.
Full House Dog Training is thrilled to answer all your socialization questions and also help dogs who have deep rooted emotions toward specific experiences in their world! Our training programs are focused on helping dog's gain control over their emotional responses so they can enjoy life and bring less chaos to the human world in which they live.