Did you know?
Pet dogs in the US are now expected to behave better than the average child.
Did you know?
The ASPCA has found the leading cause of death among pet dogs – euthanasia due to behavioral problems.
What is Socialization?
Have you ever watched a dog who seems so comfortable with nearly all aspects of life? They’re good with people and kids, they’re good with dogs, they’re fine walking down a busy street with construction off to the side…heck, they could probably have fun on the subway. Odds are very good that this dog has had LOTS of socialization.
While socialization does include interactions with other dogs and people, it involves so much more. Socialization allows dogs to be introduced to and interact with the rest of the world. This includes sounds, objects, movements, smells…etc. Socialization allows your dog to be comfortable around children playing at a park, bowls being dropped in the kitchen, walking along a busy highway and everything in-between.
It’s easiest to start socializing your dog before 20 weeks. Most behaviorists agree that’s around the time when the “socialization window” closes. The socialization window is a period of development when your puppy is much more likely to accept things around him/her without question. If you have a puppy, you’d be wise to take advantage of this and expose your puppy to 5 new things each day. And people…have them meet as many people as possible. If you’re worried about taking your puppy in public because they might catch something before the vaccinations are complete (around 4 months), carry them. I’ve known people who put their puppy in a baby sling in order to let them see the world and get used to it at that age.
If your dog is older, don’t worry! Most dogs will still come around. It just takes a little more time, patience and convincing.
How Do I Start Socialization?
Start by taking your dog with you everywhere you can (legally – please don’t give service dogs a bad name). If your dog seems uncertain about something, don’t pressure them. Play the “look at the scary thing and you’ll get a treat” game with them. Behaviorists have a saying – “Food overcomes fear.” It’s true. I used that principle all the time. Soon your dog will learn the men in scary hats are awesome because they mean treats are coming out!
*If your dog seems scared of everything outside and they react aggressively in any way in public, seek help from a local trainer immediately!
Enroll your dog in a socialization or obedience class. Trainers can give you all sorts of ideas and games to help your dog gain confidence and enjoy the world around them.
Plan play dates with dogs you know are healthy and friendly. Your dog will learn from them.
Set your dog up for success by praising and treating them for trying new easy things. This will build their confidence and will help them react better to new things in the future. Ex: my dog decided he was scared of fire hydrants when he was around 6 months old. Weird right? We started tossing treats a few feet from the hydrant each time we passed it on a walk. As my dog go bolder about getting close to the hydrant to get the treats, we began tossing them closer and closer, until finally, we began putting cheese ON the fire hydrant. That’s right – he had to actually TOUCH the hydrant to get the reward. But guess what? He thinks fire hydrants are pretty cool now. And the whole exercise took about 2 weeks for him to get over his fear.
Practice dropping quiet things (like dish rags and small pillows) and drop treats/kibble at the same time. As your dog gets used to the movement and sound of something dropping, gradually start dropping larger and noisier objects (and treats) until your dog doesn’t think it’s a big deal anymore. You can practice this same principle with skateboards outside, bike horns, cars going by, etc…
Ask your dog to jump up on a variety of surfaces. (I really like using park benches and playground equipment, but large rocks and fallen trees are great too.) Practice having your dog walk on different textures – like concrete, cardboard, bubble wrap, aluminum foil…be creative!
There are many, many more ways to socialize your dog. Talk to a local trainer, or check out www.katstrainingtails.com for more ideas!