Most people that get a new puppy think of puppy socialization as puppy playtime. Even new dog owners that adopt or rescue an adult dog have a misconception of what socialization should be and really is.
What is socialization for dogs?
It is a LOT more than getting your puppy or dog around other dogs to play with. In fact, we look at it as “almost” the opposite of that goal when training dogs at K9 Culture Dog Training in the Dallas metro area.
Socialization is teaching your dog How To interact and behave around the following:
New Textures and Surfaces
New Dogs and New People
A dog that has been properly socialized does not ‘go crazy’ with exuberant energy every time they meet a new dog or a new person. Instead, they understand how to have Manners and Control their Energy in a positive and polite way. This one area is the biggest mistake most dog owners make.
Too many dog owners view dog socialization from a narrow prism of getting their dog to be dog friendly or people friendly with too much emphasis on the dog friendly aspect.
Socialization is TEACHING your dog how to greet new dogs and people in a positive manner. It is helping them understand that just because they meet a new dog it does not mean it is play time. The time and place to play is determined by the owner, not the dog and your dog MUST be taught this and understand it otherwise they are inadvertently learning that every time they meet a new dog is play time or a new person is love and affection time.
Dogs that are not properly socialized as either a puppy or even a new rescued adult dog, do not learn to harness their energy or impulses when they mature and get older. Often, this leads to dogs that display too much excitement or energy and with an encounter with a new dog; this can and often does lead to a dog fight.
The other aspect many people miss is socializing their new puppy or adult dog with humans. Three of the most human aggressive dogs we have trained were human aggressive because they were never socialized or introduced to a lot of new people as puppies or at a young age. They simply never learned that new humans are interesting and can be fun but instead grew to fear all humans outside of their household.
When you first get a puppy or new dog, you want to reward the behavior you want from your dog also known as reinforcement. You should tell your dog good when they look at a new dog or human with casual interest instead of over-the-top excitement or reactivity. Let them know through your feedback that that is exactly the behavior you want from them. Give them a treat of snack or praise and affection when they do what it is you want them to do.
Show them HOW to meet new dogs and how to meet knew people, do not leave it up to them to figure out how to behave.
New Places and Environments
One extremely fearful German Shepherd we recently trained was your typical confident dog INSIDE her home. But if her owners took her outside all she wanted to do was RUN back to the ‘safety’ of her home. This could have been avoided had they taken her to lots of new places when she was young.
Our goal is a minimum of five new places per week for the first six months when you get a dog. Another rule of thumb is 100 places in 100 days. You may go to four new places in a single day so it does not have to be a place per day. What we are teaching our dog by doing this is that the world is an interesting place not a scary world. It also will eventually show your dog that the world is a little boring for they have seen much of what there is to see already and once they learn this, then they react much less or not at all in new places and environments.
New Sensations and Sounds
Some dogs become quite scared or reactive with sudden noises. The way to help prevent this from developing with your dog is to gradually expose them to noises. Start small and work your way up. Do not just drop a bunch of pots and pans on the floor near a puppy and think that will help them, that will scare the life out of them and make it worse. Instead, hit the lid of a pan with a spoon while washing dishes and look for your dog to be curious as to what that sound was. Then reinforce to them with a GOOD que that everything is OK and give them a treat. After a few of those tap a few pots together and then keep building upon that. Remember, do NOT scare your puppy or dog on purpose, it is not funny, it is emotionally harmful to your dog and can create fear issues for the rest of their life and may require professional training to overcome.
When you walk your dog, make an effort to walk them occasionally in areas that have trucks and different noises so those sounds will not affect them later.
Textures and Surfaces
Walk your dog on new surfaces and up on and over objects. By being on new types of surfaces and objects your dog begins to learn some things feel different on their paws and the different textures will become less intimidating to them. The same goes for objects. Walk your dog across a paper bag and plastic bag in your living room. Once they do that with nothing more than mild curiosity, repeat it in your front lawn and then on a sidewalk. Sometimes you may be walking your dog and a strange object is on the ground and you will need your dog to walk over or across it without lunging or pulling and this exercise will help prepare them for varied textures and surfaces in their life.
This area is so varied it is impossible to list all the varieties you are helping your dog become desensitized to. What you are helping your dog learn is sometimes weird things happen and do not freak out when they do.
Examples: Pull on your dog’s hair a little bit ALL OVER their body. Young children often pull on dogs hair for they do not know better, we do not want your dog to feel this for the very first time with a new greeting with a child otherwise they may nip or bite at the child or become afraid of kids.
Strange hats sometimes scare dogs. A great way to work through this is wear strange hats sometimes or take your young dog to areas there are lots of people so they become desensitized to new people, lots of people and strange objects people may carry or may be wearing.
Play with and handle your dog’s paws, toes, toenails, ears and mouth. This will save you a lot of frustration when you take them to vet visits, or a groomer and your dog will be much calmer in the future because you took the time to do this. After YOU do this with your dog, occasionally have someone else do it.
Skateboards, roller skates, wheelchairs, walkers, crutches and other items you do not see often are important to get your dog around for it is because of the fact they do not see them often that we need to show them they are not harmful.
The list goes on and on, but you probably get the picture that you are trying to lay a picture for your dog. A picture of the world as YOU would like them to see it…that the world is a really cool and interesting place and as long as they are with you, they are safe and secure.
Have Fun with your dog!
K-9 CULTURE Dog Training
Serving the DFW Area
A Dog that is a JOY to live With!