Dogs are inherently social creatures, but they must learn social etiquette just like a child would need to learn how to be polite. An obnoxious dog or, worse, a fearful dog could lead to great problems down the road, including reactive barking or even a bite. Socializing is the process and art of teaching a dog or puppy how to behave, how to react and even how to feel emotionally in many situations.
Socializing a puppy may be easier than an adult dog as the littles ones go through what is known as a fear period. Two fear periods exist, one at 4 to 12 weeks of age and another around the 7 month old mark. Fear periods are points in the puppy’s emotional and mental development in which they learn how to feel and react to new situations, people, objects and animals. While adult dogs after already gone through this, they are still in a constant state of learning, and socialization is still just as important.
How To Socialize
Socializing your pup may sound much more daunting than it truly is. Dogs and puppies learn through experience. It can take only minutes for a dog or puppy to learn that a statue is not scary or that a person with a big hat is just as pleasing to meet as anyone else. Instead of flooding your dog with many new experiences at once, you can create fun and safe socialization experiences in under 5 minutes at a time!
Dogs don’t have the longest attention spans, and learning in short sessions always boosts their educational experiences. Introduce your pup to new objects, people and animals lasting roughly 5 minutes at a time and using only 1 new thing at a time. You can always have a bag of treats on hand to help reinforce a positive emotion during socialization, but it is not a requirement. Show your pup that the new object – an umbrella, person wearing a hat or new puppy – are fun and safe to be around.
Don’t Force It
The importance of socializing your dog means helping him to not be frightened of new things. If your puppy or dog is terrified of something either during a socialization session or in the midst of a walk, don’t force them to come face to face with whatever is scary to them. Instead, encourage them to investigate it. Touch the item yourself to prove that it is safe, get down to your dog’s level and talk in a low, soothing voice to let them know everything is okay and they are safe. If your dog is still too frightened, end the experience by walking away and not reinforcing what happened. Instead, consider it something you and your dog need to work on.
Take a Class: Socialization classes for dogs occur at nearly every kennel club. These classes not only let your dog experience new things in a safe and positive environment, but they also teach YOU how to help your dog along on this journey through the support of professionals and other dog owners. Before you know it, you and your pup will be more comfortable and confident.
Doggie Daycare: Dog daycare facilities take care of socialization, play time, sometimes training and more all in one supervised environment with trained staff. Typically you would drop your dog off in the morning and pick him up in the late-afternoon or evening. It’s a great way for your dog to learn how to socialize without you present. Be aware that daycare facilities require dogs to be fully vaccinated before they are allowed entrance.
Off Leash Dog Parks: When taking your dog to an off leash dog park, you are solely responsible for your dog; monitoring his play and interaction with other dogs. You also have to rely on the other dog owners to keep on eye on their own dog in case of incidents. Here you’ll get to test your dog’s socialization skills. Watch as he greets other dogs and joins in on chasing the ball. Or, see if just being at the park makes him anxious or he gets scared when others approach him. This will give you an idea of your dog’s comfortability level. Before visiting a dog park, it’s best that your dog is up to date on required vaccines, especially rabies.
The importance of socializing your dog is beyond just helping him enjoy the company of other dogs and people. Socialization can help your dog become a comfortable and happy well-rounded canine citizen. It’s never too late to try.
What do you find to be the most important aspect of socialization?