When most people hear the word “socialization” they immediately think it means having their dogs play and hang around with other dogs.
After all, that’s how us humans socialize with each other, so it only makes sense that dog owners would assume it means the same thing for dogs.
Unfortunately it doesn’t.
There is a lot more to canine socialization than hanging out at the dog park and having a couple of wobbly pops with the buddies.
What socialization means – in relation to dogs – is to systematically expose a dog, young or old, to environmental stimuli in a positive manner so that the dog learns how to cope with the situation in a calm and confident manner.
This positive and systematic exposure is the foundation for puppies becoming well mannered adult dogs and it is the training tool used to help adult dogs overcome behavioural issues that arise due to poor socialization as puppies.
Socialization should begin the moment you bring your new puppy home.
If you want your puppy to be calm and confident in the home, then you begin in-home socialization with your puppy by setting clear boundaries of behaviour in the home. Some of mine are no roughhousing in the house – ever!
All games such as tug, fetch, chase and wrestle are outdoor activities. This ensures that no matter who’s home my dogs are in, they do not engage in any rough and tumble games but are calm and respectful of everyone’s space.
They are allowed to be with me in the home, but no play other than finding their stuffies and when told to go to their room and/or bed they do so willingly.
If you want your puppy to be a calm travel companion in your vehicle, then start now.
Take them with you on excursions that don’t always end at the veterinarian or the park. Find neutral areas to end your car rides such as a parking lot or just a drive around the neighbourhood without stopping anywhere until you get back home.
This will teach your puppy not to associate play or discomfort with your car and thus won’t express hyper or anxious behaviours while going for a car ride.
If you want your puppy to join you for walks to the local coffee shop, then start them now.
The same rules apply for grooming, nail trims, trips to the veterinarian, etc. Whatever you want your puppy to participate in, you need to expose them to it now in a positive yet peaceful manner.
This includes meeting other dogs.
A dog doesn’t necessarily have to play with every dog that it comes across in order for it to be socialized with it. In fact it is far more advantageous to encourage overall good manners by teaching your dog to peacefully observe a dog from a distance than it is for the pup to learn that every dog must be greeted and played with.
It is perfectly fine to be able to walk past a dog without saying hello, as well as to allow a dog to have a short greeting of touching noses and moving on. Not every dog should be viewed as the latest drinking buddy.
One of the best investments you can make in your puppies overall good manners and socialization efforts is to either hire a professional trainer and work with them one on one with your socialization needs or find a group class that emphasizes systematic, positive socialization that does not involve having the dogs play with each other for an hour while you sit back with a latte and giggle.
Don’t get me wrong, play is important but so is learning when and how to stop playing.
A dog can become over-socialized on one thing, such as other dogs. The result might be that the dog can’t focus on anything other than the dogs in their presence. The could also mean humans being ignored to the point that they are embarrassingly chasing after their dog or constantly making excuses for their dog’s poor behaviour.
Finally, remember that ultimately your dog is a reflection of you; both the bad and the good behaviours.
Your pup is doing the best it can with the information you have given it.
If you have shortchanged your dog in the socialization and good manners training department it will reflect in its poor behavioural choices and the only one you can point fingers at will be you.
Joan Klucha has been working with dogs for more than 20 years in obedience, tracking and behavioural rehabilitation. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.