By John Woods
Nobody wants their dog to be shy, anxious, aggressive, or fearful, especially in social situations. This is why socialization in any dog is of high importance.
From just three weeks old, a three month “critical socialization period” begins. During this time, your puppy’s mind is absorbing tons of new information, making this a key period in their lives for learning and developing good socialization habits.
But what exactly is proper dog socialization? Why is it so important? And how do we adequately socialize our pups?
Dog socialization is the activity of interacting and desensitizing your pup with new and different beings and/or environments. It includes socializing your dog with new humans, animals, places, and of course, fellow canines. The goal of dog socialization is to introduce these things to your dog in a positive and controlled manner.
Dog socialization is extremely important so that your puppy turns into a well-developed adult with few undesirable behaviors. It’s good for your relationship with your pup, too. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior states that “early and adequate socialization may even improve the bond between humans and dogs.” Adult dogs who were socialized from a young age also show less signs of fearfulness and aggression compared to dogs who were poorly socialized.
The key is to make a plan, covering all bases and sticking to it. Every approach may be altered slightly to suit your needs as long as they focus on the same components: The four Ts.
Time is crucial. You must understand that your pup may take time to interact in an acceptable manner. This is all new to your dog. New environments and people are weird and may be scary.
Time also includes the timing of socialization. As mentioned, the critical socialization period is the best time to begin socialization for healthy development. But remember, this doesn’t mean that socialization should stop after this period. In fact, ongoing socialization is critical. And even older dogs can be trained in better socialization if you work at it consistently, though it’s usually best to work with a professional trainer if your older dog exhibits signs of aggression or fearfulness that you’re trying to abate.
Type has no limit. It includes all the types of species whom your dog should be introduced to. Of course it is essential that your pup interacts well with other pups, but it is also vital that your pup is able to connect with other humans and species. This is especially true if you have other pets so that your home is tension free.
Territory refers to the range of different areas and environments which you should introduce your dog to. Every territory has different surroundings with their own different features (i.e. sounds, smells, and sights) which your pup should grow accustomed to so that they are not fearful.
Trust. Your dog needs to be able to trust you in order to follow you and feel confident in any social situation. Trust will also be built through the exercise of socialization. Your dog looks up to you. You are familiar to your dog. You are their protector. If you show your dog that certain situations are safe and okay by being calm, positive, and patient, then your dog too will soon become calm and positive in the same environment.
You can switch up this plan to suit your needs and situation, just remember the four Ts!
1. Meet & Greet
From the day your dog comes home, it is your responsibility to offer opportunities for socialization. Introduce your dog to new people, animals, and other dogs as often as you can. Try puppy classes, doggy day care, neighborhood walks, and dog parks to get interactions going.
2. Change of Scenery
Switch things up and introduce your dog to a range of environments. Try the beach, car trips, the park, or a different walking route each day!
Positive reinforcement is important, so introduce your dog to new objects and beings using treats to encourage good behavior. This will help your dog associate something new with a positive experience such as eating their favorite food.
Make it fun! Incorporate fun activities and games into new introductions. Again, this allows your pup to associate the new and scary with something positive and fun.
Repetition allows your dog to be fully desensitized to a new or scary being or thing so keep it up!
Nothing will be as fulfilling as helping your canine friend become the very best family member that they can be.
Socialization teaches your dog how to be polite, fearless, non-aggressive, and confident in a range of environments. It’s important for any responsible dog lover to begin this process at an early age.
Socializing your pup is easy and can be fun too! Just remember the four Ts and make up a well-rounded plan so you are sure to cover all your bases. Then repeat, repeat, repeat! Get as creative as you wish, just remember to be positive, patient, and understanding.
John Woods is a member of the association of professional dog trainers, a dog lover, and founder of Perfect Dog Breeds– a digital dog publication helping people find their perfect pooch.