If you’re a dog owner then you’ve probably heard the term dog socialization or puppy socialization. But what does it really mean?
Here’s what it doesn’t mean: putting your dog in a giant group of other dogs and hoping they get along.
That’s not to say there’s no value in getting together with other dog owners and allowing your dogs to get acquainted and play together. Of course, you want your dog to get along with other dogs and be well trained, but that’s not what socialization is all about.
You want your dog socialized to your life. If you travel and want your dog to travel with you or take them in stores with you often, then you need to familiarize them with those situations and practice navigating them. Getting your dog used to every life, like garbage trucks, delivery drivers, and trips to the vet are more valuable socialization skills.
“Socialization is teaching your dog how to be a part of our social life.”
-Michael J. Soler, Master Dog Trainer
Your dog is your companion, what places do you commonly visit? What is the activity level in your home? In other words, what environmental stressors is your dog likely to encounter as your companion?
Do you live in a townhouse that has a noisy garbage truck that can be seen and heard from your front door? Do you often have friends over or participate in group gatherings? These are situations you should socialize your dog for so that they aren’t stressors and possible points of conflict between you.
Some common areas for socialization:
Public areas like a park or a store
Dangers to avoid when considering :
Doing too much too fast.
Not listening to your dog’s body language
Not being consistent
Take things slowly, especially at first. Make the first step very simple and build on each success until your dog is behaving how you want them doing in whatever social setting they are in.
Watch body language, if it changes and you reward that behavior without noticing it, then the wrong behavior is reinforced and can become more problematic later. This happens often with jumping, owners don’t mind being greeted by their dog jumping on them but expect them to not jump on others. Which is why consistency is so important.
What to do: (as restrictions ease)
Start taking your dog on car rides
Visit the vet, groomer, overnight facilities
Maybe a brewery or whatever you like to do, even the park
Car rides help get dogs used to going somewhere. If the only car ride they ever have is to go to the vet who gives them shots and scares them, then they avoid getting in the car. If they take regular car rides where you drive around to stop, let them walk around, and earn a treat, then car rides mean fun one on one time with you. Stopping by the vet office for a friendly visit where they get a treat a wave means the vet isn’t always scary and it’s not something to be avoided. Do the vet stop like once a month, take a car ride once a week.
Make the first visit to a park or a brewery brief. Let them sniff around, give them a treat and if they seem nervous, let that be it and come back again in a week or two. Gradually lengthen the visits based on their reaction.
Pay attention to your dog’s body language and what they are telling you.
Remember socialization is getting desensitized to everyday stresses.
If you want to take your dog to large gatherings in the future, visit malls, and shopping areas while they aren’t crowded to acquaint them with the concept, so later it’s not as overwhelming. This applies to anywhere you will want to take your dog in the future…try to get them familiar with the places now without anything happening.
What are your 2021 plans?
Once life is more ‘back to normal’, will you want your dog to go camping, travel, visit crowded places, see more people?
Think about what your next year is going to look like and start getting your dog socialized for those situations now. With limited crowds in most places, it’s a great time to introduce your dog to a new venue without the added stress of lots of people.
Don’t get careless – just because your dog seems to be perfectly trained in your living room doesn’t mean that training can hold up to stressors in the outside world without practice.
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