Socialization is a term that is widely used in the canine world. Many dog owners believe that socialization means that their dog is social – that they enjoy meeting new people and other dogs. Then it would make sense that “socialization” in the minds of many people means the possibility for their dog to interact with other dogs and people. However, when it comes to dog training and development, socialization means something more specific.
Dog trainer and author Zazie Todd, PhD explains, “The sensitive time for socialization is a time in a puppy’s life from 3 weeks to about 12-14 weeks when the brain is very malleable. You can teach obedience at any age, but you cannot get the socialization phase back as this is a special time in puppy development. “
In principle, only puppies under 14 weeks of age can be technically socialized. If your dog was not socialized well as a puppy, it does not mean that your dog’s behavior may not be improving, or that your dog is not more comfortable with strange dogs and people.
“It’s never too late! While it can take a little longer or be more difficult, most dogs can make progress in socialization at any age,” encouraged Dr. Ashley Opyt, medical director at Firehouse Animal Health Center in Kyle, Texas.
Why should you socialize your dog?
Before bringing a dog home from a responsible breeder, rescue, or animal shelter, ask what type of early socialization a puppy has received, as this critical window for socialization begins weeks before puppies can leave their mothers. “If you miss the window, it can cause problems later,” says Dr. Opyt. “Incomplete socialization at a young age can increase the likelihood of behavioral disorders later in life, including anxiety and aggression.”
Do not equate socialization with playing with other dogs or people. Many dogs, especially as they reach adulthood, become less playful with dogs they don’t know. This can also have breed-specific components, with many breeds being more reluctant or cautious about new breeds
Humans or animals.
As a trainer, I define a socialized dog as one who is comfortable with new experiences and places, and who is around / around other dogs and new people. Note: Being comfortable with and being polite with dogs and people does not mean being excited, playing or interacting with them. Dogs of all ages require further training and new experiences in order to remain comfortable, confident, and friendly. In addition, regular exposure to new places, people, and other dogs is very mentally stimulating and rewarding for most dogs, and thus contributes to an overall better quality of life for the dog and its owner.
Does your dog need help?
A dog that is not socialized or under socialized will “be afraid or afraid of other animals, people, or new places”. says Dr. Opyt, who notices that in these situations they tremble or even act aggressively towards other animals or people.
Not only is this behavior stressful and potentially embarrassing to you, but it can also be life threatening. Unfortunately, behavioral issues like aggression are the main reason pet owners send their animals to shelters for re-adoption.
Behavioral problems are also a common reason dogs are euthanized. If at any point you feel concerned about your dog’s behavior, are concerned, or overwhelmed about how to best support your dog, contact a positive reinforcement trainer directly. Dr. Opyt suggests working one-on-one with a qualified trainer to come up with an individual socialization plan for you and your dog.
How to socialize with your dog
When you meet a dog, especially a puppy, you wonder what all of their life will be like. “Think about anything and everyone your puppy might meet later in life. The goal of socialization is to give the puppy a very wide range of experiences, to make it as positive as possible, and to always give the puppy a choice, ”explains Zazie.
Exposure to All Kinds of People: Give a puppy the experience of seeing people of different sexes, races, people with beards, people in hats, sunglasses, and costumes, and people with wheelchairs, strollers, and strollers. “It may sound a little difficult during the pandemic, but your pup doesn’t need to interact with these people. He can only see her from a distance, ”says Zazie.
Take a training course: get hands-on advice from a trainer while your dog interacts safely and, equally importantly, learns to ignore other puppies and people in an age-appropriate manner. Find a trainer who only uses reward-based methods, commonly referred to as positive reinforcement. This is especially important for a puppy.
“Ideally, the class would have sections on how to get puppies used to being handled by the vet and how puppies can play together,” explains Zazie.
“Always keep an eye on your pup to make sure he is happy and not overwhelmed. The trainer should conduct in-game consent tests where you separate the pups so they can stop playing if they want or return to playing when they enjoy it. “
Move at the Dog’s Pace: If you’re working with an older dog who wasn’t properly socialized as a puppy, move at your dog’s pace. Do not
overwhelm or inundate them with new experiences, people or other dogs.
“If your adult dog is afraid, help him avoid what he is afraid of and develop a training plan that uses delicious treats to teach him to like him rather than fear him (the technical term is counter-conditioning)” , so Zazie advises.
Create a positive association: Have lots of little pieces of “high quality” treats (anything your dog gets excited about, usually the smell the better) when you go out to exercise. If your dog sees another dog or person from afar, give them a treat. Repeat this over several workouts.
Whenever your dog sees another dog or person, he will be pampered. Soon your dog will begin to associate the sight of a person or other dog with the reward and will look at you instead of worrying or being overly excited about the presence of a person or dog.
Over time and with many training sessions, reduce the distance between the person or dog and your dog. If at any point your dog becomes uncomfortable or has problems, take a few steps back (literally) and increase the distance between your dog and the person / dog. The goal is to work at a pace that your dog is comfortable with and even as we begin to close the distance between our dog and the other dog or person, staying at a distance that our dog is at can still concentrate on us and comfortably take treats.
Don’t Tension This Leash: When you are socializing, keep your dog on a leash and close to you. Use a 6-foot leash and keep it loose so your dog does not react to or stress from the pressure on the leash. For many dogs, this can create a sense of captivity and increase a fear of seeing other dogs or people.
Choose the Right Location: Choose training spots that are as controlled as possible so that you can keep your dog at distances where he can be successful. Avoid off-leash areas, especially dog parks. The key to a dog’s sociability is building comfort and confidence, getting closer to people and other dogs, and giving your dog the space he needs to stay safe and comfortable.
“Dog-friendly outdoor restaurants and bars are great places to keep your pet on a leash and close to you while exposing them to sights, sounds, and other people and pets,” advises Dr. Opyt.
Take your time for game dates
Once your dog is comfortable seeing other dogs or people, he is ready for the next step. “You can start with a controlled environment like a one-to-one interaction with a person and dog you know, in a neutral area on a leash,” says Dr. Opyt. “If all goes well, plan regular play appointments with individual dogs or small groups and gradually give your dog more freedom to interact. Structured training courses can also be a good option, although availability may be limited during COVID. “
Pace you guys
It is not possible to socialize too much, but it is very easy to get socialization wrong. Zazie notes that a common mistake is to do too much too quickly and “accidentally scare” the dog. To prevent this from happening, especially with puppies, Zazie recommends owners: “Always keep an eye on your puppy’s body language. For example, do not play with puppies because it leaves the puppy no choice and may be afraid of being handed over to a stranger. “
Instead, allow your pup the freedom to approach new people – or not. The idea is not to inundate or overwhelm your pup with potentially stressful or overwhelming stimulation. The same approach of not forcing interactions should be used with older dogs who lack important socialization.
If at any point your dog is overwhelmed or reacts to the other dogs or people, just add more space until your dog can focus on taking treats again.
Take the right walk to get to know your dog
Leather dog training leash – 6 feet: This simple 6 foot leash is a great solid leash that will allow you to socialize or rehabilitate effectively when you attach it to your dog’s harness. $ 14.99- $ 25.99. jjdog.com
Logical leather dog leash: This 6 foot leather leash is readily available and comes in a number of different colors. It’s important to think of a leather leash – maintain it regularly, especially when out in the rain. Over time, it becomes softer and more comfortable. $ 44.99. Chewy.com
The Sunny from Trail Blazing Tails: This crossbody / European leash design is perfect for anyone looking for a hands-free option. It’s a customizable lightweight biothane that’s as strong as leather. Biothan does not retain odor and is ideal for use in the rain or when you and your dog are in / around water. $ 64. trailblazingtails.com
Featured image: FatCamera | Getty Images
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