Socialization: It’s a Big Deal.

Socialization is the process where animals learn about the world around them. The most effective and humane way to socialize your dog is systematically exposing her to many different stimuli at levels she can calmly tolerate. This is a gradual process. It’s important to keep expectations in check and remain patient.

Puppies have a brief socialization window of four months. After this critical imprint period passes, a remedial socialization program may be needed. It’s not too late! Under socialized adolescent and adult dogs are highly malleable.

Puppy Socialization

Even confident puppies stop, balk, and need time and space to check out their surroundings. Puppies become comfortable inside their homes and in the back yard (where the potty place is usually located). Behavior in the front yard may indicate discomfort: less exposure to this area makes it potentially a little scary. When walking in the neighborhood, your puppy may stop and sit. Something in the environment has captured his attention, and he has to take a moment to process. An upbeat and confident owner attitude helps him relax and carry on with the walk.

Relentlessly introduce your puppy to new people, especially men and children. These meetings should be manipulated so they are brief and positive. Meet and greets should never overwhelm the puppy, because this would be a set-back in your socialization efforts. These interactions work best when the puppy approaches the person. It’s scary for a puppy when a human leans (looms!) over her to greet. The greeter should kneel down and allow the puppy to choose how close in she goes.

Dog parks are not recommended to socialize puppies with other dogs. There is little control over interactions and many are not positive or brief. On leash meetings present a similar scenario. There is a risk of an unpleasant experience, compounded by the fact that escape is impossible, because the dog is tethered. Puppy classes and short play dates with dogs you know to be friendly are better options. Initial play dates should be brief: 15-20 minutes.


Remedial Socialization

Under socialized adolescents and adults do not outgrow their fears. Instead, they learn responses/reactions that work for them. These behaviors run the gamut from simply running away to mounting an aggressive display.

Remedial socialization programs vary from de-sensitization to counter conditioning and well beyond – thanks to current veterinary behavioral research and techniques. Which protocol works best depends upon many factors, such as the dog’s triggers and resulting specific behaviors, severity and extent of behavior rehearsal, and the owner’s commitment to follow through with the program.

Identifying triggers (many in some cases) and reading your dog’s stress signals are critical. Well-rehearsed behaviors take time to change, so diligence is necessary for any treatment protocol. Setting up different rituals which help your dog practice calmer behaviors is a key component.

In recent years, many rescue groups remove those poor canine souls who are languishing in high kill shelters. These dogs come from rural areas in southern states. Life is rural Georgia is a long way (literally and figuratively) from life in suburban New Jersey or any metropolitan area. These hapless creatures must feel as though they have landed on another planet! There’s very little change of scenery in a rural area, with perhaps a handful of cars driving down the road in the course of an entire day. Interaction with people would be really limited, and those might not be accepted as benevolent. Look at these changes of environment from the dog’s perspective, and her fear reactions make sense.

Work for Gradual Progress

Walk the socialization path in an urban dweller’s shoes. Most city folks have to hitch on a leash and walk the dog for every quick potty trip. They don’t have the luxury of a backyard. Every walk down to the curb or around the block offers a changing scene of people, other dogs, and traffic. Owners and their dogs stick to the task at hand. These outings occur repeatedly and the dog habituates to outside quotidian life. Take your show on the road.

Confident and timid dogs both require a deliberate socialization effort. Depending upon the nature of the beast, this may require measures above and beyond. Appropriate socialization certainly provides a buffer against a number of behavior problems into adulthood.


Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel   CPDT-KA, 2016 all rights reserved

Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC