You don’t have to be sniffing butts to be socializing. Socialization, for us as well as for our puppies, involves success in a wide range of environmental challenges. Socialization is about building confidence, a history of good experiences,that helps your dog set his/her expectations in a positive way.
I adopted an eight week old german shepherd puppy 4 weeks ago, and as we are hoping to join a Search and Rescue dog team, great socialization is essential. He needs to be able to respond to people, other animals, environments with calm confidence.
My puppy’s breeder gave M’Ocean a jump start by exposing him to a variety of environments, horses, chickens, cats, adult dogs, kids. And since I brought him home at 5 weeks ago, we’ve gone to puppy classes each week in at several different locations, we’ve been to adult dog seminars, scent work classes, we’ve met people on ferry boat rides, in the ferry terminal, at the YMCA, in a horse barn, friend’s homes, sheep and cow barn. We’ve visited country parks and city parking garages. He’s been in elevators and visited cats, ducks, chickens, goose. Mo has played on beaches, in pack walks, at parties, around bonfires, on docks. I keep a journal recording each new place we go, and we’ve been doing something quite interesting every single day. Sometimes social events are short, but always sweet!
Socialization is about learning to cope with many different environments. It’s about being comfortable while alone as well as in a crowd. Think about how we socialize as humans. We don’t entertain every stranger we meet nor shake hands with every person we see as we cross a sidewalk. We learn to maintain a socially appropriate distance, and not touch or interrupt ! And that’s what we need to teach our puppies as well. Puppy playgroups that include free-for-all puppy romping might be unintentionally teaching your puppy the wrong lesson entirely.
Good socialization does not require physical romping, but it does require you take along your puppy to many different activities. Here are some suggestions.
- Socialize your dog with friendly nicely mannered adult dogs. Adult dogs with good manners won’t jump all over your puppy, but they can be very helpful in helping your own dog develop nice manners. I’ve been bringing my puppy to agility classes, taking a noseworks class and tricks classes. Even though my puppy is too young to go over jumps, he learns a lot by relaxing as he watches other dogs working.
- Keep your dog safe and just say no. We wouldn’t let a stranger knock over your child or even pat your child on the head, right? Just say “no” to fly-bys and treat any interaction with a stranger the same way for your dog as you would for your kids. Example: Recently I was at the ferry terminal, and a young woman had a large young dog who was staring and pulling towards my puppy. My pup started to bark. The woman said, “Is it okay if I let them meet?” I said, “not while my puppy is acting like this!” My puppy settled down and then he visibly sighed with relief as they headed off in another direction. When your dog knows that you are not going to force him to put up with unwanted advances of pushy strangers, your dog is going to relax a lot more. He’ll learn to trust your judgement.
- Greetings should take place when everyone is relaxed. I can’t tell you how many times people with dogs dragging them down the street have said to me, “My dog is much better once they sniff! Can they sniff?” That’s kind of like saying, “My kid stops screaming once I give him the icecream.” Sometimes it reminds me of a drunken uncle charging towards a child, “let me pick you up!” Eek! I only let my dogs physically connect with others when when all the dogs are responding to their handler and behaving politely. I’ve gotten very good at saying no, and my dogs really appreciate that.
- Don’t try to use dog parks or dog daycare to “wear out” your dog. Dogs that are being “worn out” by other dogs may develop an undesirable emotional reaction to other dogs.
Socialization is not about wearing out your dog. It’s about exposing your dog to many safe environments, and many variations in those environments: alone, and in groups, day, night, sunshine, rain, snow, city, country.
Today my puppy experienced his first elevators, and also his first parking garage! Tonight we are going to a nose works class. Socialization is a lifelong process, not just for puppies, but forever! What good places do you go to socialize your dog?