November 5th, 2018
Doggy Socialization 101: Socializing & Building a Relationship with your dog
Remember Beau, the 1-and-a-half-year-old chocolate labrador retriever pup who is extremely shy and skittish. Hank, a 5-month-old husky mix, is the same way. He too is fearful of sounds and timid when people try to pet or touch him. At the dog park, Hank is nervous, yet cautious. When another dog comes close he cowers and whimpers by his owner. How can we help Hank become more social and comfortable around other dogs, people, and sounds? We often hear the term “socialization” but what does that really mean?
Socialization: “the act of teaching a dog not to react by desensitizing him to those things that he will encounter in daily life.” (Source: Professional Dog Training)
Every day your dog will interact with various people, animals, noises, sounds and smells. It is your goal as his owner to help him understand that these things are normal and okay. A way to do this is to properly socialize your dog to become comfortable with day-to-day things. What does that mean?
Properly socializing your dog means:
- Positively exposing your puppy to situations and environments that he will encounter daily
- Exposing him to experiences positively and at your dog’s pace to avoid a negative reaction from him
- Allowing him to experience the environment around him in small periods to help create positive associations. To not overwhelm him with over-exposure.
- Avoiding under-socialization, which will prevent him from over-reacting to many common things (other dogs, noises, bicycles, people who are different than their owner, etc.)
What do I want to avoid?
Improperly socializing your dog means:
- He has not been exposed to day-to-day experiences which leaves the dog shy or over-reactive.
- Becoming easily fearful or aggressive when people approach him or make eye contact with him.
- The dog may become startled easily by things that we consider routine – children playing, cars passing, automatic door ways, elevators, etc.
- Many people assume that because a dog reacts this way, he was abused. Unfortunately, that is not usually the case.
How do I know if I am socializing my dog correctly?
It is optimal to socialize your dog prior to them turning 5 months old, however that is not always possible. With that being said, let’s introduce socialization through the following example:
I know that Hank is timid and anxious, but I want him to become comfortable around other dogs. First, I am going to build a relationship with Hank so that he trusts me. This means that I am going observe Hank to see what he likes, what he doesn’t like, watch his body language and his reactions. I will “capture” his behaviors through observation and without training. Additionally, I will use a tone of voice that is pleasant, positive and happy. When teaching him anything, I want the experience to be positive, so I will incorporate games and activities that he likes and give him a lot of attention and affection.
Once Hank trusts me, he will be more apt to follow my lead. I decide to bring Hank to a puppy play day at a local doggy daycare.
- When I arrive, I will only expose Hank to friendly dogs at a distance so that I know that he is comfortable.
- When he is calm, I will reward him through both praise and treats. Showing him that everything is okay and that he is doing a good job.
- If Hank becomes stressed or agitated, I will move him further from the dogs until he is comfortable again and reward him for his calmness.
- Once he is calm we will move a little bit towards the dogs – rewarding his positive behavior.
- I will continue this over the course of a few days or weeks, until he shows he is comfortable in the situation.
- Slowly Hank will become more comfortable around other dogs that he may even initiate playing and interacting with them.
There are many ways that you can socialize your dog, the above is only one example. Some people will think that just putting their dog out in public will automatically socialize them. This is true for some dogs – and those owners are lucky! Most dogs, because of their breed, upbringing or simply genetics, will need more work on socialization. It is important to understand your dog and what he needs.
Properly socializing (or desensitizing your dog) is the single most essential thing you as an owner can do to help prevent against unwanted behaviors, such as aggression. Proper socialization could be the difference between life or death of a dog.