I think that we have realized that Puppy socialization is important, but over-all socialization for your dog is also important, and often times forgotten. Think about it. You stay in your house for one week, one month, three months, six months…. You may go in the backyard to enjoy a nice breeze but besides that, you are home. First of all you’d go crazy from boredom, but you would also, when placed back into society, feel awkward, out of practice, and perhaps react in ways completely contrary to any way you would have before the time of isolation.
Why would we expect anything less from our dogs? We, as humans, have such a high expectation for dogs to hang out at home while we are out pursuing our careers, love lives, social outings etc., and then expect them to act normal and do nothing out of the ordinary when the dog goes to the vet six months later.
What do I mean by socialization?
Socialization is an often forgotten, but important aspect in your dog’s life. Does this mean you need to take him to the dog park every week? Not necessarily. I think it is more important that your dog gets out of the house and is exposed to life (the car ride, walking down town seeing other dogs, seeing other people, etc.).
When I talk about socialization I mean that it is important that your dog is exposed to daily life: a car ride, going through a drive-through (or bank), walking at a park where he sees kids (of all ages), babies, strollers, adults of all ages, people wearing gear (sports, hats, etc.). When I say socialize, I am not talking about playing free off leash. I am also not talking about allowing your dog to go up and sniff other dogs when he is on leash. I am talking about the over-all experience of life. I am talking about your dog hearing a loud truck, a garage door open/shut, a garbage pail lid loudly closing, or a child going by on his bike. All of these are important part of the socialization experience.
What do I do if my dog acts scared?
Do not pick him up to rescue him or make a big deal about the loud noise. If on a walk with your dog and you hear a loud sound, you can act like nothing happened and continue walking. Sometimes I may say something to my dogs like, “Wow that was loud,” and we continue on our walk. With that being said, it is important that you do not force your dog. If he is uncomfortable; allow him to feel that without forcing anymore stress. Forcing will only cause more harm than good.
If you notice an extreme fear in your dog, then it is time to call an expert. Remember that there are a lot of different skill levels between trainers and also a different between trainers and animal behaviorist. I talked about this in the previous blog. There is a list of questions to ask your potential trainer in that particular blog.
FREE PLAY: Specifically for play dates or free time with other dogs, before proceeding, I would ask yourself, “Does my dog enjoy this?” There are some dogs that just really don’t enjoy the dog park and that’s fine. There is no rule in the dog book that they have to! If your dog does enjoy free play, I would highly recommend finding a compatible dog in breed, size, and age that they play well together and schedule play dates. I think that a well-organized, thought, and planned out socialization play time is better than a dog park. I say this because I see many dogs at the park that could possibly could give your dog a negative experience. The purpose of this time is to promote a positive, fun, interactive time.
What if I haven’t socialized my dog in a while?
It’s important to go slow and be aware of what your dog is telling you.
Don’t push him too far too fast.
Start with shorter amounts of time out of the house.
You can increase the frequency of the shorter amounts of time as the weeks pass.
Don’t “rescue” him, either by scooping him up and talking baby talk to reassure him. (Obviously if your dog is actually in danger then that is a different situation.) It’s important that he faces things on his time. For example, if your petite breed is under a chair, then you can praise him for moving a foot out, etc.
Michelle Huntting, CPDT-KA, ABCDT