The Importance of Being Social
When I talk about socializing it is more than just taking your dog out for a walk. It is having a very confident, well-rounded dog that can handle many situations.
I’ve worked with many dogs over the years and one thing that stands out is how unprepared the dogs are with new experiences. Many are very fearful of new experiences, new people, new sounds and new places which cause them undue stress, and this is usually the cause of many behavioral issues. Dogs are very social by nature and love to meet new people and play with other dogs. We, humans, tend to want to protect them from the world. Even though most owners have good intentions with this “protection”, it can easily back fire.
It is this time that shapes your pup’s personality and how he will react to his environment for the rest of his life, so it is crucial to start early and often with socialization. Some want to make sure pups do not struggle but that tends to take a lot of learning situations away from the pup. For example, pups learning to go downstairs. I hear from a lot of clients that they feel they must carry the pup to make sure they do not hurt themselves. By doing this, the owner takes away the pup’s lesson on how to get up and down stairs and more importantly take away the confidence. A better approach is to teach the dog to go up and down stairs on their own right from when they are in your home. This way they learn they can control the environment, and that they are capable.
People also do this when walking the pups. When we see a dog approaching we worry that it might hurt our pup. We may try to pick up our pup or run the other. Both scenarios give the pup the wrong message. It is our instinct to protect our babies, and let’s be honest, pups are our babies. But by taking away learning situations that you can control is harmful to your pup. A better way is to have your pup sit and wait for the big dog to approach and give your pup treats as the dog passes. I would not encourage the pup to jump or bark at the dog as this behaviour will continue.
Pups need to be exposed to a least 30 different situations a day! This means taking them out to different places and meeting different people. This includes men and small children as many adult dogs become very apprehensive around them later in life.
Here are some ways to help socialize your puppy:
- People, especially men and young children. Always supervise the situations to make sure no one can get hurt. It is extremely important to have all encounters friendly and positive.
- Pups and other dogs: Get your puppy used to all sorts of different dogs. Don’t just meet up with the same dogs all the time as it’s important to learn how to behave with all types of dogs, even the dogs that may not like your pup! Make sure the dogs you do expose your pup to have had all their shots. Try setting up a puppy playgroup or pup/dog playgroup. Check your local dog boarding services to see if they offer this.
- Cars, buses and trucks: Dogs are very aware of sounds and cars/buses/truck scare them. Exposing them early to these sounds help them adjust.
- Bikes and skateboarders: Dogs love to chase and when they see a bike or skater ride by, their instinct will make them run and bark after them. Try to find a neighbourhood boy/girl who would be willing to ride by your pup. Use lots of treats when the pup is calm to reinforce the good behaviour.
- Coffee Shops: Take your pup to an outside place where he can meet different people. Carry lots of treats to enforce their calm behaviour. If they are barking or seemed fearful build up to sitting down for a coffee.
- Car rides: Some dogs love the car, and some do not. It is important to get them comfortable with car rides right from the start.
- Doorbell: Get them used to the doorbell. Having a dog bark uncontrollably at the door is very annoying. Find a good dog trainer to help you with door manners. It is essential for your pup not to jump, bark or run out the door.
- Places: vet office, skating rink, woods, boats, and buses. Parks and playgrounds are also good places to socialize your pup. They will hear the kids playing.
- Sounds: Thunder, fireworks, barking dogs, crying babies and starting car engines. It can be hard to find all these sounds. You can download CDs or download to your computer that has the sound and you can play it to your dog to get used to it.
- Parties: Introduce your puppy to parties. Have a “meet” the puppy party. Have all close friends come over and have lots of treats. Let your friend know you only want to reward the good behaviour, so no reward for barking or jumping or biting. Reward calm behaviour.
Never force a dog to do anything that frightens them. Forcing your dog into situations he is not comfortable with will cause undue stress (the exact opposite of what we are trying to carry out).
Slowly introduce your dog to different things, and if at any time he is hesitating, back away from the threatening situation. Try to expose him to this situation again, monitoring his behaviour to make sure you are not causing undue stress.
Most situations take about 3-4 times for them to get used to it. If you lay a solid foundation of socialization that rewards a puppy in new situations, you’ll create a confident learner who thoroughly enjoys all circumstances he encounters.
Remember your goal…to have a confident, well-rounded dog that can handle many situations.