How Do I Socialize My Dog?

Welcome to today’s short form podcast where we answer your dog training questions. I’m your host Nicole Forto and today’s question is, what does socialization for my dog really mean? I have been wishing and hoping to get this question as it’s very important to really know what socializing your dog means outside of the simple non trainer answer of “take the dog to the dog park.” This episode might be a long one so settle in and listen up. You all know that when we get questions like this where you could create an entire podcast just talk about the subject we try to give a lot of information while keeping it as broad as we can.  

In today’s episode I will be discussing what socialization is and some ways in your puppies life to get them out and socializing in a healthy way.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association socialization in dogs is defined as, the process of preparing your dog with other animals, people, places, and activities. The goal with socializing your new puppy or dog is to get them confident and comfortable around a multitude of situations. When puppies are under eight weeks old and still amongst their littermates socialization looks like handling.

Handling is holding them, flipping them upside down, touching their feet, toes, ears, and tails, rubbing along their gums, and playing with their lips. You also can add in visitors to come and see the pups, children and, other dogs all in a safe and controlled manner. According to Pat Hastings, co-editor of Another Piece of the Puzzle: Puppy Development, “Puppies develop at a fast pace, so there is a small window of opportunity between five and sixteen weeks old to effect positive development,” this means the most important time to get your dog out and experiencing things is in the very early stages of life.

In addition Hastings says, “The bounce back is critical, which is why you never feed into your dog’s insecurities.” We as trainers always tell you not to tell your dogs “it’s okay.” That’s because your puppy or grown dog has to see that they can recover on their own.

Yes it is okay for them to feel fear over something but allowing them the time and space to work it out themselves allows growth in their confidence. It’s likely that when you ignore the triggering situation it becomes less important to your puppy therefore their fear becomes less and less. Research behaviorists, John Paul Scott and John Fuller equate a dogs personality to thirty-five percent genetics and sixty-five percent socialization.

This is not to be confused as socialization will make or break your dog’s personality however it plays a huge role in their confidence and often is the biggest tool for trainers in behavior modification cases such as extreme aggression or fearful dogs. Consistent exposure and positive interactions create a better, more well-rounded dog. 

Another animal behaviorist did a research study analyzing the difference between a group of puppies that were heavily socialized by exposure to complex stimuli and a group that were kept more isolated and had less environmental enrichment. In that study he found that the puppies with heavy socialization investigated their environments more, showed proper play behaviors, and an overall more confident and independent personalities.

While the puppies with no socialization demonstrated fear in new and stimulating environments and had more self-destructive tendencies like biting and chewing on themselves. To conclude from the research puppies with high socialization lead better, more rounded lives. 

Therefore our science shows that puppies who do lots of socialization in many different forms grow up into dogs with minimal reactivity issues like aggression and fear. Now let’s talk about some ways to appropriately socialize your puppy. Socializing comes in many forms, environmental should be your first step. Take your puppy out to parks, trails, and public places that permit dogs. This isn’t necessarily for them to run around and greet everyone and everything that comes in sight but instead to sit calmly with you and be permitted to observe all the things around them, have their own natural reaction and time to recover from the fear or excitement.

This follows suit into situations where you are allowing people to visit with your puppy. It is important to advocate for your dog when people are going to visit them. This means if your puppy has fear do not force them to visit and do not allow someone else to just rush in and pick them up or pet them. Instead talk with that person and allow your puppy time to become curious of the visitor and approach on their own free will, when they do so praise them heavily.

When they walk away and decide they are done, do not allow your visitor to continue to force pets and visiting on your puppy. 

With other dogs the same basic rules apply but it’s even more important to very carefully monitor these interactions and choose the other dogs your pup is meeting accordingly. This is not the time to go take them to a dog park and allow a free for all of the other dogs to bombard your pup. Instead pick a few dogs that you know are friendly and start one at a time. You need a dog that is going to respect your puppies given body language whether that crouching in submission or yelping out of fear. You should not allow your puppy to hide behind you or under things during new interactions with other dogs but instead talk with them and encourage them to go play, visit, and make friends. This way you are setting the tone and energy for your puppy to know that it can do this, and that other dogs are positive. 

There you have it guys, in a nutshell socialization is the exposure to any and all stimuli and situations that you can anticipate going through with your puppy all its life. There’s many other details we could cover and maybe we will. As exposure to loud noises, large crowds, trails, and other animals is all a part of healthy socialization. If you’ve got a more specific question around socialization you’d like us to cover, reach out on any of our socials.

For Dog Works Radio, I’m Nicole and I’ll catch you guys in the next episode. 


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