What is dog socialization?
When people talk about dog socialization, they usually mean dog-to-dog socialization. In other words, introducing a dog to many other balanced dogs so that he can learn proper social skills and be confident when meeting new canine friends.
However, dog socialization is much more than that.
Dog socialization is teaching our dogs to be comfortable and confident with his environment, the objects in his environment, people in his environment, and also other dogs in his environment.
In fact, a well socialized dog will not only be comfortable in his regular routine, but will also be confident enough to handle new situations and changes in his routine.
The goal of dog socialization is to build our dog’s confidence by exposing him to a variety of experiences in a positive context.
If we simply throw as many new things as possible at our dog, without care for the quality of the experience, he may be forced to constantly cope with fear, uncertainly, and negativity. This will teach him to fear new things, which is the opposite of what dog socialization is about.
Indeed the goal of dog socialization is to acclimatize our dogs to unusual circumstances and give them new tools to handle stress, anxiety, or perceived danger other than through fight or flight.
Why Is Dog Socialization a Good Thing?
Recently, dog socialization has become a popular dog rearing concept. Proud dog parents, dog trainers, dog behaviorists, breeders, vet technicians, and everyone else in between is talking about it. However,
- Is dog socialization really such a good thing?
- Do we really need to socialize our dogs? Why?
There are many advantages to socializing our dog.
- Socialization allows us to include our dogs in more trips and fun activities. This increases time spent with our dogs and creates a deeper bond that is based on shared experiences.
- Socialization allows us to integrate our dogs more fully into our daily lives. In this way we get to enjoy more of our dog’s company and vice versa.
- Socialization creates a more balanced dog that can do well with other caretakers when we are away on emergencies or vacations.
- Socialization allows our dogs to live a more stress free and happy life. A confident dog who is not afraid new things will be able to experience more and enjoy his regular routine without the constant stress of threats and fears.
Dog Socialization – How?
1. Slow and steady wins the race.
Some people think that dog socialization, like speed dating, is all about cramming as many new experiences as possible in the shortest amount of time.
However, if we go too fast we may undermine our dog’s self-confidence rather than build it. Conversely, being overly protective may result in our dog being under-socialized.
Therefore, we must strike a good balance between the two and go at a pace that our dog is comfortable with. Not too fast that he will be overwhelmed but not so slow that he becomes afraid of new experiences.
2. Stay Positive.
When socializing my dogs, I try to set them up for success. I only introduce them to situations where I am confident they can handle, and I try to make social training exercises as controlled as possible.
For example, during dog-play, I keep groups small and make sure there are many play breaks. This ensures that the dogs do not get over-excited and lose control of themselves. I also pick friendly dogs with similar play styles.
All this helps my dog associate other dogs with positive experiences and teaches him to stay in control even when he is excited.
However, we may not always be able to control our dog’s environment. Mistakes will happen. When things start to turn negative, it is important to have a plan-B. When plan-B fails, I try to have a plan-C, D, and E in my back-pocket.
If I cannot achieve a fully positive experience, I try to create a neutral experience. If the situation has turned negative, I cut our losses as soon as possible, and go home to rest and recuperate.
Enclosed dog parks have become popular recently because they are seen as the solution for preventing dog-to-dog aggression. However, if not properly managed, a young dog may end up learning bad habits from the other dogs at the park instead. He may even get involved in skirmishes or fights.
Enclosed dog parks have many dogs together in a relatively small amount of space. There is little to no control in terms of a dog’s age, energy level, and temperament. As a result, dog parks can be chaotic and unpredictable.
3. Keep the lines of communication open.
Dog Body Language
Each and every dog is an individual with his own quirks and preferences. Some dogs are social butterflies, some dogs are naturally calm, and some dogs are more anxious and unsure of themselves. Some dogs may cope well with meeting people, but become fearful when faced with loud or strange noises.
To successfully socialize our dogs, we must listen to them and tailor our training to suit their individual strengths and weaknesses.
People communicate with each other mostly through words and symbols (text). Dogs communicate by using their entire bodies. Dogs tell us what they are feeling by the way they hold and move their tails, by the position of their ears, by the shape of their bodies, by the tension on their faces, and sometimes by their growls, howls, and barks.
We also convey a lot of information through our own body language. By observing us and smelling us, our dogs can tell a lot about our current mental and physical state. However, because we are so dependent on words and symbols, we usually do not develop our skills at reading body language.
A big part of socializing our dogs involves learning their language. How else will we know when to push, when to stop, and when to give comfort?
My dog bit a child’s face out of nowhere.
To us, it may seem like the bite comes out of nowhere, but that is almost never the case. Dogs tell us, and tell us, and tell us; but we do not hear. Ultimately, they feel they must take matters into their own paws.
My dogs listen to me very closely. When I am sad, they give me licks and their silent but solid support. I am not as good at reading their feelings, but I try my best to observe my dogs and listen to what they are saying.
Dogs have learned to read and understand us, the least we can do is try to understand them in return.
Dog Socialization Process
Socializing a dog, especially a fearful dog can sometimes be a slow, frustrating, and challenging process. Often, two steps forward is followed by one or even two steps back.
We will make mistakes, our dog will make mistakes, and it may seem like things will never get better.
My Shiba Inu Sephy was a very difficult dog to socialize and handle. He is still very particular about meeting and greeting other dogs, and he sometimes still loses control when under stress. However, things are definitely much better today than they were when we first got him. He is a lot calmer, he tries to keep control, and he stops himself from biting on people even though it is his instinct to do so.
Dog socialization is not a competition for the best dog parent award. It is however, a good way to improve the quality of life for our dogs, for ourselves, and to strengthen our bond with our most loyal and furry companion.