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.
Aanchal Srivastava says
Hi! i love reading your articles. We got our boy ghost at about 13 weeks and we have been doing our best to socialize him every day, from multiple walks to going to petsmart have having guests over. We have had him only for a week, but i’m worried if i’ve already lost the key time to socialize him. Any thoughts?
Hello, interesting read! I recently rescued a shiba, he came from a corn farm/puppy mill (tied to a pole for most of his life). now he lives in a somewhat city/suburb environment. He was never really socialized for the first 1 year and 9 months of his life. I believe they only used him for breeding purposes and less as a pet/dog. He is very quiet not a barker at all but he is also extremely shy around other dogs and flinches when anyone comes near him, never an aggressive reaction though. If a friendly dog comes up to him he doesn’t interact simply looks away but also never has had aggression toward dogs. I would like to improve his quality of life so he can be less fearful now that he is in a better environment. My guess is that it will take some time, but is there anything i can do to help him adjust to his new life?
Hello- My beloved Leroy is 7 mo. and is fear driven. My biggest issue is with people. When people come into my home or when we r on a walk he does a low growl that turns into barking. When I take him to the dog park he seems more at easy with people. No growling or barking infact he will even come up to them slowly but then allowing them to pet him. I wonder if it is because other dogs r around. In one instance my husbands friend was over and Leroy played ball, tug a war, even licked his feet while he petted him. Then when Leroy entered the house after my friend, Leroy began growling and barking like he never saw him before when they had just been outside and were playing. So now I am confused and worried about what he will do next time. What should I do? Thanks Ann
Dog behavior is very context dependent, and aggressive behavior can be triggered by a variety of things, including fear, protection, and more. This ASPCA article has more on the different types of dog aggression.
This is why it is usually best to get help from a good professional trainer. When I was having difficulties with Sephy, we visited with several trainers who could observe him within the context of his regular environment, and help me understand where his behavior was coming from.
With aggression, I make sure to always keep everyone safe by keeping my dog on-leash, and using other management equipment as necessary, e.g. doors, muzzle, etc. If Sephy hurts someone, even if it is an accident, it will be very bad for him and also very bad for me.
With Sephy, it was also helpful to do people desensitization exercises. However, for desensitization to work, I needed to carry it out in a very structured way, and in a very controlled environment. It was also necessary to carefully manage his environment, so that there were no additional reactive experiences with people. Desensitization is something that a trainer can help us with.
Hello! I just got a husky mix and every time we go for a walk he just starts barking and pulling when he sees other dogs or people can you help me out 🙁
I did dog-to-dog desensitization exercises with my Shiba Inu to help him be more comfortable in the presence of other dogs-
Candice Dungey says
My partner and I have a Sharp-Pei/mastiff Mix. He is a gentleman and such a sweetheart in the house and pretty obedient. He’s very unique and one of a kind. He’s a head turner and gets a lot of attention from passers by. We adopted him for a rescue center and told he has no manners and can be a handful. He practically screams, pulls and on occasions my partner and I have nearly been hurt as he pulls to the extreme. When I say he’s very strong, never experienced anything like it with our other bigger dogs before. I now have tennis elbow and my partner who is a strong and tall, his shoulders have been almost yanked out. We have tried training Boo in quite areas where there are no dogs or people about and we take treats out, but all that goes out the window and nothing works. If Boo wants/or doesn’t want to budge, then that’s his mind is made up. We are worried an accident may happen to one of us as he has nearly had us both across a main road because of other dogs who 90% of the time don’t look or stare at him, they walk on and ignore him. The only time we can make him move is obviously walk the other way which is a lot of effort and that means picking him up by the harness and walking him on his back legs for a few seconds. We don’t react by shouting, we stay calm and patient. He is getting to a point he just doesn’t want to play at times, he gets to excited that he is now starting to bark and growl when he is with my partner, where he screams and pulls when he is with me. We have a puppy, husky/malamute hybrid and he is fantastic with her. At first he wanted to pounce and play rough with her, but after 24 hours of small introductions, his adrenaline went down, that’s another thing, is adrenaline is so high that he shakes, trembles (not with fear) and stares dogs out, at first it was pure excitement but now he’s trying to be brave and sometimes barks at them. He doesn’t do it to dogs bigger than himself but either his size or little smaller. Mind you there’s been occasions me and boo have seen dogs bigger than him when I have walked him , he’s just wanted to play and get to know them. When a dog of the lead may come running over to him, he’s fine and very playful but our concern is that Boo Boo is getting a little to confident and when telling him to stop, he has is started to growl back as if we are in his way and who are we to stop him. But then we start walking back near to home, his ears go back, gets very very submissive and knows he’s done wrong. It’s like he doesn’t give a flying hoot outside but he’s obedient and different inside, he’s calm, loveable and so patient. The lady who let us adopt him had said, when he’s use to the same dog, he doesn’t bother, but it’s not as if you see the same dogs each time you go for a walk so how is he ever going to settle down outside when there are so many different dogs out there? Our main worry really is we, boo boo or another dog will get really hurt, maybe including ourselves if he doesn’t calm down. Most of the advice you have mentioned to your other dog handlers, we have tried. the only thing we haven’t tried is training classes as we are afraid we will be asked to leave instantly as boo is just going to get to excited when we turn up. So shall we give that ago first but if there’s any advice you can give us, be more than welcome to listen/read lol.
Candice and boo boo
Based on what you said, there are three key issues –
1. Dog to dog reactivity.
2. Very strong puller.
3. Sitting and refusing to move.
Re Dog-to-dog reactivity:
My Shiba Inu (Sephy) was also very reactive to other dogs when he was young. We did a lot of dog-to-dog desensitization exercises to help him be more relaxed in the presence of other dogs. The key with desensitization exercises is that we want to start with a very weakened version of the ‘other dog’ stimulus so that our dog is able to stay in control, learn alternative behaviors from us, and learn to reassociate other dogs with positive and calm experiences.
Here is more on how I did dog-to-dog desensitization with Sephy.
Classes can be useful for socializing a new puppy, but as you have observed, having so many dogs together in a limited class space will likely be way too much for a reactive dog. With Sephy, what helped is to carefully manage his other dog encounters so that he can be successful –
– I use distance to weaken the other dog stimulus.
– I do not take him to situations that are too high stimulus where he will lose control.
– I slowly and carefully raise his instinct threshold in a controlled way through desensitization exercises.
Dog training is very context dependent. What may help with one puppy, may make things worse in a different situation or with a different puppy that has a different temperament and history. This is why getting private lessons from a good professional trainer can also be helpful. We went to several different professional trainers to help us with Sephy.
We also did a lot of desensitization exercises with a trainer at our local SPCA, which was great because they had a lot of different dogs that Sephy could do structured training with. We only did training with single dogs, that were chosen based on their personality. Training was always done under the direction of a trainer.
Re Very strong puller:
My Huskies are also strong pullers. They are only medium sized dogs, but even so, they are pretty strong pullers.
Some things that helped when leash training my Huskies-
1. I start with shorter but more frequent walks. In this way, I can stay calm and patient throughout, and my dog still gets a lot of practice.
2. I start in a quiet and very low stimulus area. In this way, there are fewer distractions, and I can focus on the leash training exercise. In the meantime, I use desensitization exercises to raise my dog’s instinct threshold so that he can better tolerate other dogs.
I also go to areas with very few dogs so if we meet one, I can use distance to weaken the other dog stimulus. In this way, my dog is able to handle the situation without getting reactive. I try to maximize successful encounters (where my dog is able to stay in control) and minimize reactive encounters. As you have observed, frequent reactive encounters can also lead to leash or barrier frustration.
Another useful article on leash reactivity from the ASPCA.
Some people may use a head-halti to control a large dog that is also a very strong puller. However, as with any other training equipment, the head-halti has its own advantages and disadvantages.
The halti is just for pulling, and *not* for getting a dog moving again. In fact, initially many dogs do not like wearing a halti and may protest by sitting down and refusing to move.
Re Sitting and refusing to move:
In this case, this rule helps with my dogs –
I keep moving, pick up the pace, and make the walk more interesting if I do not want them to stop. We would sometimes do commands, play Find-It games, etc.
When we make a pit-stop and my dog sits or lies down, I usually let him rest for a pretty long while. He usually likes to smell the wind and watch people.
When I need to go, I give him the “let’s go” command. If he goes, then I reward him very well with more leash freedom, special treats, games, and I let him explore, or smell bushes. If he does not go, then I lift him by supporting his chest, and make sure we move along. He does not get anything for that, and I also start with a shorter leash, so that he gets less freedom to explore and smell. I make sure to be very consistent with the “let’s go” command so that my dog learns that –
If he goes on his own = More freedom, more stops, more treats, games, and rewards.
If he does not go = We go anyway but there are no rewards and less freedom to explore.
Dog training is very context dependent
In my articles and comments, I *only* talk about my experiences with my own dogs. My dogs are smaller than Boo Boo, and also have different environments, routine, temperaments. I always make sure to listen to my dogs and adapt training techniques to suit their particular needs and personality.
Getting help from a good professional trainer can also be very helpful because the trainer can visit with our dog, observe his body language, routine, temperament, environment, and more, and come up with a plan that is suited to him.
I am glad that I found this website, looks like a lot of great information here. My girlfriend and I are future Shiba parents. We have found a reputable breeder and should be able to bring back a nine week old puppy (hoping this upcoming litter has a male) around September 2013. We are thinking ahead and trying to decide on what is the best option now for who will be watching the puppy. I work 8am – 5pm and live about an hour and a half from my girlfriend. I was thinking that for the first three to four months my girlfiend could watch our Shiba pup Kuma (picked out a name already!) since she has more time to train and pay attention to the puppy during the day. After Kuma has settled in and can hold his bladder longer he can move to my place. The reason why we want him to move to my house is because I have a six year old rescue dog (half german shepherd/half hound mix) and we don’t want to wait much longer to socialize Kuma. Do you think this will traumatize Kuma? Will he think my girlfriend is abandoning him? We generally see each other on most weekends.
The other option is to just bring Kuma back to my place from the start. I would get an exercise pen and a crate for Kuma. I could try to come home during lunch, however some days it’s not going to be possible.
I would prefer the first option, but just don’t want Kuma to be affected by the move and being away from my girlfriend.
What are your thoughts?
Congratulations on your upcoming Shiba puppy!
My opinion is that supervision and time with people are very important, especially in the beginning, therefore your first option sounds good to me.
In terms of socialization with other dogs, I would consider looking for a good puppy class. I took Sephy to a couple of SIRIUS puppy classes when he was young, and it was helpful in getting him used to people and other dogs. I didn’t learn too much from these group classes, but they are useful for socialization purposes. Make sure that the class instructor/trainer checks for puppy vaccination records.
With Shania, we also took her to puppy play sessions in a nearby dog daycare center. They checked for vaccination records, and the play sessions are grouped by age and supervised by at least one of their trainers. The sessions were also free because they were hoping to get return customers for their daycare services. Anyway, it is probably worth checking out the nearby daycare centers.
Finally, it is usually better to introduce a new dog in neutral territory, so that the existing dog does not feel the need to guard his belongings or his house. I think this is another advantage of option 1. Here are some things that I keep in mind during a first meeting-
Here is a bit more on how I help my dogs get along at home-
Note though that a lot of it will depend on the temperament of our existing dog, and his comfort level with new dogs.
I try to socialize my six month old puppy to new people, but whenever he meets someone he automatically begins his loud barking, but once they stick out their hand he smells them and starts licking them. Many people take his barking to be aggressive and I guess he smells their fear. Is it aggressive barking? How can I train him to stop?
Hmmm, based on what you describe, it sounds like fear aggression. Dogs may get stressed or fearful of new people because we are big, we stare, we sometimes make a lot of noise, and we loom over them.
What helped with my dog is to do people desensitization exercises. I do desensitization exercises in a controlled environment, with a friend who is willing to help. Then, I make sure to always start with a very weakened version of the stimulus (e.g. my friend is totally ignoring my dog – no talking, no touching, and no eye-contact). Then I use distance to further weaken the strength of the stimulus.
In this way, my dog is still able to listen to me and I can teach him to use alternate behaviors to deal with his stress. In addition, he also learns to associate people with positive outcomes and rewards, rather than with fear and stress.
The key with socialization is to introduce our dog to new things in a positive context. For this to occur, we want to make sure not to overload our dog, so that he does not lose control or start to practice undesirable behaviors.
Here is a short article from UC Davis on different types of aggression.
I am aware that i need to socialize my dog. As a puppy she has always been very afraid of people and other dogs and 7 months later I learned I was approaching the situation completely wrong. Today I understand my dog’s body language and I’ve learned a lot from her. Sometimes she will bark at people or go running towards a dog walking in the street but other times I get her attention in the perfect timing and she is fine (acknowledges the person/dog but does not bark/attack). How could i bring her to a park and how will i know that once she looks under control and begins to play with other dogs she won’t loose control while in play. Usually when playing with our other dog she gets too aggressive i stop the play and put her on a time out but then she goes right back to the same behavior. She does not seem to understand that its aggressive and she could hurt him. I say this by the wag of her tail at the time of play she isn’t in a dominant attacking stance. I really want to be able to take her to the park and social areas without worrying how she might react i know its a slow process, but do you have any suggestions for me?