You’ve just adopted a new canine companion, and now you are curious about all this dog training stuff. Your friends have told you how important socialization is, but what does that actually mean?
What exactly is socializing a dog all about, anyways?
Canine Socialization: Preparing a dog to accept and enjoy social interactions with other pups, people, strangers, crowds, other animals, children, etc.
Basically, you are teaching your furry pal to act appropriately in his or or her environment.
You want your pup to become comfortable with:
If you want to begin by just focusing on one type of training with your puppy, then make sure to do socialization first! This is absolutely vital for the psychological development of any K9 breed.
In addition, well socialized dogs are:
Roxy is a 9-year-old Chow Chow, living in solitude with her middle-aged handler. She prefers to be left alone, and will scurry away in some distant corner of the house on the rare occasions that guests do come knocking.
This is a great arrangement for her because Roxy’s owner, Tom, rarely has any friends or family stop over.
Tom gets a call from his daughter one day. She wants to visit with her own two daughters. Tom normally doesn’t like company, but he rarely ever gets to see his granddaughters! The girls have seen pictures of Roxy, and they’re both thrilled to meet such a fluffy looking dog!
Fast forward to that fateful day. Roxy is lounging in her corner underneath the dinner table when two screaming humans burst through the front door, arms flailing, and immediately race towards her. These two couldn’t be happier at the sight of this fluffy, bear-like doggy!
Roxy, on the other hand, is absolutely terrified. She’s never seen tiny humans before in her life, and no one has ever run towards her or screamed in her direction like this. She has maybe a couple seconds to react. Roxy is literally backed into a corner, “her hiding spot” underneath the dinner table.
The Unfortunate Result
Since Roxy feels backed into a corner, she gets scared and bites one of the children in “Fight or Flight” defense. Afterwards, Roxy has suffered a traumatic experience and the injured child will have emotional (and perhaps physical) scars for years to come. She might even be terrified of dogs for the rest of her life.
Though this is a fictional story, these things do happen all the time in real life! People are hospitalized due to interactions like this, and many dogs have lost their lives. And it isn’t because the dog is “bad” or did anything wrong. She just acted naturally, in the only way she knew how to deal with the scary situation.
Is this the child’s fault? Most parents would say no. They are children and thus have the maturity level of a child. Assuming a cute, adorable animal is friendly would be very understandable.
Or would it be the adult’s responsibility to ensure this never happens? If Tom would have socialized her with children at a young age, and then again every so often over the years, this never would have happened!
There are many reasons to socialize a dog, but avoiding negative outcomes like the story above definitely ranks among the top of them.
Poorly socialized pups tend to be anxious, always on their guard and nervous around unfamiliar experiences. They don’t always play well because other animals or people make them feel anxious. This means they may not get the same level of exercise other pets get.
Heavy anxiety can also lead to even worse problems or chronic conditions. So the best thing you can do is to simply start socializing at a young age!
Imagine the era of the “guard dog.” Many years ago, both Europeans and Americans kept to themselves if they could, and thus didn’t bother socializing animals. Guard dogs were very common in wealthy landowner estates.
Even today, there are still a few people who don’t believe in socializing a dog with strangers. If you have a well-trained personal protection animal, this can be a personal choice. If not, imagine the possible outcomes if a stranger is attacked and seriously injured.
Do you know the laws in your district regarding animal altercations? In some areas, animals can be found at fault, along with the handler, even if a human victim was trespassing.
It’s true - dog parks do offer fantastic opportunities to socialize your pup with other dogs! This interaction and play is important for our pet’s social development, just like playtime interaction is important for a human child.
At the same time though, you want to be cautious around unknown dogs you’ve never seen before. Do you know how well trained they might be? Have they been properly socialized? Is their handler as observant as you are?
Though there are many safety rules at dog parks, they aren’t always followed. It’s best to keep an eye on your own pup at all times.
Do you like the idea of socializing a dog, but just aren’t sure where to begin? Check out some of the other fantastic articles on our website below. We go in-depth with several aspects of dog socialization and would be glad to offer you a helping hand.
After all, we believe that the ultimate reward is to have a HAPPY dog and a HAPPY owner!
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