Whether you have an older dog, or adopted a new puppy into your family, knowing what dog socialization is, and how to socialize your new or older pup will ensure that you have a dog who is confident in all areas of his life!
This article will go in-depth on how to properly socialize your puppy and/or older dog to become confident and mentally stable!
What is dog socialization?
Dog socialization is essentially the process of giving your dog the right experiences, and proper exposure, so that your dog is comfortable in a variety of everyday scenarios.
Why Socialize your dog?
Now that we understand “what is dog socialization” Heres why you should socialize your pup!
Dog socialization is one of the most crucial aspects when it comes to having a psychologically stable dog who is not nervous, fearful or insecure in everyday life.
Proper socialization will ensure that your dog is comfortable in everyday scenarios so that you and your pup can enjoy more time together.
Lack of proper socialization will lead to a dog who is fearful, nervous, and anxious about his/her environment, including other dogs and people.
Have you ever wondered why some dogs lunge and bark at other dogs or people?
Dogs can display forms of aggression due to the lack of proper exposure!
What is dog socialization? Puppy socialization is the most important aspect of your dog’s life!
When you adopt a puppy, you essentially have a clean slate. Meaning that your puppy has no clue what this big, loud, world we live in today has in store
With that said, as new puppy owners you have to understand that, YOU are molding your puppy’s perspective of the world that we live in.
Puppies have what we call a “critical developmental period” between the ages of 8 weeks – 4 months.
Within this specific time frame, your puppy is forming a broad view of how he views the world! This spans from places to people and dogs alike!
The experiences that your puppy has within this period will play a major role in the adult dog that he will develop into.
Most of what occurs within the critical developmental period of your puppy’s life will essentially roll over into your pup’s adulthood.
So, How Do You Socialize your Puppy?
We know what is dog socialization but how do you socialize your puppy?
Socialization in puppies essentially comes down to providing your puppy with positive experiences with a variety of different environments, sounds, smells, people and dogs!
Direct Socialization vs Indirect Socialization
When it comes to puppy socialization you don’t just want to go out and let your puppy get pet and greet every dog and person you see.
When trying to understand what is dog socialization you have to consider that canine socialization is very different from the way we humans socialize.
Human socialization is very direct, face to face, touching, talking, and direct contact with another person.
Direct socialization isn’t the best way to socialize your puppy, though, since not all puppies are the same
Having a stranger pet your puppy may not only teach your puppy bad habits but can also increase anxiety with your puppy.
Let’s think about it- have you ever seen a dog that when is on a walk whines, barks, or excessively pulls to greet another person or dog?
That reaction is likely because his owners “socialized” their dog by allowing their pup to greet every person and dog he sees.
There’s nothing wrong with letting people and dogs come in direct contact with your puppy, but there’s always a time and place!
Direct socialization is one form of socialization which everyone is accustomed to, but it isn’t the best option as it has a higher chance of developing behavioral issues down the line from anxiety to aggression.
In canine socialization, your dog doesn’t have to come into direct contact with what you’re trying to socialize your puppy to.
when asking “what is dog socialization?” you need to understand that your puppy just needs to have positive experiences in proximity to what you’re trying to socialize your puppy to!
With that said, indirect socialization is much more functional in the fact that you can simply take your puppy out and around a variety of different environments, sounds, smells, people and dogs and reward your puppy with his favorite treats!
Remember when I said that when you get your new dog, you start with a clean slate?
Up to now, your puppy has no experience with certain things in the environment like that big busy street full of loud cars or that big dog walking in your direction.
At this point, your puppy most likely views all these different stimuli as neutral. Your job, as your puppies owners, is to ensure that it stays neutral or becomes positive.
The easiest way to accomplish this is with positive reinforcement at the right time!
For instance, the way your puppy views everything would be something like this:
Puppy sees a tall man with a big hat, your puppy views this as neutral. You give a puppy a treat, thus making a tall man with a big hat a positive thing.
Another example could be that your puppy sees a dog walking, which your puppy views as neutral. You give your puppy a treat, so now puppy views this as a positive occurrence.
The best part of indirect socialization is the fact that although you are providing your puppy with positive experiences and exposing him, you are also teaching your puppy to pay attention to you as well!
Why wouldn’t he pay attention to you?
If you’ve been doing everything right, and your puppy has been getting rewarded from you, then essentially you are also teaching your puppy that paying attention to you is fun as well!
Now imagine the same scenario with direct socialization. From another perspective, the tall man with a big hat reaching for your puppy can also be a little scary.
That experience would make your puppy more nervous next time he sees a tall man with a big hat.
Can I Socialize my older dog?
Yes! when answering “what is dog socialization” understand that socialization is an ongoing process for your dog, meaning that if you socialized your dog as a puppy, but never took him out for 3 months after that, your dog will act as if everything is a novelty.
Now, socialization for older dogs can vary because you have to take into consideration your older dogs’ past experiences.
For instance, if your older dog as a puppy had gotten bit, he is probably weary, fearful and even aggressive to other dogs due to his experience.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t socialize him and show him a new perspective!
The trick to older dogs is of course proper exposure but paired with the right management!
When I refer to management I’m referring to preventing your older dog from practicing any behavior that you don’t want! For instance, if your dog lunges at other dogs, you want to manage his arousal around other dogs.
when uncovering what is dog socialization keep in mind that socializing older dogs is a gradual process that doesn’t occur overnight. Remember that your dog’s past experiences play a major role in how he currently behaves.
Don’t worry; not all hope is lost!
The socialization process for older dogs will be a lot smoother if you provide your older dog with structure and expectations.
For instance, if you have an anxious dog that whines and yelps every time he is outside, socialization, petting, or rewarding your pup with treats at the wrong time can make his anxiety worse.
If you have an anxious dog, the best course of action would be to first figure out what is making him anxious, while not providing your dog with any affection or rewards for his anxiety.
Any kind of affection or reward that you give your dog will only make his anxiety worse in that state of mind. Instead, the moment you do want to reward is when your dog isn’t displaying any kind of anxious behavior.
You have a dog that gets anxious when he sees other dogs.
Anxious dog whines, you ignore his whines while not letting him get fixated on the other dog.
The moment that your dog stops whining you say good and pet.
What tends to happen when we pet anxious dogs in that state of mind is to let the dog know that his anxiety is good. Although we may think that petting him is comforting him, it’s actually deepening the issue.
The process for the majority of older dogs that need to be socialized will be gradual in the beginning with little bits of exposure and essentially showing your dog that it’s all no big deal!
What To Avoid
Somethings that you should avoid when socializing your puppy or older dogs are:
- Forcing your dog or puppy to socialize
- Rewarding your puppy or dog for the wrong behavior
- Having your pup or dog obsess over other dogs
- Having your puppy or older dog “hard” stare at something
Now its time to go out socialize your pup to the world!
Receive your free dog training consultation and set your pup up for success!