Have you ever been out with your dog when another dog goes lunging and barking by with a frantic apology from the owner…. “Sorry, he’s wasn’t socialized!”.
Or maybe you were the one with the embarrassing dog (I’ve been there!).
One of the most common things I hear from people when they’re telling me about any bad behavior their dog is exhibiting is often “they didn’t have proper socialization”.
We hear the term “socialization” thrown around a lot in the dog training world. Most people associate “socialization” with dogs being “dog-friendly”. But that’s not actually what proper socialization is at all!! (Don’t worry… we’ll talk about dogs being “socialized to dogs” in a later blog post!)
What I want to talk to you about now is socialization. That buzz word that is so misunderstood.
The “socialization period” in dogs is approximately 3-14 weeks of age (some experts say up to 16 weeks). What this means is that during this time your puppy is a blank slate - the easiest time they will be open to new things and this is the time they should be exploring their world and finding out for themselves what is “safe” and “dangerous”. (More about the socialization period and fear periods in a later post! And I also hear you saying… “but my dog is older than that!”... we’ll address that too!)
From the Oxford Dictionary, socialization is defined as:
- 1. the activity of mixing socially with others.
2. the process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society.
As dog parents, we tend to only focus on the first part, and we completely forget about the second part!
Our job is to help the dog understand how to behave in each environment we would like them to be in. Just as the definition says, it is what is acceptable to us in society. That actually may be different for each and every dog in every situation.
Just as different parents in different households have expectations for what is acceptable for their children, we will each have different expectations for our dogs. I have been to homes where the dog is small and allowed to walk on the back of the couch, other homes where the dogs are not allowed on furniture or beds, some have only certain rooms of the house they are allowed to be in. What about your household?
I see many families that don’t even decide what the acceptable rules of the household are, until the dog has made their own decision, leaving the humans unhappy and not knowing how to correct the problem.
And what about when company comes over?
Are there different rules?
Now, what about the rest of the world?
Where will you be taking your dog?
Will you be going on vacations with your dog?
Will you be boarding your dog at a boarding facility?
Will you be bathing at home or taking them to a groomer?
Do you wish to take your dog to your kids sports games?
As you can see this list can go on and on and on….. THIS is socialization!
Socialization for your dogs and families needs are having a plan and showing the dog what is acceptable behavior in each area of their life. And making sure they are comfortable and not fearful of the things in their environment. That may include play or interactions with other dogs, but also includes cats, adults, children, property, traffic and anything and everything in their environment!
If you kept your dog inside your home for the first 5 years of their life, they would lack socialization skills everywhere outside! So get those dogs out and about so they can become comfortable, familiar and know how to behave in their world.
At our Dog School, our Puppy Prep programs has socialization built in. But if you’re doing this on your own, here’s some tips;
- Make a list - make a list of all the types of people, places, animals, and things that your dog may encounter in their lifetime. Then prioritize which are the most important so you can focus on those first.
- Have a family discussion - what are the expectations you have for you dog? Consider inside, outside, when company is over, at the park, etc. Everyone should be in agreement. The last thing you want to do is have different rules for different family members!
- Start small - most likely you will have a BIG list. But don’t let that overwhelm you. If you are taking your pup for a walk it’s likely you’ll knock at least 2-3 of those items out in one outing! Don’t feel like you have to conquer it all at once. Keep your sessions short and fun so that you’ll both be ready for more!
It CAN seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. If you have a new puppy, enroll them in a puppy class where they focus on socialization (not just puppy play!) or check out our Dog School programs.
There is a lot to discuss with socialization, so we will continue the discussion with future blog posts. There’s nothing better than a furry family member you can confidently take with you on all your adventures, we are happy to help you get there!