Many novice dog owners, when first embarking upon choosing a dog for their family, spend an immense amount of time debating what breed of dog to get and whether to get the dog from a breeder, rescue or the pound. This is often due to the belief that the breed and where the dog comes from will have a strong impact on the dog’s future behavior. While breed can certainly influence disposition, there is one and only one factor that can nearly guarantee your dog’s future disposition, and this is the degree to which your dog is socialized. Much like humans, dogs learn from their environment and from their family, and this process is known in the dog training world as socialization. Socialization helps your dog to be confident but not aggressive, to be easy-going but not fearful, and to be comfortable with children, other animals, loud noises, and other frequent causes of stress. Correctly socializing your dog can truly make the difference between having an easy-going, pleasant family member and living with a monster who wants to eat cats, children, and possibly you.
However, most people are either unsure of how to socialize their dogs or believe that one or two trips to the dog park constitutes adequate socialization. In reality, you should plan on committing several hours a week in the first few weeks you have your dog to socialization. Here’s how to properly socialize your dog:
Critical Period For Socialization
Puppies are much easier to socialize than adults dogs because they have what is known as a “critical period” for socialization. This is when they are most likely to learn new things and adapt to new surroundings, and is typically between 12-18 weeks. It is critically important that you provide your puppy with adequate socialization during this age range or you will have a much harder to socialize adult dog.
Socialization Should Be Daily
During your puppy’s critical period of socialization, there’s no such thing as too much socialization. Take her to the dog park several times a week, to the pet store, and to public areas that allow dogs, where she’s certain to be exposed to a wide variety of experiences.
Make A List
Dogs are animals who, without socialization, are not accustomed to living in the human world. Think from your dog’s perspective. What are things she will likely be exposed to that could be scary for her? Focus on getting her accustomed to these things early. And allow her lots of time with children, strangers, and other dogs because these are the people your dog will spend the most of her adult life around and thus needs to be socialized to.
Here are some common experiences your dog will need to be accustomed and socialized to:
-people of all ethnic groups
-people of both sexes
-people carrying large objects
-children who are screaming or crying
-groups of people
-approaching a group of people
-being approached by a person
Make Experiences Positive
Encourage strangers to give your dogs treats. Encourage children to behave kindly, and don’t force your dog to interact with a dog he is afraid of. Socialization will only work if the majority of your dogs’ early experiences are positive, so make a great effort to ensure that they are.
Work On Areas of Concern
Every dog has a few things he or she is afraid of, and fear can quickly turn to aggression with dogs. If you notice your dog is afraid of men, or large objects, or loud noises, pay special attention to providing your dog with lots of positive experiences with these people and objects.
Socialization Never Ends
While it’s most important to socialize your dog while she is a puppy, socialization is a learned skill that a dog can “forget” to a certain degree. Allow your dog to have at least some social interaction throughout your life and you’ll have a happy, well-adjusted dog companion for life!