Socializing a dog should be a fun and positive experience for both of you.  Although the term gets used frequently, many people don’t fully understand what it means.  Socializing a dog is just teaching them what is normal in a human world.  They see that meeting and smelling new dogs and humans is a normal part of life.  They also learn about non-living things.  Socializing a dog also refers to exposing them to trucks, buses, cars, bikes, hats, jackets, horns, and every other part of daily life.  When a dog is properly socialized he should be able to walk down a busy city street full of people, dogs, and cars without any fear.

When starting the process of socialization it is important to take it slow.  Do not take an eight week old puppy to downtown Chicago for the afternoon.  If the dog is used to being home with mom and the other puppies, you need to ease him into the human world.  I use this time to practice leash skills so that the dog can get used to walking calmly past new things.  Many dogs that have aggression issues towards bikes and cars develop this behavior with extreme excitement being the primary cause.  Through time this can awaken a dog’s prey drive and lead to barking, growling, and lunging.

As we work on a dogs leash skills we start to incorporate new situations one at a time and see how he handles them.  If I see fear or anxiety I will take note of this and continue working each day until the fear goes away.  One important part of desensitizing a dog is helping calm them down each time.  When you try to desensitize a dog by throwing them into a scary situation without calming them down, the fear will become worse through time.  The easiest way to calm a dog down is to use the “Heel” command.  This works so well because it gives the dog a calm job to do and allows him to start to feel your energy.  If you are calm and confident the dog will naturally start to follow you because you are his rock in new situations.

When socializing your dog with other animals it is very important to pick the right dogs.  A dog attack or bite at a young age can be very tough for a puppy to overcome.  Only allow your young dog to meet dogs that you trust and that know how to play appropriately.  This is also the time to teach your dog how to interact with other dogs politely.  Calmly stop him each time he gets too rough, mounts a dog, or barks excessively.

As you socialize your puppy with new people make sure that you see a variety of ages, races, and sizes.  I make sure that a puppy is exposed to big men, children, and people of a different race than you since those are the three groups of people that are most likely to cause fear in a dog.  Allow your dog to see that people laughing, hugging, and running around is all a normal part of life.

Sometimes people ask me if they should refrain from socializing a dog so that he will be a better guard dog.  That is the process of creating a dangerous dog, not a family pet who will also protect when needed.  The idea of socializing a dog is teaching him what is normal and what isn’t.  When a dog has seen people act normally for years he will be better equipped to know what isn’t normal.  If a person looks in your window at night, chases you down the street, or starts screaming at you, your dog will know that this isn’t normal and should exercise his instinctive guarding behavior.  As you socialize your dog keep in mind that this is a lifelong process which means you have to keep exposing your dog to these situations periodically throughout his life.

 

Matt Covey

Suburban K-9

Elgin, Il