Socializing Your Puppy or Adult Dog To Get Along With The World
By Michele Welton. Copyright © 2000-2016
Socializing means teaching your dog to get along with the world. You must introduce him to strangers, children, dogs, cats, and other animals.
And you must introduce him in the right ways so he behaves appropriately.
You want your dog to greet people politely.
Think about how YOU feel when you visit friends and you can hardly get in the door because their dog is going crazy, jumping all over you, or barking frantically. Or perhaps you can't even touch him because he's such a scaredy-cat.
Those dogs have not been properly socialized or taught how to behave.
You want your dog to be non-prejudiced.
Some dogs are suspicious of certain physical features – a beard, a floppy hat, dark sunglasses, a walking cane.
Some dogs react aggressively to uniforms (police officers, mail carriers).
A few dogs are so observant that they notice skin color. If it's not what they're used to, they might react with suspicion.
Again, you want to socialize your dog with all kinds of people – men and women, different races, different appearances.
You want your dog to be safe with children
You might think, "That's no problem, my puppy loves kids!"
But often this doesn't last, you see.
Puppies change as they grow up, and many puppies grow into adult dogs who are wary of children.
Over 60% of dog bite victims are children.
That's because dogs do not view children as miniature adults. Many dogs view children as unpredictable creatures with loud voices, herky-jerky movements, and melodramatic emotions. Many dogs don't know what to make of children.
Here's another statistic: 76% of dog bite injuries to children under age 10 are bites to the face. That's tragic. To keep your dog (and of course a child!) from becoming one of those statistics, you have to socialize him with children. Not only as a puppy, but as he grows through his teenage months, and on into adulthood.
You want your dog to be peaceful with other dogs
Owners are often dismayed to discover that as their little puppy grows up, he may begin to NOT tolerate other dogs.
Usually it's other dogs of the same sex. Or dogs that are larger (or smaller) than himself.
Or perhaps your dog doesn't become aggressive. Perhaps he becomes shy or fearful. Or perhaps he is so enthusiastic that he overwhelms other dogs who may not want to play.
You need to work on socialization with other dogs, from puppyhood through adulthood.
You want your dog to be peaceful with cats
By teaching your dog to respect cats, you're keeping him safe. A cat's claws carry lots of bacteria, which means cat scratches can become seriously infected.
Also, dogs who become obsessive cat chasers will dash through open doors, leap from car windows, climb over fences, and rush heedlessly into the street when a cat suddenly appears from the shadows.
Finally, your cat-owning friends will be very unhappy if you show up for a visit with a cat-intolerant dog.
Yes, socialization with cats is imperative if you want a truly well-behaved dog.
You want your dog to be calm and confident in the world
You want your dog to react calmly to sights and sounds in the world.
Unsocialized dogs often develop fears and phobias. I knew a Beagle who freaked out whenever his owner opened an umbrella.
A Doberman who refused to walk across a tile floor. Apparently he didn't like the sound of his toenails clicking on the hard surface.
Dogs who won't go up or down stairs.... or who will go up but not down.... or down but not up.
Dogs who pitch a fit when the vacuum cleaner turns on.
Fear of thunder, fear of fireworks, fear of sirens, fear of mailboxes. (Mailboxes?)
Fears are stressful, and stress is bad for your dog's health. Socialization takes away fears and stresses so your dog is not only happier, but also healthier. You can socialize your dog to be calm about what is happening in the world around him.
Finally – and this is so important – you want your dog to be trusting.
Otherwise, he's going to get really stressed when a new person needs to handle him. It's a miserable experience for both your dog and the vet (or groomer) when a muzzle is required because your dog wasn't taught to trust people other than family members.
Or imagine if your dog was suddenly separated from you. An open door, an open gate, a car crash from which your dog escapes and finds himself loose on the road. Will he go to strangers who are trying to help him? Suspiciousness, aggression, or fearfulness could cost him his life.
We never know what our dogs might have to cope with in their lives. So we need to prepare them by socializing them with everyone and everything. Just as you spend time and effort training your dog to be well-behaved, you need to spend time and effort socializing him to deal calmly with the world.
Socialize from puppyhood through adulthood
PUPPY socialization (first six months) has the most dramatic effect on how a dog turns out.
In fact, here's something interesting....
The most critical period in a dog's life, psychologically, is the period from 7 weeks old to 16 weeks old.
Now, you wouldn't think those nine specific weeks could be so important. But scientific research shows that they are. Puppies should be introduced to strangers and other animals during this critical period.... but....
There's a right way and a wrong way to do it.
You have to pay attention to how Puppy reacts.
If he is shy, or if he jumps all over everyone and mouths at their hands, you need to know how to handle these issues before you invite more people over. Otherwise he could develop bad habits that last a lifetime.
Remember, this critical learning period (7-16 weeks old) comes only once in your dog's life. So you want to get it right.
But socialization doesn't END with puppyhood.
ADOLESCENT socialization is next in importance.
Adolescence begins somewhere between 6 and 9 months old. It ends somewhere between 14 months old and 3 years old. (Larger breeds have the longest adolescent periods.)
Adolescence is an awkward time of change. A young dog's attitude toward the world may change from week to week – even from day to day!
This is also a difficult time for owners. Because up until then, Puppy may have been getting along famously with the world.
But during adolescence, when the hormones kick in, Puppy may change dramatically.
He may suddenly become suspicious or nervous around other people or other dogs. Or he may alternate between aggression and fearfulness.
Most owners respond to these fluctuations in ways that are actually counter-productive with dogs. Your responses, though well-meaning, can simply reinforce the spooky behavior.
To help your dog through this challenging period in his life, you should respond in specific ways that match how dogs learn. I can help you with that.
Finally, there is ADULT socialization. Suppose you have an adult dog who is acting inappropriately toward people or other animals. Obviously you can't "go back in time" to socialize him during the all-important puppyhood and adolescent stages!
But you can start now and work forward. It may be too late to change his feelings about other people or other animals – but socialization can still change his behavior toward them.
In other words, you can teach your dog to remain calm and quiet, tolerating and accepting people and other animals even if he doesn't particularly like them. And that is a very worthy goal.
Start socializing today
Dogs feel most secure when they know how to interact positively with strangers and other dogs. Dogs feel most secure when they're comfortable with the sights and sounds of the world.
So take your dog out into the world and teach him how to interact.
As long as your dog shows appropriate reactions, all you have to do is continue giving him new socialization experiences.
That's the easy part!
But if your dog shows fear or aggression, or becomes suspicious or skittish, or even if he shows excessive enthusiasm such that his behavior spirals out of control, you must take charge of teaching him proper reactions.
And you must do it immediately, or the inappropriate behavior will only get more rooted.
Consider this example.
You take your dog Jake out for a walk. Jake sees another dog and starts barking wildly and pulling on the leash. Jake's behavior is inappropriate, whether it comes from aggression or friendliness.
You say, "Jake, stop it!" But he ignores you and keeps barking and pulling wildly toward the other dog.
Why is Jake acting like this? Why isn't he listening to you? The answer goes to the heart of almost all dog training issues.
The truth is that Jake doesn't respect you enough to let YOU make the decisions about what's acceptable and what isn't. Dogs know instinctively that someone has to make those decisions. Respect issues come up when your dog doesn't recognize that YOU are that someone.
Along with socialization, Jake needs respect training. Then he will trust you to make the decisions about how he should respond to the world around him.
We need to socialize our dogs because the human world doesn't naturally make sense to dogs.
They have to be taught that it's okay for other dogs to be out for walks with their owners. It's okay for the neighbor's cat to be standing on the sidewalk. It's okay for your relatives to come visit. It's okay for thunderstorms to boom, and for vacuum cleaners to rev up and zoom around.
When your dog respects you, he relaxes and lets you make all such decisions about what's OK and what isn't.... about what's safe in the world and what isn't.
Does your dog look to you to find out what's OK in the world and how he should respond to it?
If not, he needs respect training as well as socialization experiences.
I can show you how to do this. One of the most popular chapters in my respect-based dog training book is The Sociable Dog (Getting Along With The World)
I explain the details of socializing your dog with strangers, children, and other animals. Most importantly, I tell you how to respond if he acts inappropriately. My respect-based training book that includes this valuable chapter is called Teach Your Dog 100 English Words.
It's available for instant download or as a printed book. You can read all about it here.