What does it mean to "socialize" your puppy? This is a term that is used a lot to describe what you are supposed to do, but rarely is it explained in a way that people really understand. As humans we tend to think of socialization in human terms. For example, a big misconception is that taking your dog to a dog park where he can mingle with a large group of strange dogs is "socializing". This is not the case at all, in fact doing so can result in a scared, reactive or even dog aggressive dog. In order to properly socialize your dog to other dogs, every single experience must be a positive one. This means he should not feel scared, overwhelmed or act in a dominant manner towards other dogs. Many dog owners do not use proper judgement when they introduce their puppy to other dogs and miss a lot of early warning signs.
In regards to socializing your puppy to people, there is another misconception that your puppy should be approached and pet by every stranger he meets. Here again, many owners will miss early signs that their puppy is not comfortable in these situations inadvertently creating a scared or aggressive dog.
So, how do you properly socialize your puppy so that problems do not arise in the future? Socialization is the act of exposing your puppy to sights, sounds, people, places and other animals in a way that is positive and not overwhelming to them. This process is different and unique to each individual dog. An outgoing and confident puppy will have an easier time adjusting to new things than a shy or scared puppy. You must know your puppy well and watch for signs that they are becoming overwhelmed. Some common signs that your puppy is not comfortable are: trying to hide behind you, trying to get away from a situation and a tucked tail.
A safe way to introduce young puppies to other dogs is to meet either other young puppies or older dogs who are calm and tolerant of puppies. Friends, family members and co-workers are good people to ask for help with this. Keep in mind all puppies are individuals. Some may be happy and confident around all dogs while others are more reserved or nervous.A great way to introduce dogs of any age is to start by taking them on a walk together. Always socialize according to your pups individual temperament. Ask for professional help if you are unsure of how to proceed.
A strong word of caution: having your puppy meet strange adult dogs out on walks or in public is NOT safe as you have no idea what the other dog's background is.
The safest way to socialize your puppy to people is to bring them around people you know and trust. Strangers will too often approach your puppy in an inappropriate manner causing over excitement or fear. Teach your puppy to be neutral toward strangers by asking people not to approach. Politely say that your puppy is in training and ask them to please ignore the pup. This way you can teach your puppy to pay attention to you and be calm with other people around. Friends and family members should be given specific instruction on how to greet your puppy when coming to visit. Guests should completely ignore them at first until the puppy has calmed down. This may take some time. Greetings should be calm. Do not allow people to rile your puppy up.
In conclusion, proper socialization is about quality not quantity. It is better for your puppy to have a few dozen experiences that are positive than a hundred that are negative.Socialize according to your pups individual temperament. Seek professional help from a trainer with years of hands on experience if you are unsure.
Written by Lynette Meissner