What does it mean to most dog owners to socialize their dogs? We think it is when they are a young puppy and we expose them to people, kids, dogs, anything we want them to be comfortable around for the rest of their lives. Most dog owners when asked during the free eval, is your dog socialized? The response is either yes they are good with people and other dogs, yes when they were little or no we cannot socialize them because I am scared or cannot control the dog. Another common myth about dog socialization is that if it is done as a puppy they will be good for life, which is not true at all and we will go into that in a second. Another myth around socialization is that when we take the dog out to expose them to the world, we let them do what they want and figure it out on their own, also false. Clients must be taking an active part in the socialization process as well as having a knowledgable dog trainer accompany them to start. For instance we offer in our puppy training lots of socialization and overcoming fears as well as for adult dogs. Socialization should be to people, dogs, places, other animals, etc. What socialization should not be is a free-for-all, meaning the dog gets to run around and do as they please.
When we prepare to socialize our dogs, we first need to make sure we have the essentials which are listed:
These outings are crucial for our dogs to maintain proper socialization. Proper socialization is not a free-for-all, it needs to be structured, fun, and productive for your dog. Always try to be doing better than your previous session. That means increasing distractions, duration, and distance which can be working off-leash. What I stress for proper socialization is maintaining obedience during socialization, we want our dogs to learn that no matter the environment they need to listen to you. That is the most important, we want our dogs to be good around all people, dogs, kids, etc, but they MUST be able to maintain their focus and obedience as well. This is a common problem for dog owners, we see that their dogs are great in their home on and off leash, then once they go out for socialization in new places they suddenly forget everything. That is why I believe as dog trainers we need to build outings and socialization into our dog training in order to give clients a beginning point to start out at and show them how to improve. Overall, we want our socialization to be fun, energetic, and successful for the dogs. Our dogs need to feel like they are winning and that they everything is awesome but at the same time maintain their obedience. Another big part of socialization is having a plan, I was always told to have a plan when I began learning dog training and that is even more true when it comes to socialization outings. Some questions that from your plan could be:
These questions are guidelines to making sure your outing is amazing for you and your dog.
This is perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions is that we only need to be socializing our dogs as puppies and then we can say they are good for life. The problem is that this is not the truth, socialization as a puppy is extremely important I agree, but it is just building the foundation that you will be building your obedience training on. If it is never attended to after puppy-hood the foundation will begin to crack. Socialization is something that must be constant throughout the life of the dog. Another myth is that if you adopt an adult from a shelter it is too late to make them social and socialize them. That is also false, you can socialize a dog as an adult, it may take longer for them to overcome fears or be comfortable, but with good planning and guidance they can be successful. We have the luxury of having more and more dog friendly places popping up all over the country. We can take advantage of these with well-trained under control dogs who make people want to have this dog friendly policy in more places. I am a big believer in socialization for the life of your dogs and I stress to my clients to do sessions in places such as:
We are bombarded with amazing opportunities to take our dogs out and make them apart of our lives even more than we could imagine. For the owners that are scared of what their dog might do, the first step is looking for a qualified dog trainer that believes in the same goals you do and can get you to achieve them. I think with more dogs who get out more often we can also create much more amazing experiences for our dogs and allow them to feel like they are your truly your canine companions.