Why Socializing Your Dog Is Crucial For Their Well-Being
When you think about the necessities of a dog’s life, what comes to mind?
Probably something along the lines of: food, water, exercise, vaccines, and preventative medications. For the most part, you’d be right.
However, there is a key component of this list, that so many dog owners forget, and that is…
Yes, socialization is a NECESSITY! Socialization is extremely important to a dog’s entire well-being and health for a number of reasons.
Before I get into exactly why socialization is so important, let me briefly define it for you, and what a 'socialized' dog acts like, so that you can determine where your dog lies on the socialization spectrum.
What exactly is socialization?
Socialization in dog language means exposing your dog to as many new situations, environments, objects, people, dogs, and other animals as possible.
Socialization is especially crucial during puppyhood so that the puppy develops the proper socialization skills that he will have for the rest of his life.
However, it is also very important to remember that socialization should not stop after puppyhood—in fact, your dog should be constantly socialized for his entire life!
Introducing your dog to new experiences helps him to feel more comfortable every time he is exposed to new situations.
Due to this fact, socialization gives dogs the ability to learn how to cope with new experiences and situations in a positive way.
What defines a 'socialized' dog?
Socialized dogs tend to be happy, friendly, and very well-balanced. Under socialized dogs are typically fearful, anxious, and have a number of behavioral issues, including aggression.
Your dog will be exposed to all kinds of new things throughout his life, but it is VERY important that you, as the owner, make these new experiences positive.
The number one reason that dogs have behavioral issues later on is due to lack of positive socialization.
Owners have a hard time letting dogs just be dogs, and because of this, these dogs end up being under socialized and develop lingering behavioral issues.
The Importance Of Dog Socialization
It is absolutely imperative that your dog socializes with other dogs if you want him to get along with other dogs.
Aside from the other reasons described above, you need to allow him to play and socialize with other dogs to show him that other dogs are a fun and positive thing.
While this may sound like common sense, many dog owners find themselves with a five month or five year old dog who isn’t good with other dogs.
How does this happen?
Many dogs who have behavioral issues with other dogs most likely were not socialized with other dogs properly during puppyhood.
Socialization starts the moment when a puppy is born, as puppies begin to socialize with their moms and their litter mates.
Once a puppy goes to his forever home (typically at 8 weeks old), socialization needs to continue at an even greater rate.
Introducing your dog to as many different kinds of dogs as possible will help your dog get to know that every dog is different, but still okay to be friendly with.
Let your puppy play with other dogs and develop the proper socialization of what kind of play is appropriate.
Dogs need to play with one another to feel each other out, adapt to one another, and learn what appropriate play is at a young age.
If an owner doesn’t allow their dog to go through this exploratory process at a young age, the dog becomes much more averse to displaying inappropriate or even dangerous behaviors towards other dogs or people.
However, even if your dog is behind in his socialization skills, don’t think that he can’t learn!
While it certainly will be tougher to socialize a five year old dog as opposed to a five month old puppy, it’s never too late to start!
In fact, the longer you put it off, the worse the behaviors will become, and the deeper these habits will become entrenched in their predisposed reactions.
How To Begin Socializing Your Dog
Start off by letting your dog say hi to other dogs of every kind. I hear people say, “I’m never going to let Fluffy near pitbulls.”
For one, I could go on forever about how the stereotypes of pitbulls are incredibly inaccurate. However, for this topic, I will stress the fact that by making this particular comment, and following through with the actions of never allowing your dog near a certain breed, you are setting your dog up to have behavioral issues.
Let your dog be a dog and socialize with whatever other dog he pleases!
Quite often actually, on walks with my dogs, I will see someone walking their small dog coming towards me.
Keep in mind, the dogs are doing nothing but walking very well on leash, yet the owner feels the need to pick up their dog to “protect” him from my larger dogs.
My dogs are actually very friendly with small dogs, and would have loved to say hi and keep walking.
By taking away this opportunity for socialization, this owner is setting their small dog up to have behavioral issues with large dogs by not allowing him to just be a dog and figure out socialization on his own.
No matter your dogs age, they will need to figure out how to play with other dogs. They will play with their litter mates, but often times litter mates play very rough with each other, so dogs need to learn how to play nicely with others.
Allow your dog to play with other dogs to figure out what kind of play is appropriate, and how to play nicely, but it is also your job to supervise and make sure that your dog is socializing properly.
Allowing your dog to play too rough is teaching your dog that it is ok to socialize with other dogs in that inappropriate way, even when the other dog doesn’t like it.
This negative socialization can also result in the dog having behavioral issues, so it is very important that you are PROPERLY and POSITIVELY socializing your dog with other dogs.
If your dog is older and has not been properly socialized yet, make sure that you ease your dog into this process, and be very aware of any stress signals he indicates.
Socializing With People
We all know that people come in all different shapes and sizes. It is important for dogs to understand this as well.
Introducing your puppy or grown dog to as many different people as you can will allow him to understand this early on (hopefully) and be friendly towards all people.
Let your dog sniff people out and say hello!
Keeping your dog from allowing other people to say hi and pet him will only set your dog up for having issues with people later on.
Some dogs have issues with people wearing things such as sunglasses or hats, so expose your dog to these things and everything other possible negative stimuli right away, so that he is familiar with everything later on.
Dogs who aren’t familiar with certain people or people wearing certain things, may be fearful or aggressive towards them.
Exposure to New Situations and Locations
You want your dog to know that there is more out there than his backyard, and everything he sees on your walking route.
Don’t you want to be able to take your dog anywhere and know that he will be comfortable and well-behaved?
Taking your puppy to as many new locations and exposing him to different situations will help him develop the skills to cope with being introduced to new situations.
Your dog should enjoy and be curious during new situations.
Allow him to explore what else is out there, so that when you do take him to a new place, he is happy and comfortable, rather than fearful and uncomfortable because he isn’t use to new things.
As you expose your dog to as many new experiences as you possibly can, remember that it is crucial for your dog to have socialization in order to be a well-balanced pup.
Also keep in mind that socialization is most critical at puppyhood, but should continue throughout the dog’s entire life, and that it’s never too late to start!
For more in-depth tools on how to solve all of the behavioral problems that may arise from an incorrectly socialized dog in one resource, check out “The Puppy Training Handbook” Program!