What is dog socialization? Why is it so important?
Dog socialization essentially means exposing your dog to a plethora of new sounds, sights, smells, surfaces, environments, objects, people and animals in a way that helps your dog open up to them in a positive way and be calm and confident. It is crucial to socialize a puppy and it can have the following benefits –
- Socialization helps a dog to be confident under several circumstances
- It helps a dog be composed even under stressful situations
- A well socialized dog is an amazing travel companion as they’re very adaptable
- It automatically makes a dog more acceptable in a variety of social situations
- Makes the world a better place for your dog
The right age to socialize a puppy
The critical socialization period for a pup is between the age of 8-16 weeks. At this sensitive age, a puppy has the ability to absorb everything like a sponge and is very open to new things and experiences. Since your puppy is new to the world at that age, what they see is what they end up learning.
Eg- When an 8-week-old puppy meets a big dog for the first time and end up getting mauled by him, he might end up having negative associations with big dogs.
Although it is never too late to expose a dog to a variety of experiences and environments, we cannot always bank on the dog to be equally open to them. After the age of 16 weeks, the puppy may or may not be as accepting. If the dog is apprehensive of newness, we don’t socialize, we desensitize.
The difference between socialization and desensitization
Socialization, as mentioned above, is the process of exposing a dog to novel experiences so that the dog learns to have a positive reaction to them.
Desensitization, on the other hand, means to change an existing emotional response to a stimulus.
Eg – Taking a puppy to a metro station for the first time is socialization. However, if the puppy is already scared of metro stations, taking the puppy there to change his fearful response and establish positive associations is called desensitization.
The socialization process
Socialization, when done right, can transform a dog; if done wrong, can damage a dog. Here are some tips to remember while socializing a puppy –
- Give the puppy ample space and time
- Carry high value rewards to form positive associations
- Keep praising the dog
- Allow the puppy to back off in case of discomfort or scary experiences
- Never force the puppy to interact
- It’s okay to comfort the puppy when scared, however, don’t coddle him.
- When your pup recovers from a scary experience, reward heavily
5 common socialization mistakes
- “The vet has asked me to wait”
When is the right time to take a puppy out” has been an age old debate between vets and trainers. While a lot of vets say it isn’t safe to take a puppy out till all vaccinations are done, the downside to this is that the time the puppy has received all the shots, he’s already 4+ months. Not exposing a puppy to the outside world for so long can have disastrous effects on a puppy’s psyche. The dog could possibly grow up to be fearful of every little new sound and entity.
As a matter of fact, the number of dogs going through behavioral euthanasia (putting down a dog down due to unresolvable behavioral concerns) year on year exceeds the number of dogs Being put down due to any other reason. Majority of the times most behavioural concerns can be nipped in the bud with appropriate and positive socialization. That's why we have developed our highly successful socialization program and Advanced Puppy Curriculum with our puppies, followed up with the Pup Academy Workbook for our families to follow at home, for safe socialization ideas- broken down into easy weekly goals.
- Equating and limiting socialization to dog-to-dog play
Most people equate socialization with dog-to-dog play. While it’s important for a young dog to have calm and friendly interactions with other dogs, it isn’t a dire need for a dog’s well being. Furthermore, socialization does not end at just dog play.
So many times, young puppies are taken to dog parks to ‘socialize’ with other dogs and end up with horror stories. Since dog parks are off leash, interactions between two dogs are out of the pet parents’ control, because of which the puppies are subjected to too much uncertainty and danger.
- Overcrowding the puppy
Overcrowding happens when a puppy is subjected to too many things all at once and is not given any time to process anything. When your dog is interacting with a stimulus, one or more of his senses are at work – sight, sound, smell, taste, touch.
When your dog is constantly surrounded with new people, animals, objects or happenings, you’re his senses are continuously at work without a break. This leads to over-stimulation which translates into hyperactivity, biting, aggression and anxiety. To the human eye, this may look as mere excitement, but it is something entirely different.
- Forcing the dog to interact
When in conflict, dogs choose either of two options – Flight (running away, backing off, hiding) or Fight (attack, bite, growl etc). Under any circumstance, a dog will choose Flight first. However, if the dog is forced to interact after several failed Flight attempts, the dog will end up Fighting.
Repeated Fight instances with triggers result in an “aggressive” dog.
- Separating the puppy from their mother and littermates too soon
It is imperative that a puppy spends the initial 8 weeks of his life with his mother and littermates. This is not only important so that the puppy is weaned off, but also because the littermates provide the initial and crucial socialization experience. The puppy learns the following life skills from his mother and littermates –
- Bite inhibition
- Appropriate reaction to new sounds and noises
- The right way to play
- Pack structure
When the puppy is separated too quickly from its mother and littermates, he may grow up with following issues –
- Separation anxiety
- Health issues
- Zero bite inhibition eventually leading to intense, hurtful bites
- Possible Resource or food guarding
At Habibi Bears we raise our puppies on an Advanced Puppy Curriculum, called the Habibi Method. All puppies come home with lifetime support and our new Puppy Training and Raising manual, complete with weekly assignments and charts to set you and the family up for success with your new puppy.
Until next time,