Puppy training | dog socialization
How do I socialize my puppy?
Everyone speaks about dog socialization nowadays. The only problem is that most of those who speak have a different understanding of the socialization concept. There are different opinions even among dog trainers, so, naturally, one might get lost between them.
A lot of dog owners think that socialization is their pup meeting hundreds of different dogs and playing with them. Well, that's not precisely true. Our idea of socialization is that the dog gets a chance to see as much as possible while experiencing as little stress as possible and without any interaction with the object/animal/environment she gets to know (when it's possible). It means that a dog should be calm during any socialization process and shouldn't feel too overwhelmed or stressed out. Every pup is different, so what's stressful for one, might be comfortable for another.
In general, dog socialization starts on the very first day when she's born. At first, she gets used to being in the palms of her breeder, getting her nails trimmed, fur stroked, and so on. Later, she learns how to interact with other puppies from the same litter, her mother, and all the surrounding environments. After that, she is getting used to visiting a vet, going somewhere in a car, going for short walks, etc. Later, she gets to her new owner and her socialization keeps going in her new home.
The most common mistake which dog owners make is over socializing their dogs. It means they spend too much time simply showing different situations to their pups without them having any possibility to relax and sleep with that new information in their tiny heads. Dogs learn by sleeping and it's crucial to them to spend some time without any triggers around. So, if you take your pup somewhere new, make sure she gets enough time to relax afterward. With young puppies, it would mean relaxing on the same day (for example, you visit a vet and let your pup do nothing the rest of the day, except the usual potty training and walking in a park). With adult dogs, it would mean going somewhere interesting on one day and letting them relax on the second. Dogs, just like humans, get used to doing a lot of things during the day, but even the champions get tired after a two-day dog show.
Another problem is that most owners are afraid of walking their pups until the 3-week period passes after their last vaccine dose. This way young puppies stay inside during their crucial period of socialization when they are open to new experiences. After the mentioned period ends, they suddenly are dragged outside without any preparation and most of them end up fearing everything they see around. If the puppy is tough enough, she survives and gets used to suddenly being exposed to so many new things. However, if the pup is "softer", then it might be too difficult for her to cope with all the new information she gets. This way instead of being happy about walking outside, the pup learns that the world outside her home is scary.
We advise you to take your vet's concerns seriously, but at the same time don't feel forced to trap your pup at home during her first month with you. Take her outside (it is also important for her potty training!), but don't walk in crowded dog parks. Also, avoid any contact with unknown dogs as they might be unvaccinated. Keep your pup's interactions with other animals and humans to a minimum – it's good to observe the environment, but she doesn't necessarily need to play with everyone she meets. Imagine her as an adult dog – would you like your 40 kg dog to jump on everyone? Play with all the dogs she meets in the park? If not, then don't encourage her to do it today.
Your pup's socialization should be observing the environment, getting used to it, and relaxing after that. She should feel calm, positive, or neutral during the socialization process. If she gets scared, simply increase the distance from the trigger. Don't rush. If you are unsure whether your pup feels good about something or not, better take it slowly. It's better to be one day late than one day too early.
To make the socialization process easier and more understandable for you, we created a list of different environments, situations, and objects to look for when you go for a walk. Also, we should note that socialization happens at home, also! Using your vacuum cleaner or listening to loud music also counts as socializing your pup.
Men and women, babies, youngsters, and adults, elderly people
People crying, shouting, speaking loudly and speaking quietly, laughing
People with walking sticks, crutches, in a wheelchair, on a bike, on a skateboard, snowboard, skiing, running, walking, crawling, playing football and basketball, carrying umbrellas, pushing wheelchairs, pushing a baby carriage, holding grocery baskets, etc.
Big: horses, llamas, cows, bulls, sheep, goats, or any other farm animal you can find in your surroundings
Small: cats, ferrets, hamsters, mice
Birds: flying, swimming, walking around
Dogs: big and small, fluffy and short-haired, active and passive, barking and quiet
Kids playing area, main street, local park
Dog-friendly shop or restaurant
Beach, lake, river
Public transport, your car
Crate at home, in a car, at your friend's home
Ship or a boat, a ferry
Stairs, elevators, long corridors, narrow spaces
Street during daytime and at night
Wooden floor, slippery floor, tiles, gravel, sand, grass
SOUNDS AND VIEWS:
Fireworks (both real and only sound from your computer)
Loud TV, loud music
Concert (in a great distance)
Traffic sounds (heavy traffic in a street)
Dog's barking (without seeing the dog itself)
Train, plane, truck, motorcycle, helicopter
Washing paws with water and drying them with a towel
Ears, eyes cleaning
Putting on a collar, harness, clothing, boots, muzzle
Vacuum cleaner, hairdryer
Somebody knocking at the door or ringing a doorbell
Somebody walking in the corridor
Friends coming over
Dropping a book, your keys on the ground
Playing an instrument
Loud noises found on the internet – traffic sounds, concerts, pinball games, construction sites, etc.
This list is by no means finite. You can add any other situations or environments, skills that are needed in your area – maybe you live next to a zoo or there are noisy nightclubs around. It depends on your surroundings and your lifestyle. The rule of thumb is to show your pup that anything you see, hear, or feel while going on a walk is not scary. And if it is, she only needs some time to adjust.
Don't try to squeeze too many things in one day – your puppy needs some rest after these new experiences. Focus on going somewhere new once or twice a week not to overwhelm her. Otherwise, she might sleep badly, be moody, and instead of learning that the world around us is a safe place, she would end up being stressed out.
Even if you live in a calm area, the good news is that you can use your home appliances and computer to socialize with your puppy. Look for loud noises on the internet, use your TV, drill, hammer, drop some things on the ground, bang pot lids, etc. Make sure not to scare your pup away – start with something pleasant and gradually move to louder sounds. Your goal is not to frighten your pup, but to get her used to anything that might happen around. If you see that she wants to back off, let her do it and next time start with something not as noisy or scary.
If your pup is frightened by something, it doesn't necessarily mean that she is fearful. Humans also get scared of sudden noises, such as unexpected fireworks or a dog suddenly barking from another side of the fence. The thing that matters most here is the reaction after hearing the sound. If your pup shivers after half an hour has already passed after the event, she most probably will need a very gentle approach to her socialization. If she gets scared for a second, but after a minute or two wants to approach the new item, environment, or look for the source of the sound, everything's fine. Make sure to move slowly during the socialization problems and not to scare your pup away. If she panics, don't let her run away, as it might cause even more problems. Every pup is different, so give her more time to get used to new environments if needed.
How do I teach my dog to socialize with other dogs?
Most people believe they should let their dogs play with as many dogs as possible. There was even some training advice out there, such as "let your puppy play with at least 150 different dogs until she's one year old". We have seen people counting the number of dogs they have met! However, it doesn't matter if your puppy sees 10 different dogs or 100. The way she acts towards them, what these dogs do and how you react makes all the difference.
When socializing with your dog, think about her future behavior. Would you like your dog to stay calm around other dogs? Do you want her to be obedient? Do you want her to come back when called? Or do you prefer an over-aroused dog, who's not able to calm down with other dogs around?
We believe that basic obedience and good manners are vital for every dog. Without them, she wouldn't be able to live a sociable life and accompany her owner on daily walks. A dog who has at least basic obedience and is not reactive towards other dogs lives a more sociable life. It's like with humans – the ones who are kind and polite, are welcomed everywhere. The ones who cause problems and hurt others' feelings are left alone after all.
Most dogs wouldn't end up being reactive to other dogs if they had been properly socialized at a young age. We advise owners to limit their puppies' interaction with other dogs. One should encourage calmness; limit playing time and focus on being able to relax while other dogs are present.
At first, your puppy is being socialized with her pack: her mother, and most probably with her brothers and sisters. When your puppy reaches 2 or 3 months old, she's transferred to your home. By that time, she already has a basic understanding of dog body language and has quite a lot of experience from playing and fighting with her relatives. However, it might be more complicated for those puppies who were abandoned or left without their relatives, so they might lack some basic understanding of "dog language" as they mature.
When your puppy is already in your place, don't rush to meet all the neighborhood's dogs. Show her other dogs from a great distance, so she would be able to observe them without interaction. Make sure to bring her only to those sites where there are no unleashed or aggressive dogs. It helps a lot to limit the first interactions only to the most positive and neutral ones.
Young puppies usually get excited when seeing other dogs. It's their natural willingness to bond and play around. It wouldn't be a problem, however, when puppies grow older, they cannot learn that their active friendliness is not accepted anymore. Adult dogs tend to be patient with puppies, but when they reach puberty, fights start. This way a dog, who was never taught to approach other dogs with calmness is forced to suffer from other dogs' aggression.
To avoid situations like this, we strongly encourage you to first teach your puppy to relax while other dogs are around and only then let her interact with them. This way you won't end up in a situation where you need to retrain your dog, because she's aggressive or reactive towards other dogs.
It's best to let your dog interact with other dogs at a greater distance – let her simply observe them. Play with your puppy, give her some treats, run around – be more interesting and exciting than other dogs. If she is not calm while seeing them, distract her with a toy or increase the distance from other dogs.
Little by little, as your puppy matures and is not so easily distracted by other dogs, decrease the distance between your pup and them. If you need to walk by another dog in proximity, make sure to offer your pup some treats, so she would be willing to follow your hand and not the other dog. If another dog approaches your pup, don't panic, and simply wait for the owner to take their dog away.
We advise against letting your pup play with other dogs or run freely with them until she has at least some basic obedience. Otherwise, she might end up in difficult situations with other dogs, such as rough play or fights.
Petting your puppy and picking her up (socialization with people)
Socialization is necessary not only with dogs but with other people also. The main rule is the same – think about your dog in the future and train her accordingly. It's a perfect time to teach her that jumping on people is not going to be accepted.
Most people love picking young puppies up, petting them, giving them kisses, and rubbing their bellies. There's nothing wrong with it if the puppy is calm and relaxed. However, in most cases, puppies get too excited. They jump, they bite, and sometimes even urinate to show their affection and submissiveness. While it might look cute, it teaches your pup to react this way even in the future. Nobody wants an adult dog, which jumps, bites, and urinates at the same time!
To avoid this kind of behavior, the best solution is simply to prevent it. If your puppy gets too excited, ask other people not to pet him at that moment. This way your dog will understand that she only gets attention when she's calm and all her four paws are on the floor.
Speaking about picking your puppy up off the ground is also important. It's ok to hold your puppy (and even an adult dog) if she feels comfortable. The problem is that sometimes owners pick up their puppies and small dogs when they feel that a situation might get tricky. For example, if a bigger dog approaches their pup, some owners quickly pick the pup up. They do the same when a puppy doesn't want to walk somewhere, is nervous or scared.
This way a young puppy (and later – an adult dog) understands that the only way to deal with difficult situations is by being picked up. Maybe it's not too problematic with a small dog, but sure enough not accepted by a big one. We strongly encourage you not to pick up a scared dog. To help a puppy (and later an adult dog), simply kneel to her and show that you are there and will help no matter what. Don't let her panic and climb on you.