Whether you are getting a dog as a puppy or an adult, proper socialization is critical. Socialization is the most critical in the dogs first year of life, but socialization continues for the dogs entire life. This is such a large topic that I feel it would be easiest to break it up into subtopics.
- Socialization with humans: dogs need to be exposed to humans of different genders, sexes, ages, cultures, accessories (canes, hats, umbrellas…), etc. It is important to begin these human introductions slowly and in stages. You will want to start with calm individuals without accessories and slowly build up to people of all ages. It is just as important to desensitize dogs to different accessories. Dogs view of us isn’t in detail the way we see each other. We look at facial features, but dogs see us in a profile view. When we have an accessory on, like a hat or sunglasses, our profile changes and that confuses the dog.
- Socialization with other animals: this is a very large topic, but I will be hitting on the more important aspects. You will need to socialize your dog with many different types of animals, not just other dogs. If you have cats or small mammals, for example, in your home you will need to properly introduce you dog to these animals. Some dogs have high prey drive which can make proper socialization challenging. If this is the case with your dog, you will need to teach them a solid leave-it command. When socializing your dog with other dogs, you will need to expose them to dogs of different ages, breeds, sizes, and energy levels. As with humans, you will want to start slowly and begin introductions with calm dogs and slowly work you way towards a variety of dogs. I have had clients mention their concern with their small breed or large breed dog interacting with dogs larger or smaller than their dog. It is important to teach small dog not to fear or be intimidated by larger dogs and for larger dogs to learn to play more gently with smaller dogs, but the biggest mistake an owner can make is to not socialize their dog with other dogs not close in size to their dog. This will insure that your dog will develop issues with other dogs in the future.
- Socialization with places: this type of socialization is just as critical as the other two mentioned. You will need to expose you dog (once they have finished their vaccinations) to different places; like children’s parks or pet stores. Exposing your dog to different locations will desensitize them to a wide variety of sights, sounds, and smells. I have seen several dogs feel comfortable in one setting and very insecure in another. For example; I have worked with some rescue dogs who were raised in a more rural area. When these dogs are placed in a home in or near the city they are overwhelmed and highly anxious and stressed out.
The MOST IMPORTANT part of socialization is that you always end the experience in a positive way. If you see that your dog is becoming anxious begin to play a game with them or do some obedience to break their focus on feeling stressed. Once you see that your dog is relaxing, you can leave the setting. As you are leaving talk in a high pitched happy tone to help you dog feel happy and excited. These last moments during socialization are critical since it is the last thing your dog will remember about the place, person, or animal.