We are kicking off our blog in 2019 revisiting a popular topic; puppy socialization.
Most owners understand that socialization typically refers to exposing our puppy to new experiences. However, most owners also very much focus that process mainly on meeting and interacting with other dogs.
We, the owners and trainers of a thriving dog daycare, are here to tell you otherwise.
That probably sounds like crazy talk, but here’s the deal. It is absolutely great to have a dog that WANTS to socialize with other dogs, and that can do so in a safe manner. That said, is socializing with a group of strange dogs at a dog park, or in a daycare (preferably a well run operation like Dogs Abound) something that is critical to your dog’s happiness and well-being?
Nope. It’s not.
What is critical, is that your dog can FUNCTION in the presence of other dogs. That he/she can be around other dogs, and either interact calmly, or just ignore the other dogs all together. That is healthy, normal dog behavior, and its what will ultimately allow your dog a more anxiety-free existence. A dog that can calmly wait at the vets office, or lay on a mat while you have lunch with friends is what we all want. A dog that wants to frenetically meet every animal that walks by, or conversely, bark and lunge at them really isn’t fun to handle. Calmness is the goal.
Many dogs who are “well socialized” as puppies, and get a good amount of consistent dog interactions, STILL eventually “age out” of daycare. There is absolutely nothing wrong with those dogs. Just as many humans (most humans, frankly) are not hyper-social, many dogs are not either. Going to parties and staying out late is fun in your teens and early twenties, but most people grow out of it. Dogs do too. Now, as an adult should you still be able to go to a family function, or meet a friend out at a restaurant for dinner? Yes, that is healthy social human behavior. Dogs should likewise be able to take a walk, go on a routine outing, and casually cross paths with other dogs without having a meltdown. But they should NOT be expected to appreciate or enjoy the advances of any rude dog that flings himself their way. Or be expected as a grown adult to enjoy roughhousing with rude adolescents at the dog park. Most people wouldn’t appreciate a complete stranger grabbing their hand and dragging you on a dance floor without getting to know them and asking permission first, right? Then why would we expect our dogs to be so much more tolerant than we are?
So, back to what TO do when socializing young dogs;
The most important factor is consistency. One or two play dates before the puppy is 16 weeks old are NOT enough. They must get REGULAR exposure to other dogs, people, and experiences on a REGULAR basis. As in multiple times a week.
When the puppy ages past that “critical window” (roughly the four month mark), your work is still not done. You hopefully have already done much of the “heavy lifting”, BUT throughout that first year, your puppy still needs continued exposure and new experiences. You can let off the gas slightly, but you still need to be moving that needle.
Do not push the puppy past their comfort zone. If the puppy appears uncomfortable or fearful of what is happening, back off, pack it up, and try it again another day. Do not force him to just “work through it.” Evaluate what may have been the issue, and break it down into small micro-steps to ensure success.
Easy, short excursions and experiences are best. Twenty minutes in a cart driving around Home Depot, or a half an hour at a friends house with another bombproof, dog savvy dog is enough. Again, CONSISTENCY of exposure is MORE important than duration.
If you ever feel icky about what is happening with your puppy and another dog, or even you puppy and a human do not be afraid to advocate for your dog. A polite “okay, play time is over, we gotta go! Thanks!” is more than enough. If you are unsure about interactions, you are probably right. Listen to your gut.
get professional help. Really. Hiring a professional trainer to coach you through the puppy process may seem like a big investment at the time, but it will pay off many times over in the long run. Having a dog that has a well-planned out first year of life that includes positive training and experiences will produce a well-balanced, well-mannered dog for life.
If you have any questions about puppy socialization, please contact us! We are here to help. And as always feel free to ask questions here or on our social media platforms.