Dog Training 101: Socialization

I want to really tackle the big things dog-owners should know about from day one of adoption, particularly from puppy age. Socialization is an important part of a doggie’s life – its fun, its stimulating, and it uses up energy! However, I want to really stress the HUGE benefits socializing your puppy at a young age can have to guard against fearful and/or aggressive behavior as an adult.

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Proper socialization = positive exposure to many situations and environments that the dog may encounter throughout her life.

Another word for this is “Desensitization,”  a term that refers to teaching your dog that things are no big deal – and letting her know she need not react to them. If your dog becomes tense or nervous in a new situation, do not punish OR soothe her for this will only IMPRINT the fearful reaction. Instead redirect her attention onto a treat or toy and then calmly remove her from the situation and figure out how to reintroduce her to it in smaller steps.

You might need to slow down and build up your puppy’s confidence! You should always make positive associations with new things you encounter and try to avoid overwhelming her by over-exposing her to too many things at one time. Use treats to help her learn to be brave and let her go at her own pace. A good way to know if your puppy is comfortable is if she will take a treat.

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Dogs react to your reaction. If you(her alpha) become tense, angry, or unpredictable – she will pick up on this energy quickly and associate it with the new encounter, whatever it may be. Stay calm and guide her through the event with strength and a positive attitude. Basically, react how you want her to react.

An example of proper socialization is bringing your puppy to a dog park and exposing her to friendly dogs at a distance she feels comfortable with. You give her treats and praise when she is calm. If she becomes agitated, you move her a bit farther away from the group until she is comfortable again. Slowly bring her closer, maybe even over the course of a few visits spanning a few weeks, keeping things positive as the puppy gets accustomed to the other dogs. You can use this same technique for anything you want to expose your dog to: the vaccuum, cars, new people, knocks on the door, bicycles, etc. – its a big world out there and while you can’t explain these things to your pup, you can show her that everything is normal by staying calm, redirecting her attention to something positive, and letting her go at her own pace.

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Hoping for a world full of happy dogs,

Kelly Witters, CPDT