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Training Your Dog: The Importance of Socialization

Carrie Pallardy
 
Whether you are bringing home a puppy or an adult dog, proper socialization is an essential part of your training process. You want to set your dog up for success when you explore the world together. How do you properly socialize your pup?
 

What Is Socialization?

Introducing your dog to other dogs is a big part of socialization, but complete socialization extends beyond. Socialization is the process of helping your dog navigate his or her environment safely and confidently. That means helping your dog learn how to interact with other dogs, other animals, people and how to respond to sensory input: sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and physical sensations.
 

Puppies

Source

Socialization begins in the first few weeks of a puppy’s life. At this point, most of the lessons will be coming from the puppy’s mother and littermates. When a puppy is ready to leave her mother, she will usually take her first steps into human socialization. At eight to 16 weeks old, puppies are ready to being interacting with canine playmates and different people. This period is crucial for creating positive experiences for your dog.
 
Some tips for socializing your pup include:
 
  • Let your dog explore their environment at their pace. Make sure to puppy-proof your home as much as possible, and let them get habituated to your living space while you supervise.
  • Introduce your dogs to many different kinds of people. People of different ages, genders, and races will help them become used to the wide variety of humans they will encounter as their world grows bigger.
  • Help your dog get used to sensory input of all kinds but make exposure gradual and take cues from your puppy. Too much too soon could trigger fear or anxiety that could have a lasting impact. Get them used to being touched. Allow them to smell, hear, and see different things. Try offering different treats, while maintaining a healthy diet.
  • Introduce your puppy to peers. Sign up for a puppy training class or puppy daycare. Schedule playdates with other young dogs.
  • Start to expand your puppy’s horizons. Slowly increase the lengths of your walks. Go for car rides. Try out going to the pet store together.

Adult Dogs

You may have heard about dogs missing their window for socialization. This means that they were not properly introduced to new experiences in their early weeks of life. Dogs who have not been socialized may exhibit aggression or anxiety, particularly when faced with experiences or stimulation they associate with negative outcomes.
 
While it can be difficult to rewrite negative experiences, you can spend the time to help adult dogs become properly socialized.
  • Recognize the challenges your dog faces. While you may know your dog is loving and gentle, it is important to acknowledge their socialization shortcomings. Is she aggressive toward other dogs? Is he extremely anxious in certain situations? If you try to ignore these issues, you can put your dog, other dogs, and possibly people in danger.
  • Go for walks on a regular basis. Help your dog explore the world while safely controlled on a leash. Distract them from potential triggers for bad behavior, and reward positive interactions with their environment.
  • Consider working with a professional trainer. Dogs who have missed out on early socialization may struggle to learn new behaviors. Working with a professional trainer can help rewire your dog’s behavior and create new positive, experiences.
 
  
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