Written by FOTP Team
If you’re ready to welcome a pup to your household, you’ve probably read that they need to be ‘socialized’. What does this mean, how do you start, and why is socialization necessary?
Socialization is the process of helping your dog to learn canine etiquette. Socialization should start when your dog is a pup, and continue throughout their early months.
As humans, we spend our toddler years learning how to interact with people. We learn that smiles produce smiles, and pulling Dad’s hair is bad. Once we can walk and jump, we learn about physical boundaries – all the things we can and can’t do. Maybe we tussle with our siblings and discover the difference between a playful pinch and a violent punch.
Pushing our best friend over in the yard? That’s a big no. Squeezing Dad’s legs or jumping on top of Mom? They’re probably okay.
For dogs, this learning slope is very similar. They will play with humans and other dogs to learn about the strength of their teeth and paws – stopping when the person or dog exclaims.
They will often mimic another dog’s body language, learning how to say “hello” and how much sniffing is okay.
At home they will learn how to get affection from their owner, and how to remind them that it’s dinner time.
And once they go outdoors, your dog learns loads more about life – like which hydrant is good for sniffing, which fence has a hole in it, and where the burgers usually fall on BBQ day.
Yep. Dogs store a lot of knowledge inside those cute skulls. Socialization is where you help them to accumulate it.
Socialization is the best way to train your dog in becoming a polite and relaxed member of society – both human and canine.
It’s important for dogs to learn manners, which includes greeting other dogs and people, as well as venturing over different terrain – and not freaking out when they see (for example) a discarded shopping bag blowing in the wind. (Yes, we know a dog who does this.)
Socialization training helps dogs to get along with other dogs. There are dozens of subtle body signals that they transmit to one another; watch out for some of them on your next walk. One day your puppy will meet a grumpy female dog who might raise her lip and snarl, and the next day they’ll be greeted by a bouncy Aussie Shepherd who lowers his front legs into a “bow”. Your pup has to learn about all these signals to avoid unnecessary confrontation – and make a few pals!
Socialization will also help your dog to get along with humans. Once they’re socialized they’ll be unfazed by a visit to the vet or a stroll on a busy sidewalk, and they’ll learn to stay low around babies and children.
Through all this you’ll be at their side, guiding their behavior and helping them to become a brilliant, friendly and well-loved dog.
What if a dog hasn’t been through this process?
Signs of a poorly socialized or unsocialized dog include:
1: Be afraid of new things. Socialization training isn’t just about meeting other dogs: your dog will learn that new things can be treated with caution, and will pick up on signals from you to see how they should react. But an unsocialized dog might be afraid of new things, and will be afraid of a toothbrush, swinging door, or another dog. This can result in defensive or fearful behavior.
2: Be unsure around other dogs. An unsocialized dog is more likely to be unsure how to behave around other dogs, especially if they approach for a greeting. They’re more likely to bite inappropriately due to fear or ignorance. They just won’t recognize the other dog’s signals and can think they are being threatened.
3: Be nervous of people or places. An unsocialized dog has not had enough exposure to new people or places and might react with fear when they encounter someone “different” – maybe a person wearing a baby in a sling. An unsocialized dog might also be nervous about going in the car or to a new place like the beach. Introducing these things at a young age helps you to rear a curious and happy dog.
We have good news! Unlike regular obedience training (which you should totally do too!), socializing your dog is really easy. When your pup is around 7-14 weeks, they should be exposed to as many situations and people as possible. But socialization continues for a few more months, as your pup will keep learning a lot about the world.
Carry treats! Using positive training techniques, you will want to reward your pup when they display the correct behavior. So when they walk by your side, return when you call their name, or greet a child nicely, you can be ready to reward them with a treat. This can also be a welcome distraction if you’re at the park and your pup has decided to befriend another dog who doesn’t want the attention!