Training and Socialization
“You Can’t Have One Without The Other”
by Mary Thompson
Socialization is not about dogs exchanging phone numbers at the dog park. In fact, it has very little to do with dog-to-dog interaction. Socialization is about how a dog reacts to and deals with, the environment. A well-socialized dog is sophisticated and responds appropriately to a variety of situations, regardless of how new or different the surroundings are. Unsocialized dogs are often stressed, anxious, destructive or aggressive, of a disagreeable combination of all of these.
Socializing an untrained dog is often difficult and frustrating. Training an unsocialized dog is equally difficult. The answer lies is successfully combining the two without placing undue stress on either the owner or dog. Happily, with help and encouragement, this goal becomes an enjoyable reality, and the end result is a proud owner and a well-behaved pet.
“Respect for living things requires an appreciation for their innate needs and desires and the ability to fulfill these, at least to some degree.” Monks of New Skete, How To Be Your Dog’s Best Friend, pg. 123
By the time a puppy is 16-18 week old and possesses the necessary vaccinations and license, it’s time to begin socializing outside the home.
Expose your puppy to new and different experiences beginning a few days after you bring him home. Use a positive, upbeat attitude to help your puppy become accustomed to everyday sights and sounds. Loud noises, strange people and objects, vacuums and brooms, gloves, hats and anything else you might imagine are new to your puppy and early exposure will help him accept them later without fear.
There is nothing wrong with a puppy who startles, shies, or becomes frightened of new objects and sounds, especially the first time he is exposed to them. How you, as the owner and leader, handle the situation is critical. You must teach the puppy that fear is unnecessary. If your puppy demonstrates interest and curiosity offer praise using a positive, happy tone. Meet any demonstrations of shyness or fear with reassuring pats (not pets), laughter and play. Soothing a frightened puppy praises the feeling of fear, essentially telling the pup that fear is the correct response in that particular situation. Hence the reason so many dogs are afraid of thunderstorms. Happy upbeat tones and a playful attitude teach the puppy that there is nothing to be afraid of.
Make car travel and walks on a leash positive experiences. If the pup associates these activities only with negatives, you will end up with a car or leash shy dog. Take fun trips and fun walks, and make sure that only positives happen on these occasions. Take toys to play with in the car or on walks. Sing, invent games, and have fun! If you have fun, your pup will.
Introduce your puppy to as many dog friendly people as you can. Teach your pup to be friendly and trusting toward people. This will not negatively impact his natural guarding instinct. Well-socialized dogs are very good at reading human body language, both yours and other peoples’. As your pup matures into an adult, he will be able to read humans faster and more accurately than you can.
Puppy kindergarten is great in concept but not so terrific in practice. There are far too many health risks to make the socialization experience worth it. Instead, socialize your pup with owners of littermates or other puppy friendly dogs that you are sure are healthy and who demonstrate appropriate canine communication and behavior.
Dogs Six Months Or Older
Obedience training is a must if you want to own a friendly, well-adjusted dog. Choose small classes, or one to one training in a park setting. This allows you and your dog maximum learning and includes socialization. Choose an obedience instructor who understands what true socialization is all about and teaches you to apply each lesson to real life. A good example is a sit-stay. Once the dog has mastered the lesson, encourage strangers to approach and gently pet your dog. Make sure the dog honors the sit-stay and does not get up. This teaches your dog to accept pets and people calmly and proofs the sit-stay exercise at the same time. Each exercise that you learn offers more socialization opportunities, just apply a little imagination and progress slowly. Start in a park and work up to a carnival. Asking too much, too soon, causes setbacks, not progress.
“A dog that tends to be shy or that is kept at home and on the owner’s property almost all the time may exhibit fear of anything he has never seen before.” Carol Lee Benjamin, Dog Problems, Pg. 109
Owners of unsocialized adult dogs, and you know who you are, face some real challenges. The dog who jumps on everyone who approaches him, growls at other dogs, drags you on a leash until you can’t take him for a walk, who lives in the backyard because he is too unruly to be allowed in the house is the dog who need socialization and training the most, and who is the least likely to get it. Often, owners of these dogs are either too ashamed or too afraid to ask for help. Relax, and make that phone call!
The idea that older dogs cannot learn is a myth. If the dog can walk and bark, he can be trained. The longer the dog has gone unsocialized the more difficult training becomes, but only to a limit. The sooner the problem is dealt with the better for all concerned. In rare cases a dog left confined to a yard and completely unsocialized may be beyond help. Do not try to make this decision without consulting a qualified behaviorist. In only a few rare cases is a dog beyond rehabilitation. It is important to understand that professional help can and will change the situation, probably more quickly and easily than you imagine.
Instructors see and handle these unsocialized dogs everyday and will inform you of past mistakes only to prevent them from being repeated with another dog. Chances are your dog is not the worst one the trainer has handled! Walk away from any instructor who is critical, condescending or tries to lay blame. This is not a constructive attitude and clearly indicates an instructor who lacks teaching skill.
The first order of business is to educate the owner about diet, exercise requirements, and safe handling techniques. Eliminating fear is essential in order to make progress, and properly taught, the average person can handle even a large un-trained unruly dog. Next the dog needs to learn to walk calmly on a leash. YES, it’s true; all dogs are capable of learning to walk calmly on a leash. This skill can be quickly and easily mastered during the first weeks of training. After that, the rest is easy. Master and apply each lesson to situations where your dog has become over-excited or unruly in the past. Slowly at first, and then more consistently, the new training will take over and instead of slinking away in shame, or banishing the dog to the backyard, you will find yourself happily praising a well-behaved pooch.
Patient, calm handling along with the proper instruction and training make learning the exercises and practicing them a fun challenge that quickly forms a bond between dog and handler. The stronger the bond becomes, the easier it is to socialize the dog. This is because you will enjoy being with him more, and as your dog bonds and trusts you, he will no longer feel the need to react to things in his environment, unless you react first. This does not mean that he will not be watchful, but there is a large difference between watching and reacting. As you and your dog respond successfully to each new challenge you will achieve goals, become true companions, and successfully learn to communicate with each other. It doesn’t get any better than this!
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