Over the course of my adult life, we have welcomed 6 new dogs into our home. Each has come with a great deal of love and excitement, and each made their way into a very special place in our hearts. As I reflect back on our lives with our dogs, each addition to our family has been a very different and distinct experience.
Buck and Maddie came to us when my husband and I were newlyweds, and Max came while we had a very young family. I think about those days and even though we loved our dogs very much and we had the best of intentions, we were not good dog owners. We provided them with all the physical things they needed like security, a warm loving home, veterinary care and proper nutrition, but we lacked so many other fundamentals that a puppy needs to not just be happy, but to thrive. We didn’t understand what they really needed, therefore we weren’t able to create an environment that enabled them to fulfill their potential. Throughout their lives, we chased one bad behavior after another, and when our time with them was over, we didn’t think we would ever want another dog.
Toby came into our lives after 8 years of not having a dog in our home and, because we did not want a repeat of history, we educated ourselves as much as we could before bringing him home. This time we knew better, and the difference was astonishing. For starters, we were able to get him from a reputable breeder and his experiences for the first 8 weeks of life set him up for success. We worked diligently on socializing and obedience training through the first year of his life and we were rewarded with an animal that was not only well adjusted and confident, but also the most loving and amazing dog we could have ever hoped for.
Tilly came to us as an adult and we’re pretty sure she was sent to us straight from heaven! Talk about an old soul that can melt all your worries away with just one look. Lastly we have Chewie and he is our COVID puppy. He is a spunky little guy and even though we understand the importance of socializing we admit it was difficult during the pandemic.
Right about now, you are likely wondering what the history of my dogs has to do with a blog post about socializing dogs! Well, of the 6 dogs we have owned, only 1 of them was truly and properly socialized and I’m sure you can guess which one. The correct answer is Toby. We took great care in his puppyhood, taking time to ensure he was well rounded and completely socialized. On the opposite side of the spectrum we have Buck, Maddie, and Max. They were good dogs, but they were ripe with behavioral issues and we worked so much harder than was necessary in an attempt to circumvent their issues. We worked harder than we ever would have if we had socialized them properly from the beginning.
Socialization (with the exception of a good breeder) is likely the most important thing you can do for your puppy. It is the foundation that all other successful training is built on. If your pup is well adjusted to his life and surroundings, many problems can be avoided all together. What’s fantastic about socializing is just how easy it is to do!
Socializing is all about exposing your pup to people, places, and things they are not familiar with. This may cause some minor stress to them, but that is actually a key ingredient to the process. Don’t knowingly put your puppy in a situation that will create fear, that’s not what we’re after and may actually inhibit the socialization process. What we want is the unfamiliar, not the scary. The low levels of “stress” they feel when exposed to the unfamiliar helps them realize that, when confronted with something they don’t know, don’t understand, and have never experienced before, it’s going to be ok. They will learn that they don’t need to fear the unknown, that when they feel stress its ok to react with curiosity and that fear and aggression aren’t necessary.
So how do we do go about accomplishing this critically important yet simple task of socializing?
Let your dog meet new people as often as possible. This is not a one and done. They especially need exposure to people that look, smell, and speak differently than you. The more times they have positive interactions with different people the quicker they realize that strangers do not equal danger and aggression and protection will not be their go to reaction.
Introduce uncommon sounds. Whether it’s the garbage truck slinging cans in front of your home, the vacuum, doorbell, noisy children, or thunder and lightning, you don’t want a dog that is jumpy and runs to hide every time they hear an unfamiliar sound.
Go to as many new places as you can in a car. So many places are becoming dog friendly, from restaurants to grocery stores, hardware stores, and even hotels. Take advantage of any chance you have to get your pup accustomed to riding in the car.
Puppy classes are an excellent place to meet other dogs in a controlled environment. Being comfortable around other dogs is really important. The last thing you want is a dog that becomes aggressive around other animals.
Finally, realize it doesn’t all need to happen at once. Some opportunities will present themselves naturally and some will need to be manufactured. Not doing too much too soon will keep your pup happy and healthy.
Make plans to socialize the newest furry member of the family, and have fun watching him explore his new world and grow in confidence. You will be glad you did when he grows to become a part of the family you can’t imagine living without.
Written by Stephanie Malm