Socialization is the single best predictor of a dog’s future personality. Well-socialized dogs are calm and unaggressive even in stressful situations. But socialization involves a lot more than just introducing your dog to a few random strangers every few weeks. Proper socialization is an intensive training process. While it takes some extra time, it can affect your dog’s behavior for life and is well worth the effort.
How Socialization For Your Dog Works
Dogs, like most other intelligent animals, are designed to adapt to a variety of circumstances; they can happily live near busy streets, quiet country towns, in large groups or with a single human companion. But in order to adapt to any particular situation, dogs have to be exposed to it. Most modern dogs encounter hundreds of humans and other animals throughout their lives. If a dog has not had a lot of experience with strangers, new animals or loud noises, he can quickly become fearful. Unfortunately, most dogs react to fear with aggression toward the source of the fear.
Socialization aims to combat this problem by exposing dogs to a wide variety of experiences. The idea is to ensure that your dog encounters most types of people and animals that she might encounter in her daily life so that she doesn’t find them frightening.
Age and Socialization of Your Dog
Most mammals have a critical window of socialization, and dogs are no exception. During this time, dogs learn more readily and are less likely to be frightened by new experiences. For most dogs, this window is between 6 and 16 weeks of age, but some dogs’ critical window of socialization extends into their 20th week.
While it’s not impossible to socialize dogs after this time, it is much more difficult. Moreover, adult dogs who have not been well-socialized are more likely to become aggressive, whereas puppies are small and therefore much easy to control. To maximize the benefits of socialization, you should begin socializing your puppy as soon as you bring her home. After she’s reached 20 weeks or so, continue occasionally exposing her to new situations; this ensures that she remains well-socialized.
What to Socialize Your Dog To
Dogs encounter a huge variety of people, animals, and experiences throughout their lives. Your dog needs 5 to 10 experiences with each category for the socialization to be truly effective. Think about your lifestyle and what you can reasonably expect your dog might be exposed to in the next 10 years. At minimum, your dog should have socialization experiences with the following:
- Men and women
- Small people and large people
- People of different races
- Loud and quiet people
- Small dogs and large dogs
- Large crowds
- People wearing hats
- People making loud noises such as blowing whistles or playing instruments
The Socialization Process of Your Dog
For socialization to be truly effective, your dog must have extremely positive experiences. Every time your dog meets a new person or animal, give her a reward and lots of attention. Avoid introducing her to dogs who might be aggressive until she’s become very well-socialized. Otherwise she might become fearful. There are several excellent places that offer ample opportunities to expose your dog to a wide variety of people and animals. These include dog parks, pet stores, festivals and fairs, outdoor restaurants, the veterinarian’s office, neighborhood block parties and visits to other people’s homes.
Remember that there’s no such thing as too much socialization. If you feel like you’ve already done a good job socializing your dog, keep working at it. While good socialization will ensure your dog is friendly and calm, excellent socialization might mean that your dog is so well-mannered that he even responds well when other people and animals react poorly — such as when another dog growls at him. Good socialization can keep both you and your dog safe, and will make your dog much easier to travel with, whether you’re going to the pet store around the corner or on a cross-country road trip.
About the Author:
Jane loves all types of animals, and has owned and fostered many pets who needed a loving home. In fact, her husband is convinced that the animal community knows where she lives; they have had several critters dropped off at the house, knowing they won’t be turned away! She’s written articles on topics ranging from dogs and fleas to dog aggression. Visit http://www.pamperthepets.com/ for more tips on how to pamper your pets.