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WHY SHOULD I SOCIALIZE MY PUPPY OR NEW RESCUE DOG?

  • Monday, May 09 2016 @ 07:21 pm UTC
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Think about things for a moment from your dog’s prospective. You’re a new puppy in a household. You have never met another dog, cat or screaming kids. You have no idea what a car is or what danger is. You have not met new people or maybe even stepped on grass. You have been with your mom from the time you opened your eyes and have had truly limited real world experiences. Now look at a rescue dog. He may have come from a horrendous situation with mean people, starving, dumped, taken from a kind gentle environment and thrown on the street to fend for himself. You have had to defend, scrounge for food and water and have had no positive influence for a period of time. You were then caught, possibly by a catch pole, placed in a cell for 11 days and suddenly you are supposed to be a sweet gentle house dog with your new owners. In both cases, rarely if ever, do these situations work out the way you want them to without someone interceding on the dog’s behalf, and provide training and a nurturing home for them to live in while reinforcing positive behaviors and safety for the dog. Dogs are pragmatic and can love again if dumped, be kind even if they were abused and be loyal even if their prior owner dumped them and betrayed their trust. It’s amazing but true, but it only happens with help from us humans through our kindness and open hearts. It doesn’t happen on its own.

In order to best understand the reasons behind training and especially socialization training, you have to be able to see beyond any situation that involves just you and your dog in is limited to just your home. Dogs are walked on public streets where they met other dogs. You have visitors who may be adults or children, both in your home and outside. People that have never seen your dog and may have different ways of greeting a new pet. Dogs are taken to friend’s homes where they meet strangers and other dogs and possibly cats. Dogs see squirrels and other critters both in their own homes and at the parks. Unless your dog is desensitized to these distractions he can become anxious and possibly fearful. He could lash out and possible bite someone out of fear, he could run across the street and be hit by a car chasing a bike or animal. He could hurt himself or someone else in his desire to chase something or react to a new situation. He can be a neighborhood nuisance by incessantly barking or lunging on walks. Without training your dog simply doesn’t know what to do, nor what is expected of him. He needs to understand the rules of your home, of his part to play as a family member and as a canine good citizen. Training is the only way to instill these value and to get and keep your dog under control.

You cannot train your dog in a vacuum and expect him to be worldly. If you attempt to train your dog or puppy all by yourself you will NEVER have him able to master life as a family dog and before long, unless he remains in your home in isolation, will be brought into rescue which then becomes someone else’s problem to try and fix. We do not rehabilitate dogs who are so far gone as to be anti-social. Those dogs more times than not are put down because the shelter cannot handle them and families don’t want to adopt the ‘crazy ones’.

Puppies for sure can be fearful from birth. Rarely do people actually get to know the sire and dam and rely on the breeder (many of which are truly assholes) to assure you that your new puppy is a social butterfly. There are excellent breeders around the country that are totally reliable sources of information on the possible predisposition of the dogs they breed but no one can ever be sure of a personality that has not formed as yet or may possibly have a predisposition to fear, aggression, kindness, friendliness or instability…. You just don’t know. Dogs personalities form in the first 12 weeks and are then refined and sharpened during the next few months so that when your dog is 5-6 months old, you can readily see their personality. If it is bad or not what you expected you probably didn’t put the time in to change it and now the cost of change is 2-4 times the time it took to have done it correctly at first. It is the job of the owner to expose the puppy to as many of life’s elements as possible in order to acquaint him with the world around him. These distractions and how they are exposed to the dog is socialization training. It involves people and things and allows the pup to realize that after all, his owner (mom or dad) is there to reassure him that these things will not harm him. By having as many experiences as possible as quickly as possible, your dog learns to cope. By being there to show him how to cope is a major part of positive development in any animal, pup or rescue.

Babying the dog isn’t socialization. Like babying or insulating a child from their world, you will do far more harm than good, so too does that smothering adversely affect the dog’s development. By showing the dog that you are there when these new experiences happen, and to look to you for an understanding and reassurance of what life has brought, does your animal learn to cope with events that are all part of life. From a loud noise from a lawnmower to a bicycle going by, your dog has to understand that these things will not hurt him. Dogs that have been on the street for a while grow to understand and to stay away from ‘danger’ in any form which makes their socialization training that much more essential. You don’t want to adopt a dog that runs from sounds, people’s hands, bikes, kids or other distractions. You want a stabile dog who looks to you to say, “is that OK dad’ and can ignore the distraction and go one doing what he was doing. By training your dog with other dogs and using positive reinforcement and praise, you develop a rapport with your dog so that he can effectively orchestrate commands during times of distractions such as in a park or in the presence of other dogs. You want a dog to be obedient when it comes to meeting new people or going to new places. The fun of having a companion is to be able to take him where you go and to do what you do in a happy and positive setting for both of you. Without socialization training that becomes unlikely.

Your dog needs to develop relationships with you and your family. This bond helps to give the animal a place in the pack. It helps establish who is alpha and who is not. Who is in control and who needs to comply. Socialization is really a desensitization of extraneous distractions which makes for a more balanced animal and a far better companion. Part of socialization training needs to show your dog that taking treats can be fun but that he needs to establish loyalty to you and your family. It is important to show him that not all distraction are dangerous and that you are there to help him distinguish which is which. Most dogs who go through this type of training develop a tremendous bond which enables them to protect you when they feel you, the pack leader, is in danger or in fear and to understand anomalies as they pertain to you or your family members. Without that degree of loyalty your dog may not understand when to stand up for you or other family (pack) members or when to retreat.

When exposing your pet to other animals or situations it is important to understand that he is seeing a situation for the first time. He will typically revert to a learned behavior or take a defensive posture unless you show him, by being matter-of-fact that new things are just that, new, not dangerous. Through this reassurance, which is done as a main element of socialization training, can your dog interpret each situation for its unique conditions and act accordingly. This takes time to train in and guidance and positive reinforcement to instill in your pet. It comes with time and especially in GSD’s, develops quickly. Once learned it lasts a lifetime.

Socialization training usually involves multiple dogs, not necessarily of the same breed, gender or size. Your dog sees others and does not make a distinction of size or gender in reacting. I like to have classes that have various breeds in them, as each breed tends to act differently in different situations. It is always good to have your dog see these behavioral responses when in class so as to gain an understanding that all of these dog’s act differently and that his response to these others has to be able to be controlled by the owner (trainer). The more repetition and exposure to these conditions the quicker a more balanced and stable animal develops.

Correction in the form of positive reinforcement rather than punishment allows a dog to learn without the fear of being chastised or punished if he fails to meet your expectation. The fact is he has no clue as to how to react or what to do until you teach him, so using punishment or violence in correcting a response to some extraneous stimulus is not the best way to get lasting results. An example would be to take a dog fearful of a bicycle for instance up to the bike and allow him to sniff it. Show him he can touch it and allow him to walk around it. While on the lead maybe walk with the bike and him to see it will not do him harm. In a situation with a new person, allow that person to give him treats and to pet him so as to desensitize him to the fact that people will wish to pet him. Not every dog is a candidate for being Lassie, not every GSD nor every Golden, but every dog can learn and every family dog should have a master willing to give up the time to teach him.