The Doggy Socialization Conundrum
Written by Maria Huntoon, CBCC-KA
You’ve probably heard that socialization and exposure to a variety of people, other dogs, noises, objects and environments is critically important for your dog to become a confident and happy member of your home and society. During the first approximately 16-20 weeks of a pup’s life he is primed for learning and absorbing the experiences surrounding him, but what you may not know is that this isn’t the only important time to socialize our dogs. Our dogs must get continuous exposure to people, other dogs, etc over the course of their lives to stay confident and happy.
I’ve worked with many clients who started out doing the right thing by taking their pups to puppy classes so they could meet other dogs. But then after the classes ended, they didn’t keep up with the regular exposure. Or maybe they did bring their pup to doggy daycare or the dog park, but at some point the pup started to become stressed and overwhelmed and the owners couldn’t tell that the pup was no longer having a good time (we do speak different languages after all). That stress and pressure can often lead to anxiety, reactivity and even aggression. So while exposure is key, we want to make sure we’re working within our dog’s comfort level to build his confidence around other dogs. (Stay tuned for our next article on how to do just that).
It’s important for us to understand that dogs process information and look at the world differently than we humans do. We have the ability to generalize well, we can rationalize and understand concepts. This is much harder for dogs to do. Which means that becoming comfortable with just a few kinds of dogs does not indicate your dog will automatically be comfortable with all dogs. Let’s break this down for a minute… how many different kinds of dogs are out there? Big dogs, little dogs, dogs with so much fur you can hardly see their faces. Dogs with erect ears that are always standing at attention, dogs with floppy ears, dogs with tails and dogs with no tails. Dogs with squished faces, dogs with long short bodies. Dogs with high-pitched yappy barks and dogs whose barks are deep and startling. Dogs that prefer to just lay around and dogs that don’t seem to have an “off” switch. So many kinds of dogs!
With this said, it’s imperative that we socialize our dogs with other dogs of all shapes, sizes, ages and breeds so they can learn to read other dogs well across the board. However, this doesn’t mean we should just let our dog interact with every dog it sees. There are still social boundaries and we want to teach our dogs how to respect those boundaries. For instance, just as we don’t stop and talk to every person passing us on the street, dogs do not need to interact with every other dog either.
Every dog is an individual. Some dogs just want to enjoy their walks with their humans and choose not to interact with other dogs; some dogs are elderly or just tiny and do not want a large dog they don’t know trying to jump on them. And some dogs are overly enthusiastic or love other dogs so much that they can hardly contain themselves when in the presence of a potential new friend. There are going to be times when we will want our dog to interact with other dogs and be comfortable doing so; then there are many times when our dog should be able to pass by other dogs without anticipating an interaction.
Just as we humans can be introverted or extroverted, some dogs enjoy being thrown into the mix with a bunch of other dogs at a dog park, while other dogs prefer to interact with only one or two other dogs at a time in a lower-pressure activity such as a walk or hike. Some dogs have a personal space threshold, while others have no problem beingthisclose to others. Knowing what kind of dog you have and understanding your dog’s comfort threshold can make all the difference in successful doggy socialization!
About Maria Huntoon
Maria and her dog, Scout
Maria Huntoon, CBCC-KA, has over 17 years of canine experience, 12 of which have been focused in behavior. She served as both a Special Programs Trainer and Regional Manager of the Puppy Program at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, where she played a part in helping hundreds of dogs become successful guide dogs. She has also worked in veterinary hospitals and with rescues.
Maria is a certified canine behavior consultant by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, a prestigious council created by animal behavior professionals with high standards for expertise and professionalism. As of 2016, there are less than 200 CBCC-KA's worldwide. You can learn more about Maria by visiting her website: http://www.mghcanineconsulting.com/