Socialization: what is it?
Socialization is the process by which a dog learns to relate to people, other animals and its environment. This means meeting and having pleasant encounters with as many adults, children, dogs (puppies and adults) and other animals as possible. It also involves becoming used to a wide range of events, places and situations.
The importance of being sociable
When you take on a dog, you are taking on the responsibility to ensure it learns how to be emotionally well adjusted. Dogs which have not been socialized may grow to be fearful of unfamiliar places and people. Dogs that are well socialized grow to be friendly and happy in the company of people, new situations and other animals, and make very successful pets.
How do I socialize my dog?
Take your dog out and about as much as possible, taking care not to overwhelm it and to keep it safe. The more situations it learns to cope with, the more confident it will become. Since it is necessary for pet dogs to enjoy the company of adults and children, take your dog to them and invite them round to your house. All encounters should be pleasant. Keep your new dog happy by giving strangers small tasty titbits to feed, or by passing them a favorite toy so they can play with your dog. If your new dog is shy, ask strangers not to stare at it, tower over it or hug it, as this may be seen as threatening. Watch your dog constantly for signs that it is becoming anxious or overwhelmed, and, if so, remove it from the situation or give it more space and freedom to approach in its own time.
Meeting other dogs
Your new dog should be carefully introduced to other adult dogs. Ensure these dogs are`safe' to be around, as a bad experience is worse than none at all. Give your dog as much freedom as possible so it is able to interact with the other dog in a natural way. The more friendly dogs that your dog meets the more your dog's social skills will increase.
Cats, livestock and horses
Dogs should meet a variety of other animals, but should be kept under control to prevent them learning to enjoy chasing.
Dogs also need to encounter a wide range of different scents, sights and sounds. If you are socializing your new dog well with humans, familiarization with different environments should happen naturally.
As well as socializing, it is essential that your new dog learns to be well behaved. Preventing bad behavior and rewarding and praising good behavior is the key to good manners. Rewarding good behavior will increase your dog's eagerness to please.
Hold a tasty tidbit in front of your dog's nose so that it becomes interested in the food. When it is concentrating on the food, slowly raise your hand up and over its head. As it follows the direction of the food, you will notice your dog will begin to sit. Keep raising the food until it is in the sit position completely, and then praise it well by giving it the tidbit and telling it that it is a good boy or girl. When your dog is sitting instantly after you raise the titbit, start giving the `sit' command so it learns to associate the word `sit' with the action of sitting.
Coming when called
It is better to start teaching this exercise in a quiet area of your home where there will be few distractions. When this command becomes more reliable, you can use it in other places. Start by asking a friend to hold your dog's collar, while you walk a short distance away. Crouch down and call your dog to you in a high-pitched excitable tone, and then signal to your friend to release its collar. As your dog approaches you, open your arms and encourage it to come straight to you. When your dog reaches you, you can either produce one of its favourite tidbits, or its favorite toy for a short game. Repeat this process and gradually increase the distance over which you call your dog. Soon you will be able to call it to you without asking your friend to hold its collar. Repeat this training until you can successfully call your dog to you even when other things distract it.
Lure your dog into the `sit' position (as explained above). Once your dog is sitting, start to slowly and gently lower your hand down to the floor. Place your hand just in between its front paws. As your dog follows the direction of the tidbit with its head, its body will follow into the`down' position. When your dog is in the `down' position completely, praise it well and give it the tidbit. Always remember to give an end command such as `OK' or `off you go' so that your dog knows its training is over.
Important points about socialization and training
It involves pleasant encounters with adults, children, other animals and different environments
It's easy, but takes regular effort
It makes the difference between a fearful dog, which may bite, and a happy outgoing dog, which enjoys being around people
Training helps you to have better control of your dog, so that you can ensure that he behaves well in all situations
Training and socializing your dog is a fun way to form a trusting relationship