Socializing? What Does That Mean? 

Pro-Tips By Tyson Hainsworth

Best way to think of socializing is to try and expose the dog to everything that is going to be common in their world throughout their life and then some. You can have fun with this and get creative. I had one client tell me he thought he did a pretty good job of socializing his dog but it never occurred to him that one day he would have hot air balloons flying over his house and terrify his dog. So you try to prepare for everything you can but life has a way of throwing curveballs at you. Add that to the list for the next dog.

Socialization Period - Dogs go through a socialization period from roughly 5 weeks to 12 weeks of age. Whatever they see within that time and have a good experience with they tend to like later on. Whatever they have a bad experience or no experience with they may have an issue with. This is why I get a lot of clients saying I think my dog is racist because they only bark at black people or elderly people with walkers. I had one client say their dog only barked at white people, the dog loved East Indian people as all of their neighbours were East Indian. Even had a client who lived with her dog in L.A. for the first 7 years and when she moved to Canada the dog would bark at anyone wearing a toque.

It is good to know why these problems may arise and how to best address them. This is the great thing about getting a puppy as you can really socialize them the way you like. What about COVID??? Safety in mind for YOU (or your unvaccinated pup) The key things to avoid are nose to nose encounters with dogs carrying a virus or getting into feces of an infected dog.

Here is the catch 22. Until the dog is fully vaccinated which is often around 12 weeks of age you miss out on that key socialization window. There are some real good ways to mitigate that risk and maximize exposure:

  1. Vehicle - Bring some dog food with you. Pop the hatch in your SUV, or open the door, lower the tailgate on a truck and hang out there with your pup in busy areas. Let them watch the things going on. Reward with food to make it a positive experience.
  2. Blanket - Set a blanket on the ground and hang out there.
  3. Carry the pup - You can carry the pup to all kinds of places while they are little. 

What should I "socialize" my dog with?

People - Young and old, different ethnic groups, all different kinds of clothes, etc.

Big Animals - Horses, cows. Then other big animals like deer, moose, elk start to seem similar. I have been known to be driving down a backroad, spot a group of deer, stop, get out and do some socializing with my pup on the side of the road while the dog sees the deer and learns to watch them quietly or even better, focus on you. Great for that time you go hiking and a few deer come running out in front of you and your dog has no issues and listens to your commands.

Small Animals - squirrels. All other small animals start to seem easier the more you do as well. We have chickens and cats here as well and now a hamster that are used for socialization. The dogs can quickly learn mice are fair game but the hamster is off-limits. But in full disclosure when you first get the hamster and haven't taken the time to teach your dog the hamster is a part of the pack the hamster will become slightly terrified when a German Shepherd tries to go through the cage to take the "giant mouse" out. But once you tell the dog the hamster is here to stay they quickly learn to protect the hamster along with the chickens and other creatures on the farm. Just have to make sure you notify the dog who is allowed and who is not. 

Noises - Thunderstorms, fireworks, gun fire, etc. These in particular as they are quite loud. Many dogs born in the fall or winter will be afraid of thunderstorms come Spring because they did not hear them during their socialization period. YouTube and other sound recordings can be very handy to help prepare them for these new noises come Spring. Great time to use that home theater sound system. Start off quiet and then start to increase the volume.

Gun fire training - Not an option for everyone but it is a fantastic way to really proof your dog for loud noises. Start with a smaller rifle at a distance and then work your way closer to the dog. Watch for signs of stress. Lots of rewards for being calm and quiet -.22 rifle is a great way to start. Pretty quiet.

-410 shotgun - Many gun dog trainers will go to a 410 shotgun after the 22. You can skip the 410 and go to the 12 gauge, just start further away

-12 gauge shotgun - Finally the 12 gauge is used. Start at a distance and then work your way closer. If a dog does not have fear of a 12 gauge going off next to them then a thunderstorm will also not likely be a problem. You can also use YouTube for gun fire sounds. I believe you can still get some cap guns at the dollar store that can be used as well.

Other "scary" things - Skateboards are a big one that a lot of dogs have an issue with. They are loud, come rolling in like a predator then retreat like prey. Motorbikes and other loud vehicles like garbage trucks, construction equipment, jets, helicopters, etc. Can be good to go hang out near the airport. Or again utilize YouTube to look up skateboard videos or anything else you like.

Dogs - Fenced yards are great for this. You can be on one side of the fence while another dog is on the other. You can also hang out near dog parks or by a pathway where dogs walk by. Again, carrying the dog, hanging out in a vehicle, on a blanket off to the side. If you want to get close, that is where the fenced yards work great so you can get quite close without doing nose to nose contact or letting them get into dog poo of any sort. You are trying to mitigate risk and maximize exposure. 

Tip: Best time to socialize is when the dog is a bit tired. They are more likely to just lay or sit quietly and watch the world go by. Break distractions down into lower levels to start, then build up. Make it a positive experience with rewards like food, toys and praise. 

Mitigate risk and maximize exposure as best you can.

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