So you’ve brought home a new puppy – Congratulations! Now the fun starts! Aside from potty training, one of the most crucial things you need to do with your puppy is to socialize them. Most resources encourage you to allow your puppy to interact with other dogs. Here at Dogology University, we take a different approach that’s more relationship-based, teaching your dog to focus on you, and be neutral to its environment.
Canine Personality Differences
At first glance, you may be thinking “but I want my dog to like other dogs!” Think of it this way: Do you walk down the street expecting to hug or shake hands with everyone you pass (or expect your child to do so)? It’s the same thing with a dog. Some people believe that all dogs should like all other dogs, but that’s not the case. All dogs have different personalities – some are more gregarious, while others are more reserved. As your dog’s owner, it’s your responsibility to understand your individual dog’s proclivities, and adjust your expectations accordingly.
You Are The Source Of All Things Good
You may be asking, “why do I want to train my dog to be neutral?” For one thing, it deepens the relationship you and your dog have. Ideally, you should be the only source of good things (and therefore oxytocin.) When you allow your dog to play with other pups, and only call them back when they’re tired, they learn that other dogs = source of pleasure. This can then lead to them ignoring your recall, and putting themselves in potential danger!
Another benefit of teaching your dog to focus on you is that it avoids leash aggression or barrier frustration. You’ve probably been out on a walk and passed by another dog straining at the end of its leash, or barking its head off. When your dog focuses on you, they learn not to react to the other misbehaving pup, which makes walks more pleasurable! Furthermore, your dog doesn’t feel the same pressure or stress to “say hi” to any of the other dogs, which makes everyone happy.
We strongly recommend that you AVOID on-leash meetings, even with dogs that you know. This is because dogs can feel restrained when they’re on-leash, and straining at their collar can present an “aggressive” body language picture to the other dog. This can then lead to a fight! Also avoid introducing dogs in confined spaces – outside on neutral ground is best.
Recommendations When Meeting Other Dogs
If you’d like to introduce your dog to other dogs, you’ll need to be highly selective. Only choose dogs whom you know very well, or know their handlers very well. When acquainting the two dogs, make sure that they have long leashes on them (at least 4-6 feet) to allow you to grab hold if something should happen. Your dog should also have a 100% reliable recall before engaging with other dogs. Remember what we said earlier about being the only source of good things? You don’t want to give your dog a chance to find out that they can ignore you when you call them, and if you don’t have a completely reliable recall, that’s where the drag line comes in.
Another alternative to letting dogs play together is to socialize them by doing obedience or on-leash walks with other dogs around as a distraction. This way, the dog learns to ignore other pups, and your bond is reinforced.
At our puppy class, we work with you and your new addition to teach neutrality around other dogs, and to lay the building blocks of focus on you. We’ll start by marking and rewarding for 1-5 seconds of focus, then working up as the dog matures (and their attention span lengthens).
Other Socialization Opportunities
In addition to other dogs, we recommend avoiding dog parks and aggressive dogs. At dog parks, it’s almost impossible to control the situation, as you don’t know who is going to be there, what the dogs are like, nor how much training they’ve had. The only time we recommend using a dog park is as a training distraction to proof your dog’s obedience training.
Socialization doesn’t stop with exposure to other dogs! Take your pup on car rides, expose them to loud noises such as leaf blowers and hair dryers, and allow them to experience different surfaces such as grass, concrete, smooth floors, grates, etc. Playgrounds are GREAT for this sort of thing, as they’re built to be safe, and have a variety of different surfaces and climbing opportunities for your pup!
Seek out different environments as well – woods, lakes, rivers, streams, sandy beaches, the ocean – even the city! Urban environments especially are great to expose your puppy to people on skateboards, bicycles, car horns, etc.
You can also acclimate your dog to the vet’s office by taking them in, having the tech feed them cookies, then leaving. The vet doesn’t have to be a scary place that you only go to get shots! This is also a great time to teach your dog to accept handling of its ears, eyes, mouth, nose, paws, and tail.
Regardless of what you socialize your puppy to, your expectations need to be consistent across ALL contexts. For example, if you ask your dog to come when called in the backyard with low distractions, you need to expect the same behavior when you call them in the middle of playing with other dogs. Dogs are not good at generalization, and we need to remember that when training them.
If you have any questions about puppy socialization, let us know! We’d love to help you ensure that training your dog doesn’t feel like combat. 🙂