Why Is Socializing A New Puppy So Important?
What is socialization and why is it so important? At our puppy class, we get asked about socializing a new puppy over and over, again. Here is the bottom line: Socialization is getting your puppy acquainted with as many different animals, people, smells, sights, sounds and different environments as possible. In my opinion, socialization is one of the most important things in a young dog’s life. If I were paid every time we received an e-mail, or phone call about a dog aggressive or people aggressive dog, I could have retired by now. Almost all of these cases have 1 major thing in common and that is lack of socialization when the dog was young. When you get any new puppy, it is extremely important to get him to start interacting with other people and animals as well as exposing him to a variety of sounds, sights, smells and more.
To get your dog well socialized with people, try having everyone your puppy meets give him a treat. Imagine if everyone you met gave you $50. You would quickly grow very fond of people. Your puppy will grow fond of people, too if everyone is slipping him a small treat in greeting. Your pup will start making equating, “humans mean great things for me.” You should make it your mission for your puppy to meet as many people and animals as possible. Not only as many people as possible, but as many types of people as possible—male, female, children, infants, and even different races. He should have complete exposure to as many variations of humans as possible. You should try to make every experience as positive as possible for him.
Socializing your puppy with other dogs and animals is also extremely important. Most cases of aggression result from a lack of socialization. Exposing your puppy to other healthy, confident dogs is something you should start doing almost immediately after you bring your puppy home. This teaches him to properly interact with other dogs at an early age. Ensure you are socializing your dog with other dogs that are very friendly. Initially, we recommend this socialization should be with only a few dogs at a time. Also, these play sessions should be well supervised to ensure they remain safe and positive for your puppy.
DO NOT take your puppy to dog parks for socialization. Yes, you read this correctly, DO NOT take your dog to a dog park for socialization. As trainers, we see e-mails from people whose dogs are now aggressive toward other dogs after being bitten at a dog park. People do not realize that this happens all the time, only they don’t often hear about it. As trainers, we hear about it almost every week! Usually, the dogs in dog parks are of various sizes, backgrounds, and levels of training. Essentially, they are a pack of dogs. Dogs usually consider themselves a pack when there are four or more dogs present. Any time there is a pack, there has to be a pack leader. In order for a dog to become the pack leader, he has to assert his force onto other dogs to show them he is in charge of the pack. The end result is a dog getting bitten. So what does this mean to your dog? Well, it only takes one bad experience to alter your dog’s perception of other dogs. Meaning, your dog is now dog-aggressive because he was bitten by another dog at a dog park, so now he associates dogs with being harmed. Again, this is a huge risk you run every time you enter a dog park. The dogs at dog parks come from a wide variety of backgrounds and their owners often know very little about animal behavior and many times, they know very little about their own dog! Unlike a doggy day-care, in a dog-park environment, there are no trained supervisors walking around, ensuring the safe play and often, many owners are talking to one another or doing something other than supervising their dog. Also, no evaluations are done in order to accept the dogs into the dog park. Again, you are taking a BIG RISK by exposing your dog to other dogs you know nothing about. A better alternative would be to look into your local doggy day care. I know that one of the day cares (Suite Paws) that we recommend has a Sunday play session built in for puppies 5 months and under. This is a great alternative to dog parks.
There are so many other ways to socialize your dog without the use of a dog park. I mentioned doggy day cares, above – however, you can also socialize, one-on-one with other known dog-friendly dogs in your neighborhood or family. Another idea is to take them to a pet store on the weekends so they can interact with other dogs and people.
Another mistake people make is thinking that they want their dog to “protect” their family and not be social or friendly to everyone. Unfortunately, most people don’t know that socialization and a protection dog have absolutely nothing in common. In fact, almost all trained protection dogs are extensively socialized. They love people, kids, animals, and other dogs. They are friendly with everyone, and are taught to bite only a specific individual on command. An under-socialized dog with low-confidence is more prone to bite a person at random (a family member, child, neighbor, etc.) and likely, it won’t be because it was “protecting” you or your family. This sort of dog bite can cause all sorts of negative implications… anything from being sued to issues with home owners insurance or just generally becoming the family in the neighborhood with that dog that nobody likes. This is not what most have in mind for their family pet.
Regardless of what your goals are with your new dog, socializing a new puppy is the most important thing you can do for your new family member. A well-socialized dog is a much more confident dog and confident dog is healthy and happy around all people, animals, sights, sounds, and environments. This is an essential step to ensure you have a happy, confident and well-trained dog.
Below is an example of a dog/people aggressive dog that we trained in Raleigh/Durham, so you can see the importance of socialization.