New puppy owners hear the word over and over again “it’s important to socialize your puppy.” What is sometimes added, either implied or directly, is the warning “or else.” But what does socialization really mean?

The Dictionary’s definition of “socialize” is to “1. act in a sociable manner, or 2. prepare for life in society, or 3. to give somebody the skills required for functioning successfully in society or in a particular society, or take part in social activities, or behave in a friendly way to others. To prepare for life in society is what most people think of when they hear about the importance of socializing your dog; in order to have a well-adjusted dog who can interact with the world around him, socialization is a must.

But what of the first definition? What does it really mean, to “act in a sociable manner?” Perhaps that is best described by explaining what a sociable manner is not.

It is not: – jumping on another dog’s head by way of greeting – running up quickly, and directly in the face of, every dog you encounter -invading personal space without first going through ritual introductions -failing to observe boundaries, real or imagined, once they have been demonstrated – assuming every dog you encounter wants to play Puppies must learn that the above behaviors are not the appropriate way to interact with other dogs, are not welcome, and will be corrected in the language the dog has available to him – through growls, air snaps, nips, scruff shakes, and other, perfectly acceptable, dog communication tools. So if wild and uncontrollable behavior is not considered a “sociable manner,” then we can also define what socialization is not:

– a wild free-for-all of dogs of all shapes, sized and temperaments climbing, jumping and bouncing all over each other – an unsupervised, uninterrupted occasion, left to the attitude of “the dogs will work it out themselves” – a dog-human event: socialization cannot occur if an owner insists on constantly interrupting, removing their sweet puppy from any interaction that involves noise, teeth, or correction – walking down the same streets, and going to the same dog park, to play with the same dogs, each and every day

In dog ownership, we have accepted the responsibility of being our dog’s leader. That title comes with all the duties being a leader requires: we must show our dogs the proper way to play, and the appropriate way to say hello. If your dog is incapable of controlling himself, insisting instead on jumping on every dog in sight, then he is not to be rewarded with playtime or saying hello. As a leader, we must also walk the fine line of allowing our dogs to discover things for themselves. If a puppy, lost in the rambunctious world of play, smashes into an older dog who isn’t interested in the game, then that puppy deserves to be corrected by the offended dog, often with a loud snarl and perhaps a show of teeth. It does nobody and good- not older dog, not puppy, and not their respective owners – for the puppy owner to swoop in, accusing the other owner of having a “vicious dog.” we must trust the process, and respect the integrity of our dogs, by allowing learning to happen, while at the same time helping it along. So how exactly DO we help it along? What does proper socialization entail? Proper socialization is structured interaction that includes, but is certainly not limited to: – Exposing your puppy to as many sounds, sights, smells, people, animals and locations as possible, beginning as soon as you bring your dog home. Suggestions include:

· taking your dog to the vet,

· to the park,

· to the pet store,

· to the school yard (when children are playing),

· on public transit,

· in the car,

· in an elevator,

· on an escalator,

· on busy streets,

· outside when the garbage truck goes by,

· near bicycles and skateboards,

· around people of

o all shapes,

o sizes,

o colors,

o ages and

o abilities – the list goes on

The more new things your puppy sees now, the easier it will be for them to adjust to new things as they age.

– Finding local classes or playgroups for puppies, so you can allow your dog to play and learn with dogs his own age. Many training schools and doggy daycare facilities offer such groups: look for one that has trained adult dogs available to interact with your pup. Be sure to ask what the playgroups involve; if it’s an open, “free-for-all” off leash play session, with no structure, then look elsewhere. – Gradually introducing your puppy to adult dogs, beginning first with dogs you know. Be sure not to let your puppy get away with too much “puppiness” – easy on the head-climbing, bouncing, and general “c’mon, let’s play” attitude that puppies seem to have in endless supply. – Interrupting frequently when your puppy is engaged in play. bring your puppy to your side and ask for a “sit.” Keep the excitement levels from getting too high, and teach your dog from a young age, that they must listen to you, even when they’re having fun. Reward calm behavior by allowing your puppy to return to play. – Lots of practice “saying hello” on leash. Sniffing muzzles is allowed; jumping on heads is not. Keep hellos short – maximum three seconds – and praise your dog for a nice hello as you keep moving. If your dog chooses to jump, remove them from the situation immediately – that’s not the way we say hello.

There are many other ways to socialize your dog, and you will have success if you approach the task with a little forethought and planning, and the help of a reputable trainer who can point you in the right direction. Dogs will behave to the level we expect of them; set your expectations at a high but manageable level, and begin teaching them as early as possible, and you will have a wonderful companion on your hands. If the Dictionary had a do-only edition, the word “socialize” would encompass a combination of both definitions -you are “preparing your dog for life in society by teaching them to act in a sociable manner.” You owe it to your dog to deliver no less.

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