SOCIALISING YOUR DOG.
I am writing this section on socialisation as I feel and know that along with the subject of where you get your dog from it is of the utmost importance in having a sound adult dog.
Socialisation is the process of getting a pup and a juvenile/adult dog used to interacting with other dogs, people, things in the environment like everyday noises and objects and any unusual or different stimulus.This is an ongoing process of the utmost importance in the 3-16 week period but also on into adult life. Obviously the breeder or owner has your new best friend up till 8/9 weeks old so their input and environment is crucial to things.
What we have to do though is ensure that anything we expose the pup or dog to is not excessively scary for fear of giving them a lifelong phobia or fear of what actually scared them in the first place, this is especially important at the time when your pup and juvenile are going through a fear period (8-12 weeks and 6-14 months). You might not be able to tell that they are going through this fear period but be assured that they do take place. So all that we do in the way of socialisation at any time in your pets life should not be overly scary or frightening for fear of causing phobias or later fear/nervous issues.
There are some trains of thought out there that say that you can over socialise a pup/dog and I would agree with this, some dogs through conditioning may constantly seek out social interactments with other dogs or people on a annoying scale and in a self rewarding way (looking for the self rewarding hormonal high of successful interaction) but I think this would have to be caused by an owner being completely overly obsessive in trying to carry out the socialisation process.
SUFFICE IT TO SAY THAT I THINK GOOD SOCIALISATION WHILE YOUNG AND THROUGHOUT LIFE IS CRITICAL TO HAVING A WELL ROUNDED DOG.
So, how to go about it !
OWNERS AND BREEDERS: It starts here. First and foremost where you get your pup/dog from is of great importance (see the /where-do-i-get-my-dog-from section), for they should, if a pup, already be on their way in the socialisation stakes. Good breeders/owners should have allowed them to interact freely with mum and littermates (this is paramount). Hopefully introduced them to some novel stimulus like: family members, household noises, other friendly dogs, friendly cat, friendly people, other friendly animals if possible, maybe trips in or play in a car ( not alone though ). Exposure to different surfaces: grass, concrete, carpets, wood, soil, etc. Play with toys. Seeing different clothing (hats etc). Anything really that will give the pup a new, novel experience without scaring them, the association must be good. Generally the more of these experiences they have the better they will cope with new experiences as they get older, but owners/breeders should not go over the top with it.
Remember though that after picking up your new pup you must carry on the socialisation process yourself throughout puppyhood, into adulthood and beyond, and do not scare them. For any socialisation experiences to work your pup/dog needs to enjoy doing them, so their association to it is good, not bad.
If you have taken on a rescue dog, hopefully you have read the other relevant sections and have a good match to you and your lifestyle, but you still need to carry on the socialisation of your new friend.
Taking a pup to a good puppy socialisation class is a good idea in my eyes (see the /puppy-training-and-socialisation section), as long as it is safe and well run. At the vets is a good idea, with no monster older pups or juveniles present to give a bad association to the whole affair.
Later formal puppy/dog training classes are also a good idea but again only if run well and employing dog friendly non-aversive techniques, (see the /puppy-training-and-socialisation section). Well run classes will help with socialisation as well as teaching and training your dog (as long as you do not already have a problem dog, If you do then seek professional one to one help). Myself though I have never gone over the top with training, just the basics, let a dog be a dog.
Make a point of taking your new charge with you to new places, say to the pet shop, make it a jolly happy affair at all times, let them say hello to friendly people and other dogs and if something does seem to scare them don't show it too much yourself, give quick reassurance if they ask for it but don't overly comfort them as this will reinforce their thinking that what just happened was indeed something really scary (remember though if a pup not to put on the ground or meet other dogs until after the second vacination). Once you are taking them out and about regulary try to take them to a variety of places for walks. The different smells, noises and dogs they come across will help in the socialisation process; try to carry on the variety throughout life (VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE FOR THEM TOO). If you can try to avoid unfriendly dogs, difficult I know if they come bounding up to you. As long as it is safe and you are confident enough let them of the lead, if not confident try to find a fenced area to start in and work on socialising and recall. If you have friends, relatives or others with dogs go out on regular joint walks, your pup/dog will learn of them through observational/social learning (hopefully good stuff) and socialise as well.
When out and about try not to have your pup/dog on a tight lead and reel them in even tighter when other dogs approach, if you are nervous or anxious your dog will pick up on it and this could lead to problems later with other dogs, on a tight lead they are not able to move away (flee) from a perceived threat and the only option open is extreme submissiveness or fight, they cannot signal properly to the other dog as they are in a straight jacket of your doing (so to speak), many dog on dog problems start like this and escalate. If you have taken on an older dog you still have to carry on socialising your dog with other dogs, people, places and new or novel things. It is important though not to just let your pup/dog just run riot so to speak, you have to be able to keep control too, include proper training sessions (see/ask a trainer) on a regular basis including some lead work but do not go over the top with this; life needs to be enjoyable for a dog too.
If you are intending to leave your dog in kennels when on holiday then you want to be getting a good association built up between your dog and chosen kennels from a young age, when you are taking them to puppy classes you can introduce them to the kennels at the same time, just a short visit to start, maybe a play in a kennel with a kong full of nice stuff, keep things jolly. Have longer visits over time leading to a night in the kennels and take it from there. The effort will be worth it to have a dog that hopefully likes to go to the kennels. A good kennels will be glad to help get things right for you and your dog. Do things the same way for an older dog that has not been in kennels before, don't just stick them in there for a week without no getting used to it. For more on this subject see the /kennelling-your-dog topic.
Most of the socialisation of a dog is just letting your dog be a dog, they are a social, inquisitive, exploratory animal and will be happier and friendlier if allowed to be so. Make it enjoyable and do not scare them. Sometimes you will still need though to let them know what is acceptable behaviour and what is not.