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Socialisation for any age

Today I am going to clear up some misunderstandings about socialization. Before we get started - even if you do not currently own a puppy, this is a very important topic.

While ideally socialization starts at a young age, we can provide positive and smart exposure to a dog of anyage. This brings me to the first misunderstanding about what socialization actually is.

It actually is not that easy to work with a dog who sees a new best friend in everyone who appears on the horizon (if you have a super social dog like this, you know what I am talking about!). Rather, socialization should be the process in which we teach our dogs all about the world and social settings and expectations through appropriate boundaries - in many different ways! It means:

  • Getting to know different services

  • Learning to be calm in public places

  • Hearing many different sounds

  • Seeing many people and dogs from a safe distance - and working on calmly ignoring them

The "socialization success" of a session in which your dog is calmly observing a group of people from a distance is much bigger than one at which your dog is hyper and racing around with a group of wild puppies! Please note that socialization is not about making dogs closely interact:

It is really detrimental to try and make a dog e.g. be petted by strangers when they are stressed out! Your dog should learn that being in different settings is always going to feel safe. This is why I actually prefer the term "socialization/positive exposure". The goal is not to make your dog "social" with everyone … it is to provide positive exposure and experiences (for some dogs, this might mean from a large distance) through first trust building then positive exposure and more trust building... advocate for your dog like you would your child, help them navigate the world through your confidence, shared trust and understanding

The next big misunderstanding is when socialization/positive exposure should happen. Everyone knows it is important for small puppies … but it actually stays important for quite a while!

Dogs’ bodies mature a lot faster than their minds. A 6-8 month old puppy can already look very mature and grown up … and we might think "now that the dog is grown up, we can finish socialization!" But in fact, the only thing that has matured is their appearance. Their mind is still very, very young and flexible.

Until a dog is about 2 years old we should continualy strive to teach them that the world is a safe, fun and friendly place.

If negative things happen during this time, do your best to change this into a possitive, by that I mean, if a dog barks and lunges at yours (possible because that dog didn't like the close proximity of yours) you can say in a fun voice 'what was that.... what was that....' luring them away with a treat and give out little tip bits and praise.... what you would have done is make light of the situation with your confidence and silly ness so your dog begins to wag its tail and pay you attention, then reward for doing that and moveing away from the other dog. Going forward I would then adjust how we say hello and ensure to call my dog back to me before approaching.... give them a command for saying hello and then facilitating bum sniffs then call my pup or dog away before mischief breaks out.

I have seen many younger dogs go from relaxed and friendly in public (because they got a lot of great exposure until about 4-6 months old) to quite sketched out or even reactive as they approached their first birthday, because they looked so "grown up" that owners stopped the consistent positive exposure. Of course - we can always change our dog’s opinion about the world....

Whether you adopted an adult dog or your dog is already 4 … 5 … 6 years old, you can start right now with helping them be calm and happy in different settings, even if they havnt been to date.

So when I'm asked if my classes encorperate socialisation? My answer is YES! It's built arround it, incorporating it into every class or 121 lesson! Not in the fashion of let's let all our dogs off to play and work out their differences but more about everything mentioned above.

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