Socialization is about teaching your dog how to react to the world in a positive and acceptable way. Even after a dog learns obedience behaviors, it needs to be able to practice them in different environments. Its an ongoing process.
Why is socialization important?
Prevent Fear. Some of the most common bad behaviors e.g. barking, lunging are due to fear as a result of poor socialization. A well socialized dog is a confident dog that views new experiences positively. Conversely, the opposite may happen with a poorly socialized dog. Fear impedes learning and this makes learning more challenging. Hence we do not start formal dog training until a relationship has been built. We don’t recommend correcting a dog that is barking from fear. Correcting a fearful dog may stop the barking behavior but the unresolved fear may manifest itself in an alternative outlet e.g. spinning, aggression
Prevent a dog’s natural instinct to chase/bark moving objects. Dogs are genetically wired to chase, especially animals that are smaller. Chasing creates adrenaline and some dogs find it very enjoyable. This becomes difficult to correct when it has become a habit. Hence it is important to habituate dogs with smaller animals that are neutral to dogs.
Socialization is often overlooked to be just dog-to-dog socialization. Our training methods have evolved to include socialization with the following:
Traffic outside the house
Places outside of the house
It is important to follow a socialization plan where the variable are controlled, rather than an un-controlled interaction which may scare a dog.
The following are common environment stressors that will create fear in dogs:
Objects: Training equipment, umbrella, muzzle, Elizabeth collar/cone,
People: Family and friends, strangers (with hats, sunglasses, crutches, dark skin people), kids, babies
Animals: Family/Strange Dogs, cats, birds
Sounds: Household sounds, sneezing, clapping, barking, things dropping, cans, bottles
Surfaces: Flooring at home (smooth, rough), outdoors (grass, cement, road), table
Traffic outside house: Pedestrians, cars, bicycles, joggers
Environments: Near the house, friends house, car rides, parks
It also important to socialize a dog with objects which will move away from the dog to prevent their natural instinct to chase and bark. We introduce moving objects progressively from far to near, neutral to active.
Uncontrollable moving objects include:
A planned socialization session should result in a positive experience, using treats.
It is important to make the socialization exercises progressive.
Start from far (non-interactive) to near (interactive)
Progress from neutral to active objects/people/animals
Research has shown that early socialization (up to 4-6 months) helps significantly to lay the foundations of socialization but needs to be ongoing.
Some dogs are genetically wired with more fear e.g. wild dogs as compared to dogs which have been specifically bred for personality traits. Do not rush socialization with fearful dogs.