Socialization: What Does It Really Mean?

Socialization

What Does It Really Mean?

Definition

so·cial·i·za·tion-socialization; noun: socialisation

  1. the activity of mixing socially with others.
  2. the process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society.

Definition from Lexico by Oxford


I come across a lot of dog owners who want to socialize their dog. Usually what they think that means is meeting another dog and they will take them to the dog park. Socialization is so much more than meeting other dogs, though! It means getting your dog used to living in a human world and learning what is acceptable in a human world.

I believe and follow the recommendations from American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior:

The Primary Act And most important time for puppy socialization is the first three months of life. During this time puppies should be exposed to as many new people, animals, stimuli and environments as can be achieved safely and without causing over-stimulation manifested as excessive fear, withdrawal or avoidance behavior. For this reason, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior believes that it should be the standard of care for puppies to receive such socialization before they are fully vaccinated.

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior

It’s a (Hu)man’s World

Human babies are born. Immediately we get them familiar with clothes and a car seat before they leave the hospital. We use calm and nurturing voices to calm them when they are upset because they do not understand the world. They’re encouraged to develop positive relationships with family and we teach them manners to use as soon as they are able to speak (“please” and “thank you”).

We bring them to parks with different noises and different people, we nurture them while meeting another animal and teach them the appropriate ways to behave around another animal or human, all while their brains are like sponges for knowledge about the world around them. We do everything we can to make sure our children are prepared for their upcoming future and growing up in the world. After all, a child’s brain grows rapidly as they learn about the world from birth until three years old.

So, when you think about all we do to show our children how to behave in a human world, why do we assume puppies or dogs are born knowing how to behave in that same world? We often just put a collar on them and hook a leash on them while the dogs pull like crazy because that is what they were taught from the first time they pulled and learned it worked for them so they pull harder. Soon they have opposition reflex and pull even harder when there is tension on the leash.

"If I pull hard enough, my owner will follow me!"

A Dog’s Age

Often people will allow dogs to jump on them when they are little because it is adorable (and frankly, it’s hard to argue against this fact), but when they grow up we react by telling them “stop” or “no.” Do they know what stop or no means? My goal as a trainer is to teach your dogs and teach you to teach your dogs not to jump at all instead of you having to react to an action your dog is taking every time they meet a new person. I want to help your dog to learn the correct way to meet a person – without jumping on them.

A critical period for a puppy is 3 weeks to 16 weeks, give or take (it varies on breed). This time in a puppy’s life is crucial and so many different things can have a huge impact on how they develop and learn to react towards people, places, and things. Encourage your puppy to explore as many places as possible, touch as many different textures with its paws as possible, hear different noises, meet different people and dogs, and get exposed to water. Take it on a boat if you want to take it on boat rides in the future, car rides if you plan on your dog being in the car with you; envision what your life will be like with your adult dog and go experience those things as soon as you can!

“But My Dog Gets Lots of Experience at Home!”

Puppy playing in backyard

Dogs are contextual learners and learn in boxes. Something they learn in your home is a completely different experience in a different backyard or house. I have met dogs scared of a stick at a park when they’ll play fetch with a stick at home. Another dog was scared of water at a pond but loved the garden hose. There can be so many reasons why this happens but at the end of the day it’s our job to help them understand it is not scary. Do not stop doing something you love because your dog is too scared to do it. Get a trainer that fits your needs to help you and your dog(s) get to do the things you want to do so you can live your best lives together!

I recently helped a dog and its owners go to the beach together – something they had been avoiding. They used to enjoy it but found it embarrassing that their dog was barking and trying to pull them everywhere. I don’t want you to ever get to that point when a dog is one of the most beautiful things that you can have in your life.

Too Long; Didn’t Read

I want to make sure people know what socializing your dog means. It doesn’t just mean take it to the dog park; it means building a confident dog to take on the adventures on which you want to go together.

As a quick aside, I personally do not like going to dog parks because there are too many variables at play. There may be dogs that are small, big, old, young, and different play types which can all cause issues. Dog parks should be a positive experience for your dog. Not every person likes every person (and that’s okay!). Similarly, every dog doesn’t have to like every dog. This is why I’m putting together a list of parks and nature trails in the greater Jacksonville area to take your dog!

Resources

Pawsitive Socialization Checklist (PDF)

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