Puppy socialization has become a buzz word in the dog training world. You probably know by now that you should socialize your puppy (maybe even your dog). However, when you look up how to do it you will be bombarded with tons of opinions about socialization.
Though there are varying degrees about what and how socialization should be used I'm going to do my best to clean up the muddy water as to what is Socialization.
I will start with the definition of socialization:
1. the activity of mixing socially with others. "socialization with students has helped her communication skills"
2. the process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society. "preschool starts the process of socialization"
Okay, that seems pretty straightforward. One thing I find interesting is the use in a sentence talks about communication. It is extremely important to keep in mind that our domesticated dogs are very social animals. It is their sociability after all that has made them "man's best friend". We need to recognize that dogs are genetically designed to socialize, but just because they are designed to be social they are not born with the skills to communicate effectively.
I like to explain dog socialization as teaching your dog to effectively communicate with other animals (primarily dogs and humans) and have strong conflict resolution skills.
A dog that has been well socialized and that has strong conflict resolution skills is generally a dog that will not turn to aggression as a solution to their needs. (Sound familiar?) Not all dogs will be well socialized and generally speaking it is best to socialize when dogs are young (under 3 years old). As they age (just like us) they will be less adventurous in their friend selection, and often prefer to stick to their known social groups.
I'm sure this happens because the animal develops experiences they habituate specific dialects, communication patterns, and mannerisms. Simply put it is comfortable and as we age comfort becomes more of a priority. For the same reason socialization is important for human children because they otherwise develop stereotypes and resistance to the unknown, it's important for our dogs too.
Let's step away from dogs and consider what has happened in the last couple years to peoples mental health and social-ability (communication & conflict resolution skills) since COVID? Some would say that our communication skills are struggling with all this online contact. I can say with certainty that our conflict resolution skills, as a whole, is lacking. Many don't know how to confront and talk through differences. They resort to ghosting or aggression.
Back to dog socialization... Socialization is not something you can take a single class for or read a few books. It's something that needs to be considered every single day when raising a puppy up until around the age of 2. You want to guide your dog through social situations in a way they learn to behave appropriately in both human and dog society. That is the goal after all.
I know this might sound like you need obedience and control but I would hate for you to miss the point! -- Socialization is not about your dog minding you but actually about your dog communicating with others. This includes non verbal versions of "may I have ___, please" and "No thank you".
Conflict resolution, I can't help but continue to frame socialization as conflict resolution skills. Though it also incorporates general communication; the ability to communicate needs, the skill of making friends, and being non-judgmental of other beings. Let me clarify when I say judgmental in a dog I'm referring to the stress or fear that can be triggered by unknown behavior or situations.
Remember during the socialization period of your dogs life they must have positive experiences with novelty. The younger the dog the more novelty they are experiencing constantly. The best way to socialize is to attend puppy classes lead by a trainer who understands dog's social needs.
Kind Animal Services offers a puppy preschool that is primarily designed for puppies to explore communication skills through play and interaction with other puppies. Puppy Preschool is for puppies 8wk - 18wk.
Again we want these experiences to be positive and progress only at a rate the puppy is comfortable with. The pace of socialization is important. By pacing your socialization to your individual puppy will ensure that you are not flooding or overwhelming your puppy. This is a far too common pitfall of socialization I see puppy parents doing.
Do not drag, pick up, push, hold, or otherwise restrain your puppy during times of socialization. I know how tempting it can be to pick up a puppy or say it's okay for a puppy loving friend to pick up your puppy! Doing this removes the puppy's ability to have control over their environment and will have the opposite affect of good socialization. When puppies are young many will not speak up about their concerns or fears so pet parents will miss the early signs of stress entirely.
Every puppy socialization process will look different but I try to think of it just like raising a child. You want your puppy to metaphorically learn to say "please" and "thank you", shake hands as a respectful greeting, make eye contact, listen when others are speaking, ask questions, and share their toys. It's a process of parenting.
I find the biggest challenge with puppy socialization vs human child socialization is that as a society we are far less forgiving of puppies than we are of children. Kind Animal Services as well as some other dog companies have created welcoming environments that understand that puppies are learning and we need to have patience with them as they explore, experiment, and play as a means of socialization.
As much as I want to explain to you all the facets of dogs social life we would be here for years. This is one area of education (dog training) that I really encourage new puppy parents to seek the help of a professional. Socialization is so simple in theory but enormous when you dig into it.
One more comment for those with older dogs (maybe a rescue) you too can also do some socialization techniques in the first few weeks of bringing home a new dog. Though your dog is probably already "socialized" there are still some ways to re-socialize in a sense but you must start the moment you bring them home.
If you have a young dog reach out to Kind Animal Services today and register for some classes or Dog School.