What is socialization and why is it so important? It is getting your puppy acquainted with as many different animals, people, and circumstances as possible. In my opinion, socialization is one of the most important things in young puppies’ lives. If I were paid every time we received e-mails or calls about people-aggressive or dog-aggressive dogs at our training facility in Northern Virginia, I could have retired by now. Almost all of these cases stem from a lack of socialization at a young age. When you get any new puppy, it is extremely important to get him to start interacting with other animals and people.
To get your dog well socialized with people, try having everyone your puppy meets give him a treat. Imagine if everyone you met gave you $50. You would quickly grow very fond of people; your puppy will, too. Your pup will start making the association of “people equal great things for me.” You should make it your mission for your puppy to meet as many people and animals as possible. Not only as many people as possible, but as many types of people as possible—male, female, children, infants, and even different races. He should have complete exposure to as many variations of humans as possible.
Socializing your puppy with other dogs and animals is also extremely important. Again, most cases of aggression result from a lack of socialization. As I write this paragraph, there is a extremely people-aggressive dog in our facility in Northern Virginia on its first lesson. When I asked the owner how the dog got that way, he replied, “We never really had him around anyone other than our family.” With this particular Lab, you cannot even touch him without him trying to bite you. This is why socialization is so important. This should be something you start doing almost immediately after you bring your puppy home. This teaches him to properly interact with other dogs at an early age. Ensure you are socializing your dog with other dogs that are very friendly. Initially, we recommend this socialization should be with only a few dogs at a time. Also, it should be supervised to ensure it stays safe play.
Do not take your puppy to dog parks for socialization. Yes, you read this correctly, dog parks are a bad idea in my opinion. Again, we receive many e-mails from people whose dogs are now aggressive toward other dogs after being bitten at a dog park. People do not realize that this happens all the time, and they just do not hear about it. Only attacks on people make the news, not attacks on other dogs. The dogs at dog parks come from a wide variety of backgrounds and their owners often know very little about their own dog. Unlike a doggy day-care, in a dog-park environment, there are no trained supervisors walking around, ensuring the play is safe. Also, no evaluations are done in order to accept the dogs into the dog park. Essentially, you are taking a big gamble by exposing your dog to other dogs you know nothing about.
Usually, the dogs in dog parks are of various sizes, backgrounds, and levels of training. Essentially, they are a pack of dogs. Dogs usually consider themselves a pack when there are four or more dogs present. As you know, any time there is a pack, there has to be a pack leader. In order for a dog to become the pack leader, he has to assert his force onto other dogs to show them he is in charge of the pack. The end result is a dog getting bitten. Now, your dog that you have done so great with is now dog-aggressive because he was bitten by another dog at a dog park, and now he associates dogs with being harmed.
There are numerous other ways to socialize your dog without the use of a dog park, such as taking them to a doggy day-care. As I mentioned above, doggy day-cares evaluate dogs before admitting them into their facility, drastically reducing the chances of a dominant dog being there. Additionally, they have trained personnel constantly monitoring the dogs’ behaviors. In the event that a dog does start displaying any dominant characteristics, they are immediately corrected or separated from the group. Another good way to socialize is one-on-one with other known dog-friendly dogs. Or take them to a pet store on the weekends so they can interact with other dogs and people.
A big misconception many people have is something along the lines of “I want my dog to protect my family; I don’t want him to be friendly with everyone.” Unfortunately, most people don’t know that socialization and a protection dog have absolutely nothing in common. In fact, almost all trained protection dogs are extensively socialized. They love people, kids, animals, and other dogs. They are friendly with everyone, and are taught to bite only a specific individual on command. An under-socialized and low-confidence dog is more prone to bite a person at random (a family member, child, neighbor, etc.).
Regardless of what your goals are with your new dog—show, protection, detection, search and rescue, or just a regular household pet—socialization is one of the most important things you can do with a new puppy. A well-socialized dog is a much more confident dog, as well. It is confident around all people and animals. This is an essential step to ensure you have a happy, confident and well-trained dog.
Below is an example of a dog aggressive dog we trained in Northern Virginia, so you can see the importance of socialization.
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