When we adopt a dog, it is common to attend a puppy class and possibly a basic behavior class. Owners would like their dog to sit, stay, come when called. One aspect of training that is very often overlooked is “Socialization.” This is one of the most important responsibilities of dog ownership and will help to provide you with a dog that will be a welcome member of your family. One of the key components of developing a well-balanced dog is making sure that you take the socialization of your dog very seriously. The more socialized your dog is the less risk of your dog developing fears and or aggression. You want a dog that feels safe, secure, and confident which will make them comfortable and calm in most situations.
The way to begin to achieve this goal is with touch. It is a critical element in the relationship between you, your family and friends, and your dog. You want your dog to feel comfortable being touched everywhere on its’ body from end to end. By doing this it will make a more comfortable visit to the vet, groomer as well as wiping your dogs feet and brushing its’ teeth. This will develop more trust and a much more relaxed dog in varying situations. When you have small children, this can be an especially critical aspect of training to avoid the dog reacting to tail pulling, hugging, putting fingers in the mouth of your dog etc.
Each day, from the minute you adopt your dog you should expose your dog to at least one new person, place or thing. Just by taking lots of walks, which is great exercise for you and your dog, you will accomplish many of these goals. A drive in the car to nowhere exposes your dog to many new sights and sounds as well as being comfortable in the car. The worst thing is to make the car experience just about going to a place they dislike such as the vet or the groomer. Keep a journal of all the new experiences your dog has had throughout the week and make notes on which experiences appeared to create stress. You can work on those types of people or places until you find your dog starting to relax when exposed to those experiences.
Children are a common population that many dogs have trouble being around. Their natural tendency is to be excited, louder than most, and make lots of movement. A dog that is at all fearful or has natural herding instincts, can show undesirable behaviors around children. It is very important to expose your dog as much as possible by going to places such as playgrounds in order to slowly introduce them and make it a positive experience.
Think of all the sounds just in your home that could make your dog run for cover. Just the sound of the vacuum cleaner can make a sensitive dog quite unnerved. Slowly introducing the vacuum first off and then moving it around until eventually having it on with the noise will help your dog to become accustomed to something that they will have to deal with on a regular basis.
Many things we take for granted such as stairs, flash of a camera, bicycles, a man with a beard; etc., etc. can cause your dog to cower in fear. The list is endless. Make each experience that you observe causing your dog stress a positive and upbeat one. Resist the urge to reassure as this will reinforce the fear. Be upbeat and and act happy and calm around the thing that causes fear. Each experience will give your dog more and more confidence.