How To Socialize A Puppy The Correct Way

How To Socialize A Puppy The Correct Way

Socialization is a key component to raising a puppy into a well established adult. Without it, the stresses of every day, modern, normal life is alien and disconcerting to our dogs. But most people get socialization wrong. Sometimes even to the point that they do more damage than reap the positive benefits of socializing their puppy. What is the right way, and how can we avoid making mistakes that set us back? Let's discuss it.

The old school idea of socialization was to put a puppy on a leash and walk around, meeting and greeting new people, dogs, and seeing new places, sights and smells. If that all went perfectly, you had a dog that was comfortable in its environment. But there were drawbacks.


The main drawback, even if everything went well, was that you now have a dog that is very excited every time it saw someone or another dog. Pulling issues could be created. Obnoxious dogs that rush up to strangers, including strangers who aren't dog people, don't want to be bothered, or are scared of an excited, out of control dog. Dogs who rush up excitedly to strange dogs who are less socialized, or who are serious dogs who don't play, thus starting a fight.

The modern and better way of socializing is the idea that you want a puppy to get comfortable with people, places and things in the environment and to think of them as background noise. Something to ignore vs something to fixate on. We want our dogs to focus on us and look to us for guidance, leadership and direction instead of looking to people for free reward and looking for stranger's dogs for a fun play session (that as mentioned, can end badly).


We want every moment of socialization to be positive. For that to happen, we have to control the situation and show our puppy that we control its life and routine. To do that, we start immediately with the 2 tools that allow us to do that: a leash and a crate. We also teach the puppy that we're the source of fun and attention, not other people, and not other dogs. We do this by giving treats and attention in the beginning stages of training when we train the mark. We do that by marking behaviors without any commands and rewarding with a treat. This is basically just teaching a puppy that a click from the clicker or a verbal "Yes" means a treat is coming.

The main focus during that period will be gaining engagement. You want your dog looking to you for what to do next. This is the very core of all training. If your dog isn't actively engaged with you, it isn't listening to you. It's sniffing the ground, watching squirrels, looking at other people etc. You want your puppy locked in on you and ignoring everything else.


To do this, use high value treats. Dry dog biscuits won't cut it. You'll need cooked, small pieces of meat, string cheese, high end soft treats etc. Whenever the puppy looks at us, we mark and reward. We teach the puppy to look at us and pay attention to us. We also do this before meals to ensure they're hungry. To them, you're the Rockstar with the best food who comes in right when they're hungry!

Start in places with little to no distraction and work your way up. Your home, backyard etc. are the perfect places to begin. You slowly build up distraction once your dog becomes more and more engaged during training. A quiet corner of the park (not a dog park, in fact, we recommend you never visit one), training on an empty basketball court or soccer field etc are good examples of low distraction options to slowly move up to. Eventually you'll move on to places with more distractions that test the dog's engagement and you must regain it through being the life of your dog's party so that it doesn't become distracted with the environment around it.


The biggest problem you'll have when socializing your puppy are people. I'm sure, as you all know, people will blatantly ignore you if you tell them not to pet or engage with your puppy. For a puppy with medium nerves or less, this can create a fear response and ruin your good work. Do not be afraid to tell people to back off. You should be more concerned with the development of your puppy than someone who can't follow basic directions when it comes to your puppy.

The correct way to deal with people and environments that make your puppy nervous are to regain the puppy's engagement and use treats and training games to ease their mind. This helps people and things they find scary in the environment to become white noise in the background that aren't interesting enough to pay attention to.

Do not let people outside of the people in your home give treats to, or pet your puppy. It's going to backfire in one of two ways, guaranteed. 1: Your dog will be freaked out which can manifest on fearful or even fear aggression issues. 2: You will turn people into a distraction because your puppy will lose engagement with you to run up to every stranger it sees to get a treat and petted because you've accidentally trained him to expect that. You want your dog engaged with you, not other people.


What about other dogs? Your best bet is to avoid the issue completely. Your dog doesn't need doggy friends. They have you. They're not kindergarten children who need play dates to properly develop social skills. If they wholly ignore other dogs their entire life, you won't have problems at all. If you absolutely must have doggy friends, the best dogs to socialize them with are adult dogs who pay them very little attention and remain aloof. You don't want to socialize them with other puppies because they'll look to other dogs for playtime. You don't want to socialize them with strange dogs you're not familiar with because most people are not good at reading canine body language. It only takes 1 attack for your dog to be dog aggressive for life.

What about strange dogs that are off leash? At the beginning of the article we talked about how all socialization is about positive experiences and control. Your puppy and even adult dogs look to you for their protection. If you can't do it, they'll resort to violence to defend themselves and will choose to do so on their own volition. Do you want your dog deciding, on its own, when, who and what it should fight preemptively to defend itself from a perceived threat? Absolutely not. So therefore it is your responsibility to protect your puppy. Whether that be carrying a walking stick or bear/pepper spray, protect your puppy. Stand in between them and tell the other dog to go home. If that doesn't work, do whatever you have to to protect your puppy so that it knows it is safe with you and doesn't have to bite out of fear to defend itself.


If you enjoyed this article or learned something, leave a comment, like and share. Thank you all.

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