Socializing: Why it is Not All About Play and Interaction
95% of the time I think we totally misunderstand the idea of “socializing” our puppies and our adult dogs.
We think socializing means exposing our dogs to something with reckless abandon.
Want to socialize your puppy or dog with other dogs; release him into a dog park.
Want to socialize your puppy with children; release him with a room full of toddlers.
Want to socialize your dog with men with hats; release him at a baseball game.
Ha ha that last one sounds kind of ridiculous right?
The truth is that they are all kind of ridiculous!
The majority of puppies and adult dogs could never handle any of those situations without trauma, either to themselves or the thing they are supposed to be socializing to or with.
I recently wrote an article The 7 Socialization Pitfalls to Avoid where I discuss socializing dogs with other dogs and what is definitely not recommended and why.
But it got me thinking…
Socialization comes in many forms, not just dog to dog.
It comes in the form of:
- Dog to adult
- Dog to child
- Dog to other animal (cat, rat, bird)
- Dog to thing (skateboard, jackhammer, bicycle)
And, as I mentioned above it doesn’t mean reckless abandon with those things, like many people think!
Instead it means control when those things or items are introduced.
Let’s Take Children
I for one have a very intolerant Belgian Malinois.
When he was a puppy, he was actually MORE intolerant than he is now.
But let me be the first to tell you, that if he doesn’t want to interact with or “socialize” with you; he isn’t going to and if I were to force him it could be ugly.
He is extremely standoffish.
I can’t change his inherent personality and transform him into a Golden Retriever, or a dog that loves people.
Of course I want to socialize him with children…
But who wants to opt to be the parent that would allow me to take him off leash and plop him into a room with their child.
Even at 9 months (I got him a bit older) I would never have thought about doing anything of the sort.
In fact, especially then, I didn’t even allow kids to pet him.
Socializing Doesn’t Mean Interacting
I can’t make that heading big enough!!!!
You see, to me, socialization doesn’t equal interaction.
Socialization in my opinion, means learning to tolerate learn how to behave around and then hopefully like what I am introducing.
I mean, I don’t expect my dog to hold a jackhammer?
Nor do I expect him to get so close he needs to wear goggles…
But I do expect to walk down the street in the city if they are doing construction without him wanting to run in the opposite direction.
I don’t expect him to let the rats at the pet store climb through his fur…
But I do expect him to remain in heel position and give me focus while we walk through the pet store.
I don’t expect him to let you hug him.
Heck, I don’t expect him to let you pet him.
But because I have socialized him by not expecting these things, I also expect him to sit in heel position, paying attention to me and my commands while totally ignoring you and showing no signs of aggression (as long as you aren’t aggressive with me).
I am pretty sure if I expected to change who he is, to force him to be petted, he would be a ticking time bomb.
We he knows that I respect him and his boundary needs, and he respects my call for obedience.
It is a cool thing if you really think about it.
By my not forcing him, he doesn’t have to be aggressive.
And, over the years (he is 3 now) he has gotten more and more tolerant and occasionally solicits affection from people I have gotten to know.
The Truth Is..
You could take the perfectly sociable puppy and release it with a pack of children and good things may happen.
But bad things can happen too.
I once had a friend who let the neighborhood kids play with her puppy and they dropped her and broke her leg.
That dog never liked kids again, because the puppy was in her puppy fear stage, and the children paired with the pain she incurred was something she associated together.
And, the wrong puppy released with kids may end in tooth marks, crying, and teaching the puppy to dislike kids and teaching the puppy that aggression keeps kids and people from doing uncomfortable things.
After all, aggression can be a very effective learned behavior!! Especially with a timid puppy or dog.
These dogs learn if they growl, nip, or bite that people don’t push them or touch them or come into their space. These dogs can learn to get more and more blatantly aggressive to simply keep people or things at bay.
Isn’t the better approach to teach control and respect first and then determine what the puppy or dog wants?
Having been a dog trainer for over 20 years, and having done some of all of these things (yes even inappropriate dog/dog and dog/child socialization), I can tell you that in my experience respect and control go a lot better without the risk of aggression and intolerance.
Let’s take a totally ridiculous scenario and break it down.
When teaching a bomb detection dog how to detect bombs, at NO TIME does the owner/handler teach the dog to touch, interact with or play with the scent of the bomb odor. They are taught to sit at the odor and then are rewarded with a toy for a passive alert (the sit).
Now, it is pretty simple to understand why…
We don’t want the dog excitedly racing toward and grabbing a bomb; for obvious reasons.
Training in this way would leave a mass of destruction human, canine and other in its wake.
Instead, the dog is taught extreme respect and appropriate behavior when in the presence of the odor. Sit, calmly.
This is critical.
One wrong move by one of these super trained dogs can mean mass casualties.
Why Can’t We All Train This Way?
Why can’t we all train our dogs in this same respectful manner?
Why can’t “socialization” mean training and control?
Why is it that people think it has to mean reckless abandon with…
I wouldn’t want a bomb dog that was trained to have reckless abandon with the odor of a bomb; and likewise I don’t want a dog that has reckless abandon toward people or children or really anything else.
Sure, I am thrilled to see my dogs and other dogs that are happy and social, but this doesn’t discount the need for respect and control!
Sometimes controlling the 150# overly happy and excited dog is just as important if not more important than controlling the aloof or fearful dog.
Because the happy, jumper can do more damage in an over excited greeting than another dog would!
For example, my dog isn’t going to come over and jump on you, he has no desire to interact with you at all… but that 120# Labrador Retriever adolescent could knock your child down and hurt him very quickly with very bad circumstances.
I say, teach your dog manners and control AND THEN add intimate socialization if your dog is actively social.
But do not force sociability on a dog that doesn’t want to be touched or a dog that is too exuberant and can’t control himself, until he acquires that ability!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.