Wednesday, June 27, 2018

4 Beginner Tips for Foolproof Dog Socialization

How to Socialize a Dog

Socialization is an important part of dog training. Depending on the circumstances, it can start in puppyhood or later in life, but without it, you might be facing an uphill battle when it comes to forming a lasting partnership with your dog.
While dog behavior is ultimately a vast and complex topic, here we've broken down four basic socialization tips for you and your dog to follow. So sit, stay and read.

1. Be Consistent

Consistency is key to achieving just about anything in life, and that’s no different for socialization or dog training. Think about how difficult it would be for you to learn the piano if your instructor only showed up once a month and used a different set of music terminology each time. Most dogs are eager to learn and interact with you, however, dog training isn’t a one-and-done deal. Consistency isn't just about your dog's behavior, it's about yours as well.

For example:
  • Use the same command each time
    • e.g., "down" and "off" aren't interchangeable
  • If you're going to make your dog sit when meeting strangers on Monday & Tuesday, you need to follow through on this behavior from Wednesday through Sunday as well

Making sure your dog gets plenty of exposure to other dogs and humans is critical to proper socialization. While your dog may always bark at the mailman for interrupting nap time, we encourage you to purposefully create an environment in which your dog can practice being a good boy or girl often and regularly.

  • Take your dog on regular walks
  • Find an off-leash dog park
  • Participate in obedience, agility or trick classes

2. Reward! Reward! Reward!

Socializing your dog is all about linking positive associations to desired behaviors. While dog training can certainly be frustrating at times, it's simply not possible to elicit positive responses from negative reinforcements.
Your dog's behavior is a direct reflection of your training. A difficult dog isn't "doing it on purpose" or "out of spite"; aside from a few selective genetic traits, your dog simply isn't preprogrammed.
To get the most out of any training, couple consistency with reward.

3. Start Early

The best time to start socializing your dog is now. Whether your pup is just a few months old or you'd like to get an older companion accustomed to friends, family or guests, the sooner you can begin the process the better.
Your dog isn't born with the skills he or she will need to become an ideal companion, however, thanks to centuries of selective breeding your dog already possesses the potential. It's your job to unleash this potential, through consistent training and positive reinforcement.

The Overly-Excited Dog

Most dogs you'll encounter throughout your lifetime will fall into this category. But just because your dog is already eager to meet other dogs or humans, doesn't mean he or she won't require socialization training.
Dogs that get too frisky, jump up or seemingly have no boundaries will require socialization to help them play and interact within the confines of normal doggy boundaries. To achieve this,

  • Let other dogs tell your dog or puppy "no"
  • Intervene and redirect attention using positive rewards
  • Start training the basics such as "sit" and "stay" early

The Cautious Dog

Some dogs are just born worriers. You can't change your dog's personality, but you can help these traits not turn to fear or aggression by intervening early on.

  • Give your dog a job
  • Provide plenty of praise
  • Don't push it

Dogs are doers. From sniffing out bombs to getting your slippers, all dogs are willing and capable to some extend in this department. Of course, training for the job requires work, diligence and patience; a well-trained dog isn't born, he is made.
But don't worry: it doesn’t take complicated jobs such as leading the blind to keep them busy and engaged. You can build your dog's confidence simply by making him or her wait before eating or going outside, letting your dogs carry their own pack while hiking or teaching easy retrieval and release skills.

No matter how you choose to approach it, praise will be a key component to your success. Some dogs prefer eye contact and pets while others want to go straight for the ball or the treat. How you praise your dog is up to you, but it's important to remember that all accomplishments - no matter how small - deserve and require your praise in order to instill a sense of well-being and confidence in your dog over time.

Finally, don't push your dog into scenarios he or she is not comfortable with. You've probably heard differing opinions on this, from "don't coddle" to "sink or swim", but we're here to tell you from years of experience that if your dog feels threatened, fearful or insecure, you cannot remedy the situation with force.

Your dog might never be a social party girl; the goal of socialization isn't to create a new personality for your dog, it's to ensure that your dog is capable of stepping out into the world without trepidation.
Take your time, assess your dog's mood by observing his or her body language, and let them walk away or even hide if they feel like it. Over time, with repeated exposure and positive reinforcement, your dog will emerge from his shell.

The Aggressive Dog

Sometimes, dogs become aggressive. You might adopt an aggressive dog or raise one on your own. Aggression is an avoidable and treatable behavior that's affected by early socialization, training and genetics.
There are various types of aggression that can occur, most of which are the result of fear and insecurity. Early intervention is your best bet to avoiding aggression, but if you're already dealing with an aggressive dog, there are still various things you can do to correct this behavior.
A very common type of aggression, even in typically good-natured dogs, tends to be leash aggression so let’s discuss this in more detail.

The reason leash aggression occurs is because it creates a sense of insecurity for your dog. Facing another dog on a leash places your dog into a position he or she wouldn't normally be in when a friendly greeting occurs. Your dog doesn't know he should simply chalk up this awkward direct face-to-face contact to the leash, and instead tries to distance himself from the situation by exhibiting warning signs such as growling, barking or lunging.

To make matters worse, there's often a well-intentioned but misguided owner on the other end of the leash. As dogs approach one another, you might notice a shift in body language such as lowered tail or flattened eats. Your response?
Your instinct tells you to tighten the leash, but this actually reinforces a feeling of tension to further increase stress in your dog.
How do you stop aggression?

  • Train at home
  • Limit exposure to other dogs
  • Provide distraction & positive reinforcement

Training while at home ensures that your dog is able to give you his or her undivided attention for extended periods of time. Teaching your dog common commands such as sit or lay down in a non-threatening environment will help you to apply these skills more naturally when things aren’t so relaxed.
While ultimately the goal is to help your dog understand he doesn't have to be aggressive on the leash, setting realistic goals will help you both to stick out this process. If you normally walk during doggy rush hour or your regular route just happens to be a thoroughfare for other animals, think about what you can change to limit exposure to other dogs.
You want to be able to encounter a few dogs in each walk, in order to begin retraining. Remember that jerking the leash, yelling or other forms of punishment will create an even more negative association, so you should never punish your dog in an effort to correct his aggressive behavior.
Using a treat reward while walking is easy, but you must pay attention. If you see your dog notice another dog, provide a treat before he or she has time to react. Continue to give treats until the dog has passed.

You may need to redirect your dog's attention entirely, by turning him away from other dogs as they pass. You can also walk around other dogs in a large arc to avoid head-on contact.
If your dog is clearly agitated or acting aggressive throughout this process, you’ve demanded too much too soon. Try observing dogs from afar for a while.

4. Learn to Speak Your Dog's Language

Teach your dog to “speak” and he'll still just be barking. While your dog may become verbal in order to communicate, much of how your dog actually speaks is conveyed via non-verbal body language. Learning a dog's body language is a valuable skill that'll help you provide proper socialization while avoiding common mistakes new pet owners make.

If your dog shows signs of irritation, fear or aggression, intervening with distraction and positive reward will help you to mitigate a potentially dreadful situation.
Your dog provides many cues to you throughout the day, from making eye contact while cuddling to play-bowing as you chase him around the yard. Some cues can be much more subtle such as a raised eyebrow or a quick head tilt.
This helpful chart from Canine Strategies displays 15 common, yet oftentimes misinterpreted, body language cues you should be aware of as you socialize your dog. Keeping your pup's tail, eyes, ears, mouth and overall posture in mind when making proper introductions at home or while out will allow you to quickly intervene before problems have the chance to arise.