Diamonds in the Ruff
My Veterinarian Said to Call
Your veterinarian understands how important it is to get young puppies off to a good start as early as possible.
Great vets make sure to let you know when your puppy is at the right age and has had adequate vaccinations to begin his education in a class with other vaccinated puppies. Be sure to ask at your first well-puppy exam.
Why start early? The primary socialization window is 3-12 weeks. Yes, it started before your puppy left his litter! If your breeder did a great job, your new puppy should have already enjoyed many rich and positive experiences before sending him on his way into the world with you. If not, it is vitally important that you get support now. The best way to cement a healthy bond and a life time of good behavior is to start positive socialization and training right away with your new puppy! (Do not take your puppy to public places where un-vaccinated dogs may have been!)
Your veterinarian may have noted that your dog or puppy is showing signs of concerning behavior that needs to be addressed right away so you will have a successful friendship.
Some problems your vet may have noted:
Fearfulness or anti-social behavior.
Problems with handling or restraint.
Territorial behavior or resource guarding.
Excessive hyper-arousal and inability to settle.
Most young puppies overcome these issues through the course of regular puppy classes. In some cases, owners need extra help, especially if the problem has gone on for very long or has escalated, or is the result of a traumatic experience or poor temperament.
Your adult dog or newly-adopted dog
Second hand dogs may come to you with baggage from their past life. Lack of early and ongoing socialization often appears as suspicion of strangers and fear of new places. Worried dogs may be defensive around other animals. The paperwork may have said "allergic" - but it may have been an "allergy" to the dog's bad habits, separation anxiety, destructive behavior, or complaints from a neighbor. Bad experiences, neglect, or trauma can contribute to more complex training needs. We can help.
My vet said he needs "more socialization" - what does that mean?
Usually it means that your dog lacks social experience and is therefore uncomfortable with new people, animals, places, and/or things. The goal of socialization is to help the dog relax, build confidence and replace suspicion and defensiveness with trust.
Socialization IS: gentle exposure to people, places, things, sights, sounds and smells at a distance he feels comfortable. The dog has the option to approach or not, and take as much time as he needs to gain confidence and trust and is able to remain calm and relaxed.
Socialization is NOT: going to the dog park, crashing around wrestling with other dogs. It's not being surrounded by children and made to endure petting by strangers. Socialization is not enduring something that is frightening or overwhelming in order to "get over it." It's learning to LOVE new people and experiences.
Your puppy does not have to have "all his shots" to begin class. He does need to be seen by your vet to be sure he is adequately protected to be in a disinfected indoor area with other vaccinated puppies.
The type of socialization your dog will receive in a group class is not "play." It is learning to be calm, to be able to listen and follow directions while in the company of other dogs and people. Safe calm exposure in a controlled environment.
Your job in class is to help him calmly enter the room, settle next to you and relax. (For more tips on how to help your dog in class, go here. )
"But he just wants to play!"
Over-stimulated, excited and aroused dogs don't become less-so by allowing them to party with every dog they see. Those who do charge at every dog they see, get worse. The reinforcement history is as follows:
Dog spots other dog and begins straining, jumping and pulling the owner toward the other dog. He may bark or whine until he is allowed to rush up to the other dog.
Dog pulls, and in doing so, gains access to the other dog. The after effect of getting to the other dog may be that the dog does, in fact, settle down. But you've now set a very reinforcing cycle into play. It soon becomes a bad habit.
The result is a simple behavior chain:
Act like a looney, get what you want.
The bad news is rude space invaders often get decked by the dogs they rush up to and frequently become dog-aggressive as a result.
What behavior do you want?
Well-mannered dogs pass other dogs quietly on a loose leash without making a scene. Well-socialized dogs have dog friends that they hang out with. They understand body language and respect each other's boundaries and play styles. They don't see other dogs as high arousal wrestling partners.
Over the years, there has been an increase in students who take their dogs to dog parks and day care. In that time, we've also seen an increase in hyper-arousal, leash frustration and reactivity. We are seeing a direct correlation between dogs who simply cannot focus on their handlers in class, whose owners report that they take them for regular outings to the dog park and/or enroll them in day care.
Their well-meaning attempt at addressing poor social skills by giving their dogs more unstructured exposure to unfamiliar dogs often backfires. These dogs are not learning better social skills. Too often, they are merely given more opportunities to rehearse the very behavior problems their owners are trying to fix. And on top of that, they may become bad experiences and trigger future social issues for other dogs. Dogs who are bullied, often become bullies.