Addressing Anti-Puppy Socialization Ideas

There are many anti-socialization posts these days. Please ignore anti-puppy socialization messages. Read below to learn why.

Some of the main anti-socialization points are in the blue headings below, with my comments addressing them after that.

Anti-Socialization Claim 1 – Socializing your puppy around other dogs and/or people is the worst way to get her calm around them.

It depends on the dog. If we’re talking about the average puppy, most are curious and would love to go up to new people and dogs and greet them. If the puppy is allowed this experience and treated kindly, she will continue to like others, since it has always been a positive experience for her.

The goal of socialization is not to simply get a calm puppy around others. The goal is to make sure the puppy likes others, because if she is confident around them, she will not have fear/aggression towards them or other new individuals she may meet later in life, although often times the more individuals puppies meet, the less likely they will feel they need to meet everyone (it depends on the dog), but their need for socializing has been met, meaning they likely will be calmer.

We can also worry about teaching calm behaviors later. We only have a short socialization period, where puppies are more open to new experiences. Our goal is to create positive associations with other dogs, people, sights, sounds, and other experiences a puppy will deal with in her life. We can teach foundation/obedience behaviors at any age to get calm interactions.

Anti-Socialization Claim 2 – Some trainers claim socialization is a complete cure for dogs who are reactive to dogs and people.

Two things about this:

1. Regular socialization efforts are for dogs without severe behavior issues. This is exactly why good trainers push puppy socialization, because puppies are new to life and malleable – we can easily take advantage of their natural hardwired socialization period to get them to enjoy the company of others – ultimately preventing worse behavior problems like reactivity, fear, and aggression from popping up later in life.

2. We actually can cure reactivity sometimes by allowing dogs to interact with others. There are different causes of reactive behavior (barking, pulling, lunging on leash towards other dogs), but one type results from dogs who are blocked from meeting/playing/socializing with other dogs and become frustrated. This is called barrier frustration and occurs when the leash or owner keeps their dog away from others, preventing access to what the dog wants and leading to frustration buildup.

Not all dogs with reactive behavior should be allowed up to other dogs, since they may also bite. Work with a professional dog trainer to help make sure you have a dog that you can introduce quickly to others to solve barrier frustration (we recommend our colleagues: CTC trainers from Jean Donaldson’s The Academy for Dog Trainers) as they are qualified to help with these issues.

Anti-Socialization Claim 3 – People just want a calm, friendly dog they can trust with guests and have enjoyable walks, and socialization does not lead to this.

If you properly socialize puppies, you end up with a calm/friendly/trustworthy puppy, and then you can train calm walking behavior (walking without pulling) with training treats.

Anti-Socialization Claim 4 – If socializing was the answer to aggression around dogs and people then socialized dogs would not be aggressive.

Again, socialization is done to prevent serious behavior problems like aggression. If your dog already has legitimate aggressive behavior, just letting them go up to other dogs or people and calling it socialization will not fix this behavior. But this has nothing to do with how we socialize dogs normally.

Aggressive behavior has many causes as well. We socialize puppies to ideally prevent any future aggression, but there is no guarantee on behavior. For example, there are medical causes of aggression like brain tumors. But if you sequester your puppy and keep her isolated, she definitely won’t gain social skills or enjoy the presence of other dogs more.

Anti-Socialization Claim 5 – Dragging a dog around more people and more dogs is not going to help. More socializing and having family members feed her treats, won’t help.

Proper socialization does not include dragging dogs around others. You absolutely should not force a dog to do any behavior. Acting roughly around them will create negative associations, leading to fear and aggression.

Allowing your dog to eat treats from family members is great as long as the dog is not too fearful to take them. Sometimes a nervous dog will approach to take a treat, then realize she’s too close to the person who scares her, and may then panic or bite. But all socialization and training efforts should keep puppies and dogs safe and comfortable. At no point is forcing them into situations going to lead to good results; luckily, that is not what actual socialization is.

Conclusion:

1. Socialize your puppies and newly acquired older dogs – allow them to greet and play with other friendly, social dogs. Allow them to meet kind people. Allow them to accept treats from family members. Socialize them to create positive associations with things they will encounter in life: different types of surfaces to walk on, veterinary and animal care procedures: examinations, baths, nail trimming, etc.

2. If your dog already has behavior issues like reactivity, fear, and aggression, you will have to work on training (not socialization).

3. Get professional dog training help as needed.

By Dan Raymer, CTC

Puppy Socialization for Halloween

Pre-Halloween

In the days leading up to Halloween complete your normal, daily puppy socialization activities. Expose your puppy to positive experiences with other puppies, friendly adult dogs, things/objects in the environment, veterinary procedures and gentle body handling, etc.

Two main socialization strategies to apply:

  1. Habituation – allowing your puppy to view and experience things passively, watching them and learning they are not scary, but normal everyday events.
  2. Creating positive associations – Actively pairing things/events with treats. Anything that is already scary to your puppy, should now have training target it to teach your puppy it predicts treats.

Allow your puppy to investigate decorations/pumpkins and receive treats for sniffing or approaching them. If you have kids and their costumes are easy to create and wear before Halloween, allow them to put them on and feed treats to your puppy, then take the costumes off, and stop delivering treats. This will provide some positive interactions on a smaller, more controlled scale than the busy holiday.

Planning for Halloween Day

If you have children, decide if your puppy will go trick-or-treating with you. If your puppy goes, bring plenty of high value treats and deliver them to your puppy any time he notices something new or potentially scary. For example, give a treat after your puppy sniffs a yard decoration or pumpkin. Give some treats after a group of children run by in their costumes screaming.

If you will be passing out candy at home, decide where your puppy will be:

  • At the door to witness the trick-or-treat transactions.
  • Somewhere else in your house – for example, behind a baby gate, or in a crate.
  • With you in the front yard passing out candy.
  • Or by the door with your puppy to observe, but allow children to take the candy themselves out of a bowl.

In each of these cases, deliver some treats to your puppy when he sees children, or hears them laughing/talking/screaming (and the doorbell rings), or another dog walks by the door/windows.

You can allow children to feed some treats to your puppy as well, if your puppy is not apprehensive.

Prepare your treats ahead of time. Fresh meat treats of high value are best for these procedures.

You can also give a longer-lasting chew toy, like a Kong, stuffed with canned dog food to allow your dog to calmly eat during the trick-or-treating process, allowing you to focus more on passing out candy and less on your dog. You can wait for the first doorbell ring/children talking sounds, and then deliver the Kong, so those things will predict a positive event for your dog. This could be a great option for older dogs, if you are planning on keeping them away from the children anyway.

Freezing the Kong with canned food will make it last longer for your puppy/dog.

If you have crate-trained your puppy or dog, you can place him in his crate for safety as well, so he will not escape the front door.

Evaluating Your Puppy’s Fear Threshold

Whatever strategy you’re using, make sure no experience is over your puppy’s threshold of fear. This means ideally you will keep your puppy from becoming frightened at any point. Gradually increase the intensity of experiences your puppy is exposed to; for example, if your puppy is scared of kids coming all the way up to him, allow him to remain farther away but view the kids and receive treats for watching, then build up to allowing calmer kids to approach, and then to hand-feeding treats to your puppy.

Adolescent and Adult Dogs

You can follow the same procedure for remedial socialization for older dogs, but be extra careful to keep them below their fear-threshold (so they are not afraid at all), and to not push them into more challenging experiences too quickly, since they already will have previous experiences and emotions attached to things like Halloween, costumes, children, people approaching, etc. – meaning if they are unsure or afraid of any of these things you could actually sensitize them (make their fear worse). This is true for puppies too, but since they are in their puppy socialization period, it’s easier to turn these experiences positive, and average puppies are less likely to do damaging bites than older dogs.

Never force any interactions between puppies/dogs and children or anyone/thing else. Always work to create positive associations.

Post-Halloween

Keep up the socialization work after Halloween as well. If the procedures are applied correctly, you will reap the benefits of early puppy socialization for the rest of your dog’s life.

Happy Halloween!

By Dan Raymer