Most new dog owners are aware of one of the most important aspects of raising a puppy – socialization. However, most of them don’t understand what socialization means and why it needs to be done. A common misconception is that the puppy needs to actually socialize with other people and other dogs – but this is actually pretty far from the truth. Socialization should really be called by a more accurate term – neutralization.
What exactly does neutralization means? Neutralization is what most dog trainers consider to be proper socialization. Instead of letting and encouraging your puppy to meet everyone and everything, the idea is to get them neutralized to the environment around them. We want our puppy to be exposed to all sorts of outside situations, such as trains, bicycles, barking dogs, and groups of people. There are so many things in the big, big world for your puppy to see and experience.
Taking your puppy all over the place will neutralize him to the outside world. But mistakes can happen – and more often that not they’re when other people or dogs are involved. A large part of neutralization is to encourage engagement with you. Once the outside world seems less boring, your puppy is more likely to focus on you. This becomes a problem when everyone on the street wants to pet and feed your puppy. It might seem like a good thing, but it generally has little benefits. If your puppy isn’t fearful of people, there’s no reason to throw him into the arms of every other person walking down the street.
When you allow every person to socialize, and especially to feed your puppy, it essentially trains your puppy that people are the ultimate distraction. Why shouldn’t he drag you over to everyone? They’re full of treats and pets! Why should your pup ever listen to you when there are so many more interesting people around? This can also lead to problems down the road if you do actually have a puppy that is fearful of people. Without the help of a professional trainer, letting others feed your puppy will not completely solve the problem of fear. However, reducing human fear is a topic for another article.
Remember also that allowing your puppy (or even your older dog) to socialize with all other dogs is not typically the best idea either. Many owners don’t understand how to recognize the very subtle behaviors dogs may show that represent dominance and aggression. It’s important to note that for many dogs, it only takes one attack to create dog aggression in the victim for life. Even if you think your puppy is friendly, the other dog might not be. And vice versa. Sometimes a very energetic and playful dog can be a little too scary for your puppy, and create a very negative interaction – whether you realize it or not. The best way to socialize your puppy with other dogs is to find a professional trainer or a friend who has the same views that not all dogs need to meet all the time. An aloof dog that doesn’t pay attention to your bouncy puppy is probably the best way to start.
Dog parks are a particularly dangerous place, especially for new puppies. Aside from the typical diseases, dog parks offer very unstable environments for puppies and dogs. Even if you have a watchful eye and are looking after your puppy every instant, you have no control over other dogs or owners in the park. Even those who mean well might not understand dog behavior and what could cause problems. A fight between two dogs can be devastating, but when you have an entire dog park getting involved, it’s very, very serious. You may have had good experiences at dog parks in the past, but there are plenty of terrible true stories, photos, and videos that prove injuries to dogs and people, as well as the death of many dogs.
The best places for socialization are places where there aren’t that many dogs to begin with. Walking around hardware stores, parking lots, and industrial areas will expose them to all sorts of environmental stimuli. There will be enough people around for your puppy to see, even some dogs at a distance, and plenty of other sights and noises.
Socialization is such an important part of raising a new puppy, and it’s equally important to do it correctly. It’s not something to over-think. It’s something to have fun with, and often one of the best parts of puppyhood. Watching your puppy experience the world for the first time is a wonderful thing, and we just don’t want anyone or anything to ruin that.
About the Author
Katie is a professional dog trainer located in Southern California, with a background of experience as a veterinary assistant as well. She has trained and competed with multiple breeds in AKC Obedience and Rally, agility, herding, Schutzhund/IPO, French Ring and conformation. She has been involved in dogs since she was a child, and specializes in protection dogs, working dogs, and aggression issues. You can visit her website, Katie’s Dog Training, to find out more information about her training and accomplishments. When she’s not helping others and writing, she’s out on the field with her Belgian Malinois and Pembroke Welsh Corgi.
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