“Socialization” can be defined as a positive interaction with various stimuli to teach dogs how to meet challenges and cope with different situations. When is your dog truly well-socialized? A lot of dog owners when asked about socialization mention the people and other dogs they have met. But we tend to forget about smells, sounds, tastes, textures, movements, and seeing different things.
Dr Ian Dunbar has said that puppies should meet 100 different people by the time they are four months old; that’s a tall order! It is also important that each of your dogs be taught individually about the world.
For example, your older dog may have been more comfortable with children while your new dog is stressed, so they may need more time and slow introductions. Try to be realistic and set up situations for your dog to have good experiences instead of assuming that they will be “fine”.
Let’s talk about the lesser-known socialization needs. For starters, I feel that we are less concerned about socializing puppies to new sounds as most of us don’t notice many of the sounds in our environment. Dogs tend to be more aware of sounds as their hearing is much better than ours. Sounds of birds, barking of other dogs, vehicles, trains, construction noises, alarm beeps, thunderstorms, and so much more are part of our lives.
Remember that your dog may only experience these sounds in different seasons or locations. For example, motorbikes in the summertime or snow machines in the winter. Take some time to help your dog be comfortable with these new or concerning sounds. When you have a plan you will set your dog up for success instead of stress.
We can also introduce different scents as part of socialization. Sniffing is important for dogs to explore and be comfortable in different environments. This sense is great for mental stimulation. Take your dog to a new location and let them investigate by using their sense of smell.
When walking, don’t focus just on physical exercise but give them time to smell as it is great mental stimulation which is an added bonus to tire them out and meet their needs.
It can be tricky to introduce different tastes and textures to your dog, as you do not want them to eat random objects, but we can give them different safe toys to chew on. You can offer them different foods to eat that are safe for them; different meats, oranges or apples (no seeds), carrots, broccoli, peanut butter, and cheese are some options.
Touching or walking different surfaces is also important for puppies. If you want them to be confident walking on tile floors, sidewalks, trails, or sitting on the paddle board, they need to be introduced to these things early.
Sight is the last sense I find that sight is the dog’s least efficient sense. At a distance, dogs may not recognize objects or people that they have seen before. For example, some weeks my dogs will bark at the trash cans on garbage day, and other weeks they don’t. If your dog seems concerned about something, approach slowly and don’t force an interaction. If it is someone your dog knows then ask them to talk as your dog may recognize their voice.
Overall, many clients tell me their dog is well-socialized because they have another dog at home, or because they’ve had a few visitors over, but as you can see there is much more to it than that. The “socialization period” for puppies ends around 14 weeks but that doesn’t mean it’s too late for your older dog to learn to be comfortable with new things. If your dog is struggling with socialization or fear issues, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can chat!
Originally published in The Chronicle Journal (Dog Talk with Anne-Marie Mayes) January 26, 2023