When pet parents think of socializing their dog what may come to mind are training classes, puppy play groups and the traditional dog park. Dog socialization is an essential piece of a dog’s development and should take place early in puppy hood and be considerate of the critical socialization period starting at four weeks of age which continues through four months of age. The common misconception is that “socialization” is just dogs meeting dogs and people. A more complete list of socialization experiences should include all of those things that we take for granted – all the sights, smells, sounds and textures of the environment in which we live. An excellent list to help you begin your socialization journey is available as a free handout to download from the Pet Professional Guild’s website with a checklist for many different categories including visuals and noises, places, maneuvers and touch, interacting with people, people sounds and meeting animals.
Take new things in stride
Your dog should always be allowed to determine the pace and distance that he feels safe. Generalization comes into play. For example just because your dog is o.k. with your children it does not mean that all kids age 2 – 18 are trustworthy in his eyes. He must have continuous, planned exposures to new people, places, things and environments in which great things such as treats, toys, play and praise are paired with the exposure in order to make deposits in his emotional bank and build his confidence. Socialization starts in puppy hood and it is tool that you should keep sharp throughout your dog’s life.
Visit your local park
Oakland County is blessed with many beautiful recreational areas, trails and parks giving dogs and their owners many opportunities to practice with some real world trials. Each socialization exposure must be fun for your pet. Neko, a 4 year old lab mix demonstrates being a dog that is alert and interested in his environment yet relaxed in the presence of dogs, kids and adults. Part of his success is credited to an owner that is honest with curious passersby who want to pet Neko telling them if it is o.k. to approach him, where and where not to pet him. He is also kept on leash at a safe distance from play structures, walking trails, bikers, and other dogs. All parks will have signs posted with the rules and regulations and all who allow dogs on the grounds will have notices about keeping your dog on leash and cleaning up after them. You should always heed these warnings so you do not ruin the opportunity for others.