Tag Archives: dog socialization

Picture of two Boston Terriers to illustrate Socializing Your dog

Socializing dogs isn’t what people think

Our obedience club is about to start another session and, as registrars for the club, we’re the gatekeepers. The word we keep hearing from dog owners isn’t “obedience,” it’s “socializing.”

It’s a trend we’ve noticed in recent years – people want their dogs to live their best lives. As far as we’re concerned, that’s great!

But what most people mean by “socialized” isn’t what dog trainers, behaviorists, and performance people mean. Socializing your dog doesn’t mean he’s incredibly well-behaved at doggy daycare, wants to play with every dog he meets, and happily gets along with every dog and person. 

That’s not socialized. That’s a stuffed animal. No intellligent creature is going to be happy all the time, love everyone, and never have an “off” day.

What it really means

Picture of two Boston Terriers to illustrate Socializing Your dog
The only dogs your dog has to be friends with are the ones in your house.

Our definition of “socialization” is that your dog is comfortable in public situations and can pay attention to you no matter where you are. 

The only other dogs most dogs have to get along with are the ones in your own circle of family, friends, and neighbors. And sometimes that takes a while. Booker and Simon (Boston Terriers) are best buddies now, but it wasn’t love at first sight.

Your dog doesn’t have to love every person who crosses your path. It’s perfectly okay to not let people near your dog. You wouldn’t let strangers handle your wallet, phone, or keys. It’s okay to say “No” when they ask to pet your dog.

Non-dog people intrude

The myth about “socialization” has taken hold in public perception. Non-dog people seem to think that if a dog is in a public space, it’s available to be handled. When you say “no!” these strangers may comment that your dog isn’t well socialized. They’re the ones who are wrong – not you.

If your dog can be calm in public, listen to you, walk with you, and not cause any problems, that’s well-socialized. If your dog happens to like attention from other people, you can certainly allow it, as long as you stay in control and watch your dog for stress.

Stress signals include ears going back or flat, side-eye looks, panting, scratching, tail down, rolling over, and of course, looking to escape or even hide behind you. If your dog exhibits any signs of stress, it’s time to stop whatever’s happening and give your dog some space.

Watch for signs

Many reports of dog bites mention that the dog gave no signs. Maybe. Or maybe the people involved weren’t aware of all the signs the dog was showing. A growl or baring teeth are the last line of defense before a bite happens. They are probably just the last in a long series of signals that somebody ignored.

If you want your dog to be well socialized, learn your dog’s signs of anxiety and stress. Keep below your dog’s threshold, and remove the dog from situations that threaten to send them over. In time, your dog’s tolerance will broaden as you shield them from over-threshold stress. 

And if you’re not “nice” for not letting strangers do what they want with your dog, so be it. If you need something to say to explain it to them, ask them how they’d like to be hugged by every stranger they pass. Most people will cringe at the thought. 

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Raising a little social butterfly

helloTorque is six months old now. He’s a happy, bright little guy who seems to love everybody and every dog. Some he loves more than others – his favorite “aunt” is Lisa, who also happens to be the owner of Your Pet Chef and who makes and brings his food.

Not that Torque’s a chow-hound – but he is.

Socializing a puppy is so important – but it’s been a challenge with Torque. I got him at the end of December and it was one of the worst, coldest, snowiest, most awful winters in memory. So we invited some dogs we know to come and play – we’re fortunate to have the training/play ring here at the shop. I felt kind of silly arranging “play dates” for my puppy – but the options were limited.

Then, when the snow started to melt and it was possible to get out and get moving – the canine flu epidemic hit the area. There was no way I was going to allow my puppy to get anywhere near new dogs. The boarding facility where our obedience club rents space was hit hard by the flu – no classes for a month. And I was sufficiently paranoid to keep Torque out another two weeks – just to be safe.

This week Torque got to play with Sonny – a five-month-old mixed-breed puppy. The training and socialization continues and Torque still loves everybody.