When you hear the word socialization, the first thought that comes up in peoples head is dogs playing together. Because there is such a huge weight of importance placed on socialization, it’s common for the average dog owner to take their dog to play with as many dogs as possible. Whether that means taking our dog to the dog park, or over socializing our dogs with other dogs on the leash during the walk. This is something we need to chang our mindset on, and I’ll explain why.
When you take your dog on a walk and allow them to greet all of their dog friends on leash, we make two mistakes. First, we give all of the excitement and we allocate it to other dogs on the walk, instead of allowing ourselves to be the distributor of excitement. If you want your dog to focus on you more, don’t allow competing motivators to interact with your dog during the walk. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have doggy friends, this just means that the more dogs that you allow your pup to meet during your walk, the less attention your dog will pay to you. One step further, the moment that you try to hold your dog back from greeting other dogs during the walk, is the moment that they get frustrated. The more frustration youre dog has because they are not allowed to greet another dog (especially now that they believe they should be able to) is where most friendly dogs turn reactive. Their excitement turns frustration, which gets taken out in barking, whining, and eventually lunging. Remember, you want your dog to see you as the greatest thing on the planet, especially at a time when you take them on a walk. Don’t give that power away.
The other scenario we think about when we hear the word socialization is taking our dog to the dog park, which quite frankly it’s just a mistake waiting to happen. I wish I could tell you the number of times I work with an insecure or nervous dog, that had one single traumatic incident happen at the dog park that set their dog in a downward spiral of behavior. It only takes one bad incident to mess with our dogs psyche.
The hardest part about the dog park, it’s not only that people dot not pay attention to their own dogs, nor do they correct them for mistakes they may be making, but it’s like a box of chocolates. You really never know what you’re going to get. You put your dog in with a group of dogs with all different energies, play style, comfort level, and the dynamic of the pack of dogs can influence your dog in a negative fashion.
Don’t get me wrong, I love allowing my dogs to play together, as well as playing with friends dogs that they know really well. But that’s the difference, they know each other so well, and they’re so comfortable together that they can read each other tremendously well. In these smaller group play sessions, I can also stop it at the drop of a hat if I feel like the play is escalating to a level I would deem too much.
The issue is, once again, if all I do is allow my dog to play with other dogs, and I never teach them to just exist in a neutral way with dogs/people/different environments, they will always be overexcited around those specific triggers. Your ultimate goal should be to socialize your dog with the intention of teaching neutrality, teaching calmness, and putting your dog In a position where they would rather be with you, than those specific triggers. For me, I see socialization as a way of taking my dog to a local café, sitting outside with him while I drinking a coffee, and allowing my dog to lay down next to me and watch the world go by. It doesn’t matter if people are rushing to their table, or if other dogs come in or out of the café. I want my dog to be completely comfortable hanging out. If you can get your dog to do that, you’re going to go extremely far.
That is the entire point of our group classes. When you bring 30 dogs together, and you work them on specific drills on how to get close to one another, walk away from one another, and turn and walk right back towards each other, it will teach your dog that just because we see other dogs on our walk, does not mean that we have to play with them, lunge at them, bark at them. The point of class is to teach a neutral setting. If you have friends that have dogs, You can re-create the same atmosphere by going on a walk with each other, and trying to capture as much of your dogs attention as you can, What the end goal to go sit at a picnic bench and have a conversation with our dogs in a down. Existing, calmly and content. That is happiness.
Our Group Classes run all year long, and as long as you have had an initial session, you are welcome to sign up and bring your dog. They are a great way to “socialize”, as well as to keep you honest and test your skills. For your dogs benefit, I hope to see you soon!
A Christmas Puppy: Thoughts by a Dog Trainer
Here are some things to think about.