Clipper's Birthday Bash and The Magic Pill of Socializaion
This blog first appeared on ColumbiaPatch.com on January 31, 2013.
What is canine socialization and why is it so important anyway?
EverythingDogBlog: Clipper’s Birthday Bash and The Magic Pill - Socialization
by Skye Anderson, MS
Local Event, Sunday
Help celebrate Clipper’s 11th birthday at Clipper’s Canine Café, Savage Mill, Sunday (Clipper’s last day as a 10-year old) from 12-3 pm. The festivities promise to be fun for both canines and their people (bring a camera). Come see a giant roast beef Happy Birthday cookie (for the pooches) – it won’t last long! Refreshments for people, too.
(Positive) Socialization, the Magic Pill
At a recent dog park meeting, someone mentioned that one benefit of a dog park is to have a place to socialize your dog. That didn’t sit well with me – hence, this article about socialization.
A controversy exists in the world of dog trainers (actually many controversies, but those are topics for another day).
A narrow window of time exists in puppyhood (see photo) to learn to happily accept new people, places and things (think: noun!), and if that developmental window closes without the lesson being learned, the dog can be scarred and scared for life. It is not possible to totally make up all missed opportunities. Many dogs in rescues or shelters appear abused when what actually happened was merely their lost opportunity for socialization.
This window is open between 3 and 12 weeks of age (think: 3 weeks to 3 months). Since you most likely do not acquire your pup until 8 or 9 weeks, you don’t have much time to complete his socialization, plus the fact that the breeder should have already done much of it by taking the pup to the vet, having people in to meet the pups, and so on.
Remember the old wives’ advice not to start training classes for your pup until he is six months old or has completed all his shots? No more! With care, a puppy can successfully take part in training classes at 8 weeks of age or after his first set of shots (if said pup is carried into the facility and the facility is cleaned before class). That old wives’ tale held water when all we had was force-based training and it was thought that an older pup could handle jerks and yanks better than a young pup, but now we have reward-based training methods.
The dog training controversy I mentioned above is simply the definition of the word, socialization. To many dog owners and trainers, it means merely ‘being exposed to.’ To myself and other dog trainers, it means ‘being exposed to and having a HAPPY experience as a result’ or ‘learning to cope well with.’ To be crystal clear, I preface ‘socialization’ with ‘positive’ and therein lays the controversy – do we have to use the word, ‘positive,’ or not? We really shouldn’t have to but I like to err on the side of caution and, to prevent first-time dog owners from misunderstanding, I always say, ‘positive socialization.’
So, go ahead, you can take that adorable little puppy many places with caution - to a parade with all its inherent noise, activity, and people rushing up to pet the puppy, for example (but carry him until he is finished with his shots). However, if the puppy is not comfortable with the cacophony and behaviors constantly expected of him, that is ‘exposure’ rather than ‘socialization.’ To clarify for my clients, I always use the word, ‘positive,’ in front of ‘socialization.’ I want to make having a dog as easy and enjoyable as possible for my clients so I teach ‘positive-socialization.’
Why is this important?
Dr. Lisa Radosta, DVM, DACVB, believes socialization to be the single most important thing that keeps dogs out of the shelter. She calls it the magic pill.
I have heard many Columbians, excited about the new dog park in Harper’s Choice, talk about taking their dog there for socialization and that scares me. If the dog is already socialized, by all means do take him to the dog park for ‘socialization-maintenance.’ But the dog park is a place that your dog will encounter many different dogs and many different people. A dog park is not the best place for initial socialization.
There will be dogs bigger than yours and dogs with a different play style. There will be herding dogs and boxing dogs (like boxers) and mouthy dogs and dogs that do not announce that they are ‘just playing’ when they proceed to ‘chase, catch, bite.’ A dog announces his intention to play, that the next behavior, although a chasing or biting one, is just in play, by offering a playbow (see photo), with the front legs bent to the ground and the butt up in the air. This means that the next actions are not for-real but are offered just for play.
So, perhaps I should have called this, “Socialization-Maintenance at the Dog Park - A Great Benefit!”
(Next week’s blog will be A Watcher’s Guide to Westminster, America’s Dog Show.)
PS – This blog took a bit longer to write since I feel so strongly about socialization that I could write a book – future blogs will also be on socialization.
(Photos: Quartet of 5-week-old golden pups [credit DStark]/Playbow, an invitation to play)