ARTICLE: Socializing

Written by Shelley Smith

Shelley Smith Dog Training
778 836-DOGS (3647)

If you have a pup that is showing any signs of fear or timidness understands that the chances of him growing up to be somewhat aggressive are higher than normal. Most owners of aggressive dogs all share the same story: that their pup when young seemed timid, or fearful or even just standoffish in new situations and they did not understand that this was abnormal behaviour in a puppy. A happy well-adjusted puppy upon encountering something new should initially show a little fear but then bounce back very quickly and want to investigate. If therefor your puppy is not like that your pup needs to be socialized more.

Some of the signs to look for that can indicate fear and thus a problem in the future are:

  • Puppy's that actively increase distance from new dogs and or people.
  • puppies that shy away from a strangers hand if they go to pet it
  • Puppies that lay down when a new dog is approaching and or show their bellies, or just crouch and shake when new dogs approach it.
  • Young puppies that seem to be actively guarding property or owner. The guarding instinct does not come out till at least a year of age so any guarding behaviour before that generally means fear
  • A puppy who does not seem to want to play with other dogs
  • Puppies that growl and or bark at other dogs or people

No fear problem in a young dog will go away on its own- it does require immediate owner intervention. Your puppy will not stay timid or reserved once he hits sexual maturity. Whatever your puppy seems scared of when young, when he hits sexual maturity that scared behaviour will turn into aggressive behaviour. Dogs deal with fear opposite than humans do. We avoid what scares us but dogs actually do the exact opposite. They approach what scares them, in an aggressive manner to keep that scary stimulus away from them. Fear aggression escalates in dogs. IT is actually remarkable easy to socialize your pup, but can be fairly time consuming so have some patience.

Step one- socializing your pup to strangers

Go to places where there are dog friendly people- pet stores and vet clinics are great for this. Your goal here is to have your puppy of his own accord approach a stranger for a treat but you have a few steps first to achieve that. First step: remain calm and do not pacify your pup by saying things to him such as "you are okay, its all right." If your pup is scared to go into the store do not drag him in. You have some work at the door to do first. Stand outside the store and treat your puppy. Keep on treating him until he is comfortable with you opening the door. Treat him with the door open until he is comfortable. Take a step inside, keeping the door open and continue to treat him. Only when he seems calm do you enter the store. Once inside the store do not drag him around, as this will only increase his anxiety. Rather, calmly place treats on the floor around him. Eventually he will start to venture out and eat the treats and see that this is not such a scary place after all. Once your puppy seems calm and less stressed, ask one of the store clerks to bend down and offer a treat to your dog. Chances are your pup is not just going to go up and get that treat so lead a path of treats to that person. Ask them not to try and pet your pup, only offer him a treat.

Remember it is critically important that when working with timid puppies that it be puppy's choice whether to approach and at what speed. This may take you a few weeks or just a matter of days: your pups body language and will tell you if he is ready to go to the next level. If your pup at any time seems scared and you start to drag him, back up and stay on the previous step and don't go any further. Remember our goal is for your pup of his own accord to actively want to go to strangers to get a treat and eventually a pet. If you pup wants to keep his distance for a few minutes or half an hour, that must be respected. Every time the puppy of his own accord, takes the risk to approach something scary and lives through it or, better still, has a positive experience, the puppy's confidence gets a boost. Each time your pup finally feels confident enough to approach a stranger and, the approach is rewarded with a tasty treat, the probability of future approaches starts to go up. This is a slow process but do not give up or switch to something else (such as forcing the puppy) when working with shrinking violet types.

Step two: socializing your dog around other dogs.

The method that you try really depends on your pup. If your pup is already quite aggressive around other dogs and his first instinct is to bite you must muzzle your pup. A muzzle will not put your pup in any danger it will actually prevent any fights from happening with other dogs.

Go to one of the off leash dog parks with your pup on a long lead. Again your pup will take some of his cues from you so if you seem scared he will react defensively towards the dogs. When dogs come up to sniff your pup, do not say anything to your pup and do not pull him in tight to you on his lead, or at any time pick him up. This will actually tell him that something is wrong and he will of course react defensively. Your pup may growl at the other dogs or try to crawl up you to get away, but walk him through this, just keep on walking with him. With a timid puppy standing around near other dogs will not help, you have to keep him on the move. Again the goal here is for your pup to be comfortable around strange dogs and to eventually, of his own accord, want to meet and greet them. Dogs are compulsive about wanting to meet each other so if your pup does not want to meet other dogs he is scared and needs more exposure to other dogs not less. I A pup that has not learned how to interact around other dogs and is scared of other dogs can become a target when it becomes an adult dog. What your pup fears most will actually become a reality when it is an adult due to its inappropriate social skills. Again has patience here: the first trip may be a disaster but subsequent visits to the off leash dog park will get better. Don't just stand around when at the park, actively walk your pup on this loose leash. Pups are amazing that they adjust very well and quite quickly if they have to " walk it off". Standing around will only increase his anxiety but if he is walking he will adjust quicker.