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HELP! Socialization – 9-1-1

Updated: May 30

We are living in some weird times. I never thought I would be isolated in my house for weeks and weeks on end! The extrovert in me is lost and confused, but alas, I am not alone and the entire globe is dealing with the same situation together. With the majority of people having to work from home and with all this “free” time, many people have decided to get puppies!


Now, puppies are a lot of work! I am not surprised people have decided to take on the responsibility when they are spending their days at home. There are some positives and negatives to getting a puppy now. One positive is that you have ALL the time in the world to properly train and socialize your puppy! Then what’s the negative? how do you do that socialization?


We always strive to be proactive, so we do not need to be reactive down the road. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty!


What is socialization?


“The process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society.” ~Oxford Dictionary


Socialization is a critical period in a dog’s life. This time period is vital for the proper development of a well-balanced dog. But, not all socialization is equal! It is extremely important to note that many of us, even when times were normal, set our dogs up to fail. Not on purpose, of course, but our definition of socialization was to get our dogs to meet anything and everything, no matter how scary it might be and to just “deal with it”. This extremely common mindset is WRONG.

So if PROPER socialization isn’t meeting every dog, human and going into all the new places, what is?


Well, there are a LOT of things that go into productive socialization. To list a few categories:


Noise:

When playing these noises, I would pair them with food, play the noise, and feed the dog. And, then repeat. Make sure it is in that order! Otherwise, we may cause some additional issues… we want to introduce our dogs to a variety of noises, preferably noises that we can control the volume and intensity. YouTube videos are great! You can search for anything you want and play it back to your puppy (or sound-sensitive dog). Audio topics to look for:

  1. Fireworks

  2. Different dogs (barking or howling)

  3. Different animals (e.g. chickens, goats, cats, birds, elephants, etc.)

  4. Children playing and screaming

  5. Emergency vehicle sirens

Common noises around the home that you can do:

  1. Blenders

  2. Coffee Grinder

  3. Vacuums

  4. Bathroom fans

  5. Flush the toilet

  6. Make an alarm go off

  7. Hairdryer

  8. Microwave or oven timer

  9. Close a door (and work up to slamming it)

  10. Knock on doors

  11. If you have a fireplace, make a fire

  12. Watch an exciting movie (you can increase and decrease the volume) lots of variety of sounds comes from movies!

  13. Drag chairs on the ground

  14. Ring the doorbell

  15. Open and close your vehicle door

  16. And so much more, be creative!

Visual:

The world is full of things to see; there is fast-moving vehicles, erratically moving animals, lights and more. We need to prepare our dogs for these items. Usually, when we go for a walk, the largest issue we have for a dog that is under-socialized is leash reactivity. The dog sees something and needs to react to it. These dogs, unfortunately, don’t get to live as vicarious of a life as a dog who accepts and ignores their surroundings. This is due to the increase of physical, emotional and mental strain on the people; a dog, no matter the size, that is lunging is exhausting. To help be proactive and set your dog up for success – here are some ideas to implement:


Go to a park, it can be any park or any open green space (ensure it’s dog friendly!). Find a bench and just sit there. When any of the following come by (or are 200 feet away, as long as the dog notices. Mark and Reinforce.)

  1. People walking by

  2. Children running or playing

  3. People on Bikes or Rollerblades

  4. Dogs

  5. Wildlife (rabbits, deer, birds)

  6. Vehicles

  7. Emergency vehicles

  8. Lawnmowers

  9. Holiday decorations

  10. And so much more, be creative!

When we reinforce the dog for noticing visual stimuli in their environment then giving us their attention, we are helping them understand that whatever it is, it not alarming. For example, “Oh there is a dog, I should look at my handler so I can be rewarded.” Any dog (not just puppies) can benefit from this game!


We also want to introduce our dogs to new things in the house that are “weird”. This includes both humans and inanimate objects.

  1. Play dress up (e.g. Halloween costumes, princesses, superheroes, paw patrol!)

  2. Put on your winter parka

  3. Put on makeup if you don’t wear it often

  4. Wear a toque or hats

  5. Carry a box or some large object that obstructs your dogs view of you

  6. Vacuum, sweep or scrub that grout

  7. Wear sunglasses

  8. Spray perfume, light candles or make something yummy to change the scent of the house

Put weird things where they were not before:

  1. Move furniture (or be like me and leave the laundry basket randomly around the house…)

  2. Open the oven, dishwasher or other cabinets

  3. Move a mirror to dog height so they can look at it

  4. Set up some balloons (and maybe pop some afterwards.)

  5. If you are someone who still irons, put the ironing board out

  6. If you are someone who uses an air dryer, put that out!

  7. once again… be creative!

Textures:

You want your dog to be comfortable on any surface. Pre-covid19, people would go to places like Rona and walk on boxes, carts, etc. For now, try some of these:

  1. Snow

  2. Water e.g .puddles, baths, etc.

  3. Gravel

  4. Grass

  5. Tile

  6. Pavement

  7. Park benches (both wood and metal)

  8. Tarps

  9. Carpets

  10. Foam

  11. Things that wobble beneath them

  12. Things that make noise beneath them

  13. Grates

  14. Baseball diamond surfaces (that fine red rock)

  15. Baseball diamond bleachers

  16. Hardwood, Linoleum and Vinyl (they are all different, try them all)

Handling:

Get everyone in your family to handle the puppy. When they need to go to the vet (it will likely be drop off from your car), ask the tech if everyone in the practice who is available could do some routine handling. We want to try to get a good number of proper handling for our puppy. If your dog will be groomed regularly then this is a great opportunity to ask your groomer to also do some of these handling exercises:

  1. Touch your dog’s ears: massage them, lightly tug at them, lightly pretend to clean them (do not go into the ear canal, everything you do is outside the body!)

  2. Clean out your dog’s eye boogers

  3. Clean your puppy’s paws! Pretend there is mud on them and you have white carpets.

  4. LIGHTLY pinch your dog's nails, to simulate a nail trim (DO NOT TRIM YOUR DOGS NAILS IF THEY ARE UNCOMFORTABLE WITH IT) if you need help, please contact a trainer for some desensitization help! I don’t want any quicks clipped!

  5. Look inside your puppy’s mouth and inspect their teeth and gums

  6. Look inside your puppy’s nose

  7. Lift their tail, and clean their butt!

Getting your puppy used to touching all of these areas will make life so much easier for you down the road. Also, be sure that you pause, and concentrate on a section so when you do that out of context it isn’t weird i.e. You dog has a lump and you need to look at it, is it a piece of mud, a pimple, a tick or something under the skin?

Alone Time

A lot of people have decided to get a puppy now because they are always home! It is great for teaching potty training, but it can create another major issue down the line when people need to go back to work — separation anxiety. When you get your puppy, and you are home 24/7, they are under the impression that this is how things are, you are always home! That quite frankly that will not always be the case… and your puppy needs to learn that there is such a thing called, alone time and that alone time is not bad.

To do this, you have two options:

  1. Teach your puppy to be crated. I would crate them after playing, training and feed them their meal, this will make the transition easier as they are now full and tired. You have multiple opportunities a day for a variety of time. Do not feel guilty that you are crating your puppy or not spending every waking hour with them. Dogs sleep on average 19 hours a day, so your puppy needs this! They need this downtime to digest the world and everything they have learned, to grow, to refresh and to recharge. It’s not easy being a puppy.

  2. You leave the house for variable amounts of time while the puppy is somewhere safe at home. Go check the mailbox, go grocery shopping, go for a personal walk without your dog (GASP!), if you can – go work in your vehicle for an hour or two.

Now, you may have noticed that I used a lot of words like “may”, “can”, “help” etc. in this post… and there is a reason for that. Genetics plays a huge role in behaviour, and some dogs, no matter what you do, were bred to be timid, shy, standoffish, protective, etc. as that is their breed standard. There is so much that goes into behaviour that I couldn’t even begin to cover it here. So, with a lot of hard work, consistency and ensuring positive interactions (even if there are fewer of them!) in the first 18 weeks, you can help your puppy be happy and well adjusted to the world around them, no matter the breed. The key is the quality of interactions over the quantity, be creative, and always make sure your puppy is having fun!


Happy Socialization! Stay healthy, happy and safe!



ETA: For additional information and a great podcast – Check out Drinking from the Toilet! Wonderpups Hannah Branigan and her guest Debbie Martin go over this topic and elaborate even more! Happy Training!

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