Dog training buzz words
There is a big ‘buzz word’ in dog training. When I say ‘buzz word’ I’m referring to a term that is thrown around with a lot of frequency that is oft-times misused, misunderstood, or mis-applied. That word is ‘socialization’.
And a misunderstanding of this word is ruining a lot of dogs.
Socialization is critical for a healthy mind. This is true for every living species on the planet, I’d wager. Socialization for the asian primate is just as important as it is for the domesticated dog as it is for the young child at home. Proper socialization broadens horizons, strengthens neural pathways in the brain, teaches an individual how to deal with stress, and opens up the mind to receive information it could otherwise be averse to.
I find it rare to encounter a person who doesn’t understand, on some level, that socialization is critical for their dog.
The problem, however, is the perspective at which some look at dog socialization. I often hear quotes like:
“We wanted to socialize her, so we took her to the dog park.”
“He’s really aggressive when people come to our house. He just needs more socialization.”
“I dropped my puppy off at dog daycare for socialization.”
I would contend that there is nothing wrong with the mindset behind these statements. These statements come from dog owners who care about their dogs and want them to be well socialized, well adjusted, and normal, happy dogs.
The problem lies in a fundamental error in understanding the socialization process.
Exposure is NOT socialization
Let me dig further into that concept. Simply exposing your dog (or yourself for that matter) to new…nouns; people, places, or things is not how socialization occurs.
Think about it, would you ever take your child to a knife fight in order to socialize them? (Dog owners do this all the time) I mean, think about it, your kid would meet new people, see new things, experience new experiences. That’s socialization, right?
Would you, as an adult (disregard if you’re not), subject yourself to a highly dangerous or stressful work environment simply in the name of socialization? I doubt it.
Yet dog owners do this all the time under the banner of ‘socialization’.
For example, I once received an email from a dog owner who said her dog had been savagely attacked at the dog park six times over the previous few years and, as an unsurprising result, had developed some pretty serious aggression problems.
Her email was a request for training because she wanted to be able to take the dog BACK TO THE DOG PARK in order to…you know…socialize her.
My response was…WHY?!?!? Why would you keep taking your kid to that knife fight hoping that this time…this time those other kids are going to put away their knives and bring out cookies instead?
If your dog keeps going to a daycare where the staff isn’t well versed on dog training principles, and he’s developing aggression problems, why would you keep bringing him back to that highly stressful work environment?
The reason is that we’ve been led to believe that exposure is socialization. And it’s not.
So what is proper dog socialization?
There is a major difference between dog socialization and PROPER dog socialization.
We can make the argument that taking your kid to the knife fight or taking your dog to the dog park ARE socialization, they just aren’t proper socialization. So what entails PROPERsocialization? Simple. There are three boxes you’ve got to check off if you’re going to do it right:
In any socialization experience you put your dog in you must ask if it ticks each of these boxes. Volume and variety often go hand in hand. We need our dogs to experience a lot of things and a lot of types of things. These ‘things’ could be people, floor surfaces, sounds, animals, and more.
But most importantly, in experiencing these socialization experiences it is critical that there is control. When I talk of control I talk of two things:
- Control of the dog. The best socialization is done with your dog under control and acting well. It’s very hard to socialize your dog if he or she is a maniac, jumping all over the place, no impulse control, etc. That type of mentality then makes it very difficult for the environment of people or dogs to take well to your dog.
- Control over the environment. You can’t control every environment 100%. But if you don’t have a reasonable expectation of being able to provide a safe situation for you and your dog then don’t go there. That rules out most dog parks. It rules out many dog daycares. (Coincidentally we designed our Salt Lake City dog daycare to be the opposite of most daycares around, a daycare that provides structure and control.) It rules out leaving your puppy alone with eager kids. And more.
In summary, I would encourage you to start thinking about your socialization in a much different light. Practice socialization that entails volume, variety, and control.