Exposure Does Not Equal Socialization
More and more I go to evals and people tell me that they don’t understand why their dogs are dog reactive. “I mean we’ve socialized her a ton. She goes to the dog park every day and day care a couple times a week.” My response is usually… that’s your problem. Your version of “socializing” is the root of your issue. Exposure does NOT equal socialization.
Scientifically, a dog’s window for socialization closes at 16 weeks. If your dog is older than 4 months, you’re definitely not socializing them. You are training them though… passively and unknowingly, you are reinforcing bad habits and behaviors.
So Why Do So Many People Do This?
I blame the socialization myth on the part of our society that thinks all dogs should be friends. The part that believes all dog should play together off leash in a big field. Let’s be honest. That’s a utopian dynamic, it’s not realistic for people, so why would it be realistic for dogs. I find that people want dogs to run free and be dogs. Things change when dogs decide to handle dog problems the way a dog would, these same people don’t like it and want to label the dog as being aggressive or under-socialized.
What is Socialization?
Let’s go with Webster’s definition of socialization: the process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society. If this is the definition of socialization, then it implies that you must actively be taught how to socialize. Dogs must be trained how to interact with one another. If you just put dogs together, you’re not socializing your dog. You’re just exposing your dog to other dogs.
Consider the experience of learning to swim. If someone just threw you in the deep-end and watched you flail, it’s safe to assume you would not have fond memories of the experience. That’s the equivalent of what most people do to when they “socialize” their dogs.
If you want a dog that is OK with dogs, then you have to make sure that they get the opportunity to play and interact with dogs that are appropriate. In addition, you have to make sure that your dog is appropriate as well. If you rescue a dog, there’s a good chance your dog may not like other dogs. You have to respect that and not try to force your dog to be around other dogs. If your dog doesn’t like other dogs, they can be trained to ignore or tolerate other dogs. However, they should not be thrown into a dog park and left to fend for themselves. When that happens you allow the dogs to teach each other how to behave.
Overall, If you want your dog to like dogs, people, or anything for that matter; then you want them to have a positive experience. The key is to try not to put your dog in situations you can’t control, set them up for success, and have high-value rewards readily available.
Download our pdf “ The First 4 Weeks” for more ideas on puppy socialization.