Socialization is the process of teaching your dog about his world and what acceptable behavior is. It is also about making sure he listens to you when necessary and giving him the confidence to handle any situation without being fearful or aggressive.
It isn’t just taking him everywhere, making him do things that scare him, and meeting people who overwhelm him. It must be a thoughtful process that takes his personality, fears, and current level of confidence into account. Socializing can be a fun process that will allow you and your dog to bond in a manner that is not possible just hanging around the house, but it does take time.
Why is it so important? It will affect everything else you do with your dog for the rest of his life. If your dog is calm and confident, it will help in all these areas.
1. Build Confidence
Just like people, the more varied a dog’s experiences, the better his confidence will be when dealing with new situations. While you never want to force a dog into situations where he cannot get away if he is scared, he should always have the opportunity to check out that weird noise, strange flooring, or new person. As his caretaker, your job is to help him feel safe exploring new things. The safer he feels, the more confident he will be in new situations.
2. Better Vet Visits
All pet lovers have seen the “humorous” pictures of dogs who are afraid of going to the vet. Unfortunately, it can be a serious problem. The staff at the vet’s office, by nature of their jobs, must get close to your dog, invading his personal space. That doesn’t even take into account the possibility of an uncomfortable vaccination. If your dog is fearful at the vet, he could lash out, possibly biting someone. Just as bad, he could become so fearful that it is a traumatizing experience for him, tainting all future interactions.
If your dog is properly socialized with strangers and new places, his less likely to have an agonizing fear of going to the vet. If you take the time to socialize him at the vet’s office, before he actually has to be examined, the chances of a frightening experience are even less.
Your dog will need to visit the vet on a regular basis for his whole life. Preparing him to visit the vet is one of the most important tasks you will ever do for your dog.
If you are lucky enough to live on an acre of fenced property, you probably are not as worried about this one. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have a fenced yard large enough to give our dogs adequate exercise. You need to be able to take your dog for walks or to the dog park to get adequate exercise.
If you dog has been socialized, this will be much easier. You will not have to worry about the path you walk or how many other dogs/strangers/children you see. You can confidently take your dog anywhere for exercise and companionship.
4. Better Relations With Neighbors
Who doesn’t hate the neighbor’s dog that barks all night or body slams the fence every time someone walks by? It can be annoying or even frightening. With socialization, you can calm a dog’s overprotective behavior that causes them to bark at anyone approaching or encroaching in their territory. If they feel safe with others, they will have less of a reason to react, and a little additional training can quell the unwanted behavior.
Besides, you really want your neighbors to like your dog. If they do, they will feel comfortable rounding him up if he ever escapes your house or yard.
5. Better Kennel Boarding
We don’t want to do it. We want to be able to take our dogs everywhere with us. However, sometimes we just don’t have that option; they need to stay in a boarding kennel. It is our responsibility to ensure that they have the best experience possible. This starts with making sure the kennel is a reputable one with an understanding staff who recognizes a nervous or scared dog and knows how to handle them. It is also our responsibility to have helped our dog develop confidence in new situations.
They may not be happy staying at the kennel, but they also should not be overly afraid. If you have helped them learn that new people and places are not scary, they will settle in the kennel and with the staff with minimum fear and anxiety.
The inverse of better kennel behavior is appropriate travel behavior. If you have an RV, the best of both worlds is to take your dog with you on trips. Along with all the other steps for safe travel, good socialization will make the trip much more pleasant. A confident dog will be easier to take on potty breaks in strange places. They will also settle down at night more comfortably even if there are strange nighttime sounds outside the RV. Your dog will be able to enjoy exploring the new surroundings as much as you do.
7. Mental Stimulation
Like humans, dogs have a better quality of life when they have opportunities for mental stimulation. This is certainly obtainable in the home. You can teach them games, have toys they have to think through to solve, or have daily training sessions. However, if you are able to take your dog out to experience new places, smell new scents, and meet new people and dogs, their life will be enriched. You will find that they are happier when they are at home; they will probably sleep better at night; and they will live longer.
8. Bring Your Pet to Work
The holy grail of dog ownership is being able to bring your dog to work. The benefits of pets at work include reduced stress and even improved productivity for their owner, but how many of our dogs are really ready to do it? Would he settle down at your desk and be quiet while you are on the phone? Would he welcome people stopping by, or would he bark at the invasion of “his space”? Would he not beg for bites of your coworkers’ lunches? If your dog is already socialized, then you could say “definitely.” When that amazing job came along, you would be confident that you and your dog would shine in your new company.
It is never too late to socialize your dog. Yes, puppies are more impressionable, and socializing them might be an easier, quicker process. However, older dogs can also be socialized and will benefit greatly from having their boundaries expanded and their confidence improved. It might be a slower process, especially for a shy or fearful shelter dog, but the rewards you both reap will make it worth all the time and effort expended.