Why proper socialization is important for dogs.
Even a perfect education or training of the dog is of no use and sooner or later leads to a catastrophe, if this causes the dog to suppress its natural behaviors and needs.
Socialization is important
Many animals learn certain things during a fixed period of life. This is no different with dogs and later, outside this period, to catch up on the things needed is incomparably more difficult and also takes longer.
This includes interacting with conspecifics, exploring the environment, dealing with stress, and adapting to new circumstances.
Socialization is the process by which the dog learns to accept and communicate with other dogs. In the wild, he learns this through observation. The domestic dog learns how to interact with other dogs from birth with his littermates and his mother. However, when he is taken from the litter and placed in a home, it is important that he continues his training throughout his life.
Socialization is important for dogs because they are a social species, and interacting with conspecifics allows them to relieve stress, excess energy, and have fun.
Because dogs learn effectively by observing each other, socialization can also help the dog learn other important behaviors and social skills.
For example, when meeting other dogs, a properly socialized dog will be able to handle them well and know exactly what to do. This can be a great relief to the owner, especially when it comes to walking on and especially off leash.
The socialization phase
In dogs, the socialization phase begins around the third week and is completed after four to five months. The most important phase is the period from the fourth to the eighth week.
If this period is not used properly, considerable behavioral disorders occur in the dog, which usually become apparent only later. If you now get such a dog to your home, you have a lot of work and patience ahead of you, and possibly you will still have a problem for its lifespan, i.e. the next 10 to 15 years.
So there are breeders, especially with larger breeds, who give the puppies only after the twelfth week, so that they can still complete the socialization phase from the eighth week with their mother in the familiar environment. This is to let them live out their urge to play and move together with their siblings.
In a natural pack, however, the mother gives up her puppies to the pack leader from the eighth week, so that this is actually the best time to change to another home with its new environment.
However, if the puppies have not been raised in an isolated environment appropriate to their species and have ‘missed’ the important socialization phase between the fourth and eighth week, later behavioral problems are already pre-programmed.
Because the socialization phase is so short, it must be used especially intensively. Especially when a puppy has arrived in its new home after the eighth or twelfth week, the last four to twelve weeks must therefore be used urgently to imprint the dog.
It is important that the puppy has contact with different people of different ages – from children to grandma or grandpa – and gender.
But it is just as important for him to get to know other dogs and puppies. If the puppy misses this, he will react fearfully or aggressively to conspecifics as an adult dog.
The young dog should also get to know other animals such as cats, sheep, chickens, horses, cows and wild animals at an early stage and learn how to deal with them properly.
Furthermore, familiarity with road traffic and its sounds is important, as is riding in one’s own car. All kinds of noises inside the home (washing machine, vacuum cleaner, children’s screams, music, etc.) and outside (construction work, etc.) are just as important as visual impressions (mirrors, fluttering cloths, darkness, car headlights, umbrellas, hats, walking sticks, etc.).
Familiarization also includes special spaces, such as underpasses, department stores, markets, or an elevator, as well as different floor surfaces, such as sloping surfaces, steps, grates, smooth tiles, bridges, or other uneven surfaces.
Different types and kinds of food should also be tried in small portions. The puppy should know all this before it reaches five months of age.
Meeting and greeting between dogs
Getting to know and greet each other between dogs is all about getting information about the other.
If a dog lacks confidence, it is likely to exhibit nervous, defensive or potentially aggressive behavior. Therefore, it is important to encourage dogs to remain calm and relaxed when greeting each other.
If a dog ‘raises his hair’ at this, this signal does not necessarily mean that he will behave aggressively. It may just as well mean that he is a bit nervous and wants to move away.
By avoiding direct eye contact and raising a paw, dogs are trying to relieve tension during the greeting ceremony.
Other dogs may exhibit a distant and nervous demeanor with a tense face, closed mouth, and insecurities, indicating that they want to back away and leave quickly if the worst happens.
During this phase of getting to know each other, dogs evaluate the other conspecifics and process the information to decide if they want to continue the interaction.
If they do not want to make friends, the situation may become increasingly tense, which may include growling, circling each other, or a persistent tense posture. If such a situation arises, it is advisable to separate the animals and walk away with your own dog.
In doing so, one should neither touch the dogs nor stand between them. Instead, use a command such as ‘Come along’ in a happy, strong voice to get a break in the behavior.
Also, a toy, such as a ball, can be helpful in encouraging them to turn away from the other dog.
Most importantly, avoid anything that would increase the tension, for example, admonishing the dogs, as this could only aggravate the situation.
The game between the dogs
This is often the most fun part of the story. Many dogs love to play with each other and chase each other. It is therefore very helpful for them to be involved in such games at this stage of the socialization process.
For example, it is a good idea to start or participate in a ‘puppy play group’ where puppies of roughly the same age are represented.
It is important that the group is not too large and is also well supervised, because it is sometimes necessary to intervene in a controlling manner when smaller or more timid puppies are excessively teased by older, stronger and bolder conspecifics.
Basically, however, you should not interfere in the events and even minor disputes in the group are completely normal and should be settled between the puppies. At this age, the dogs learn best how to quarrel and then get along again, which is the basis of good socialization.
Dogs that are very influenced by herding behavior, and tend to be overly involved in it, need regular ‘time outs’ during play. It is typical for herding dogs to circle sheep or goats, fix themselves in front of them or pinch their legs or fur in order to keep them together or to direct them in a certain direction, which they then also do when playing with other dogs.
The then necessary ‘time out’ can be achieved by calling the dog back to you and asking him to do something else. This slows down his heartbeat and lowers his adrenaline level.
If the dog starts biting during the game, it is best to ask him to focus on your person and give him simple commands like ‘sit’ or ‘paw’. If this does not help, the dog should be put on a short leash.
Collies, for example, are bred to be herding dogs and therefore herding behavior is an essential part of their nature. Helping the dog to divert the drive that exists as a result from other potential targets can be helpful, but nevertheless this behavior is also typical of the herding dog’s play.
This behavior is not necessarily problematic, but it should be monitored so that the ‘play’ does not escalate.
When things get out of hand
Many dogs play very roughly with each other, and the commotion of a dog game can become quite frightening for the owners. This is perfectly normal and many dogs love to play in this way.
Others, however, the more sensitive and delicate dogs or the very young or older specimens, sometimes do not like to participate in such rough games. They can then become quite nervous due to such behaviors.
Therefore, one should keep an eye on such a dog and if it shows signs of restlessness or fear, or rather has had enough of the game, take it back to itself and continue the walk alone, moving away from the other dogs.
Ignoring such signals can be harmful to your own dog and lead to future problems. This is especially true if he is forced to show aggressive behavior to force the termination of the game. While it is quite normal for dogs to ‘get rid’ of each other with a warning growl, caution should be exercised if this escalates or if one of the dogs does not respond to the warnings.
Nevertheless, in most cases dogs are much better than humans at defusing such situations. Still, forewarned is often forearmed, so be prepared to intervene and direct the dog’s attention elsewhere.
Also, if there are toys with the playing dogs, this can become the cause of disputes, so it is better to leave them aside in unsafe situations.
Many younger dogs exhibit submissive behavior when getting acquainted or playing to show that they are not a threat. In particular, lying on their backs with all four paws extended upward is such a submissive signal.
As they gain confidence and are socialized with less threatening people or animals, they will slowly drop this behavior in most cases.