Through my years of training dogs I have heard a lot of theories on socializing puppies. Some focus on dogs playing with each other like kids at a park, others styles of socialization are more focused on getting the dog used to daily life, and another idea is keeping the dog focused on you in front of distractions.
In certain situations I see the value in dogs having great communication skills with each other and at other times I don’t find it necessary. If you have a multiple dog household, dog to dog socialization is a must, but it does not replace solid obedience training. Some dogs get along 90% of the time, but I’ve seen many instances where that 10% of the time is very bad and no amount of socialization will help. Most of the time when I’ve seen puppy socialization classes held, it is a free for all and you have to question what your dog is actually learning. The chances of a bad experience are just as likely as a good one. Many people take their dogs to dog parks and I find that to be more dangerous than helpful, I cannot begin to tell you how many horrible dog park experiences I have heard. I believe if you are interested in doing this type of socialization the interaction must be controlled and have no more than 2 dogs at a time. Until you are confident in both dogs, they should remain on loose leads. People also need to understand that by the time we get our puppies (usually 8 – 12 weeks) they have learned a great deal on dog communication from their litter mates.
Also, does it really matter that our dog doesn’t get along with random dogs? I’ve always been fascinated by peoples obsession on this topic of dogs having to get along with random strange dogs. If we teach our dogs to go up to strange dogs its not only dangerous; but teaches our dogs to be distracted and to ignore us. So overall, as far as this type of socialization goes, I recommend doing it if you are going to have multiple dogs and if you do it controlled and safely, otherwise I wouldn’t bother.
If you own only one dog I suggest getting your puppy used to your daily life. Recently I got a westie puppy used to a vacuum cleaner, here is how I went about this process: first, I started by just introducing the vacuum in the room with the puppy, the vacuum was not on or moving. Every time the puppy explored the vacuum I would mark and reward (check out my article on marker training for details on how to marker train), eventually I had the puppy eating off of the vacuum. The next step was to start moving the vacuum, the puppy backed away when the vacuum was moving so I started rewarding her where she was comfortable and slowly got closer to the vacuum. I did the same thing after I turned it on. The process must start with simplest version of what you are introducing, then made more and more difficult. This is important to prevent overwhelming the dog right off the bat. You can do this process with anything.
The next style of socialization is to take your dog around distracting things like other dogs or people, but only reward them when they are paying attention to you. This eventually teaches your dog to not pay attention to distractions in their environment, and also simultaneously builds good associations to the distractions you are around. Again, think about this question. Is it more important for our dogs to focus on us and listen to us, or get along with every dog in the neighborhood?
Overall all three types have benefits, it really all depends on what you are looking for. Personally, I prefer my dog to focus on me and tune everything else out.
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