It’s not exactly what you might think.
I ask my clients what they think it means to “Socialize” their canine friend and I often get this answer: To introduce their dog to other dogs. While this could be true it is not necessarily so. My dogs do not associate with other dogs and they’re perfectly fine with that.
Socializing your dog is bigger than associating with other dogs. It’s new experiences out in the world. New sights, sounds, smells. They don’t know that an enormous trash can isn’t going to hurt them. They don’t know that the noise from the garbage truck is safe. They don’t know that they shouldn’t rush over to every person they see (or hide from them). It’s being comfortable riding in your car, it’s seeing other dogs and remaining calm. It’s walking on different surfaces such as carpet, tile, wood, grass, gravel, sand, asphalt, cement, wood chips.
Meeting a ferret at Petco
Everyday items that we take for granted can be a source of concern.
Creating space between your dog and the object removes stress from the dog and gives you time to respond in a calm manner.
Dogs need to experience new things but we have to be careful how we introduce them. We need to be a calm presence while they work through their fear.
I’ve had several clients who have accidentally reinforced their dog’s fear by using a comforting tone of voice which sounds exactly like praise. Try it! Notice the tone of voice you use when you say “Good boy/girl” and “It’s okay”. Chances are they are both in a higher tone of voice. Dogs cannot differentiate between the two.
Instead, try using your normal voice. In the case of the aforementioned big, scary trash can, I backed the dog away from it so he wasn’t reacting to it and had him sit next to me and I talked to him in a normal, calm voice. I said things like “That’s a really big trash can. It does look a little scary but I promise it won’t hurt you.” etc.
Once the dog relaxes, “Shall we move a little closer?” At which point I would move a few steps closer and continue to talk to the dog in my calm voice. Going at the dog’s pace, I continue this process until the dog feels comfortable enough to investigate the object. At that time I give lots of praise in my happy praise voice.
Think of yourself as your dog’s support system. You are there to support them as they figure out this great big world and how to be in it.
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