Socialization:The Importance of it and why it doesn’t always fix everything

One of the first commandments of dog ownership is to “socialize your pup/dog”. Its importance in raising a dog to be a well balanced, happy dog is even stated in the actual breed write ups aka breed standards of many different breeds. Some dog breeds of course, require much more extensive socialization than others, due to their genetic predispositions to things such as dog aggression, or trust of strangers.
What does it mean to socialize your puppy or dog? It means exposing them to as many new situations, places, people and animals as you possibly can,early on, so that the pup will grow to be confident and secure no matter where you may take them or whom they may meet later on in their life. It is extremely important that any socializing be monitored so that new experiences are made as positive as possible for your pup/dog. A bad experience can leave a dog that was once confident and secure, quivering in fear at even the sight of another dog, person or place. This is one of the reasons dog parks can be such a disaster, especially for a young pup who is still learning the ropes so to speak. They can learn to distrust and fear dogs in general after being bullied at a dog park….leading to the owners having to then bring in trainers or behaviorists in the attempt to reverse the problem. And sometimes, no matter how much they work to correct it, that dog may never be the same again. May never be totally stable around other dogs.
Many people suggest, myself included, that instead of putting your pup or older dog in situations that can be unpredictable and risky, it is safer to arrange smaller, more secure settings where you have a better idea of how things will go. For instance, instead of taking your pup into a large gathering of other dogs to socialize, pick a dog or two that you know and trust, who’s play style suits that of your pup/dog and go from there. Arranging play dates with your friend’s dog is a much safer bet than putting them in a fenced in area with strange dogs you’ve never met before, and have no way of knowing how they will behave…or if the owners are in control of the dog/s.
Try not to overwhelm your dog. Too much of anything at one time is never a good thing. While some dogs may cope just fine with an overload of stimulation, others can shut down completely, leaving you ten steps back rather than ten steps ahead.
It is true, that by socializing your dog as much as possible, you can make a dog much more likely to be confident and secure in new situations. That is a given. However…what I do not agree with, and never have, is the idea that socialization is the cure all to ALL behavioral issues, or that it completely erases a dog’s genetic predispositions. I’ve seen far too much evidence to the contrary to believe that. It is a preventative, it is a teaching tool,but it is not a one size fits all fix to everything.
I hear of or have seen, an awful lot of dog owners who have gone into the relationship with their new pup or dog, no matter the breed, thinking that as long as they socialize, that dog will never have dog aggression issues, never be afraid of or not like people, never chase rabbits or want to kill a cat. It simply isn’t always true. There are some dogs, who despite all the socialization in the world, still retain certain personality traits that while may be controlled or containable with proper care and consideration (being careful about what dogs they meet, where they are taken in public, never allowed to run off lead for instance) are never quite trustworthy in certain situations 100%. It is when these owners refuse to acknowledge that fact, that disasters can and do occur.
Some breeds are just naturally leery of strangers for instance. This is in their genetic makeup. Even when breeders have tried over the years to breed more stable, friendly dogs, many still retain those original traits.Some breeds have a natural desire to chase prey. Some need to herd. Take herding dogs. They may not all be living on farms nowadays, herding sheep…but they still retain that desire, that genetic NEED to do so. How many of these breeds end up in shelters when the owners live a lifestyle that isn’t conducive to fulfilling those needs, and can no longer cope with the consequences of choosing a dog that NEEDS to be stimulated?
It bothers me when I see people trying to fit dogs into their own cookie cutter ideals and personal needs, and when the dog doesn’t conform 100%, they suffer for it.
Here is the fact. While socializing your Great Dane will go a long way to helping them be more trusting and comfortable with strange people and other animals, it does NOT guarantee that your dane is going to end up loving all animals and people they meet on the street. At the end of the day, these are still dogs who have a genetic predisposition to be protective of their immediate families, to be a bit leery of strangers. While dog aggression is not a huge problem in general, it can and does happen, and just because your dane was great with dogs for the first year or two, does NOT mean that they will not later on with maturity, develop some sort of DA.(Irregardless of how well socialized they may be or have been) Not ALL Great Danes are going to “LOVE” children and want to be climbed all over and mauled. And I don’t think it’s fair to fault them for it if they just happen to have the personality that they were originally meant to have. Faithful and protective of their masters and immediate family, guardians of their home and territory and leery of those outside of that intimate circle.(as all mastiff’s are supposed to be) Nor is it fair to expect every single dog of any breed to share the exact same personality or traits. We are each individuals at the core, and so are our dogs.
I think it can be very dangerous in some ways, for people to tout socialization as the automatic fix of all issues. When we refuse to realize that there are some things that just cannot be completely removed, we put our beloved dogs in danger of reacting in ways that may cause them harm, other dogs or people harm, and ultimately end their lives. It happens a lot with bull dog breeds. People refuse to accept that their dog just may never like other dogs. Period. They continually try to “socialize” that out of them…putting their dog and the public in danger by forcing them into scenarios where they might react negatively. If you know your dog has a problem with male dogs for instance, you simply make sure you avoid letting that dog engage with other males. You don’t stick them in the face of every male dog you come across, hoping that by flooding them with the very thing they can’t handle or don’t like, they will magically become the friendly dog at the park who loves and wants to play with everyone. It’s irresponsible, and as far as I’m concerned, another great example of how we as humans continue to put our dogs in harms way just so we can show off how superior we are as trainers, as dog owners, as “alpha’s”, or what have you. And when you make a mistake, when you’re not watching for one instant, when your dog attacks and maims another dog, or a child, when you KNEW that it was a very good possibility, and that dog is forced to be euthanized, labeled a vicious dog, you have no one to blame but yourself. And maybe the people who spend so much time convincing the dog world that by bombarding your pooch with experiences they can’t handle or don’t enjoy, you’re going to cure them of that dislike.
There has to come a point when you realize that changing certain traits that could otherwise be managed and prevented, is not worth the risk. When the children you so desperately want your dog to be fine with, might prefer keeping their skin intact, rather than being a guinea pig so you can re program your dog. It’s fine to try and work with your dog to get over fears, to help build confidence, to eradicate certain negative associations. I’m not disputing that at all. What I am saying is, that when you get to the point where you just know in your heart that your dog is never going to be a lover of strangers, of certain people, of other dogs, of cats,etc…then accept those “flaws” if you see them as such,and manage them the very best that you can so both you, your dog and the public will remain safe. And so your dog can lead a happy life not having the very things they will never enjoy shoved in their face and down their throat all of the time.
Luke does not like children. I know that, I accept that, and I manage that by not constantly parading children in his face every day. I make the public very aware that he doesn’t want to be manhandled and to please respect his space…as you would want people to respect yours. And guess what? You could not ask for or probably find a more socialized dog than Luke. That poor guy has been literally bombarded with people of all ages, shapes, sizes and dogs of all shapes and sizes and breeds, since he was a pup. And yet he still does not like certain male dogs now. Nor does he want people man handling him anymore. Socialization didn’t affect that. What he put up with and seemed to even enjoy a year ago, is not what he prefers now. And I don’t see anything at all wrong with that.
The point? Know your dog. They’re strengths, their weaknesses. How far you can push them and when to just back off and let them be. Don’t let anyone else talk you into putting YOUR dog in dangerous positions that may harm you and the one you love, just so you can say you didn’t give up, you got the upper hand, or what have you. Sometimes we just need to let them be who they are. We don’t have them with us nearly long enough in the first place…let’s not let their short lives be full of turmoil as we try to force them to be something they are not.

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Luke’s 2nd Birthday and A New Sister!!!

I have news!!!

First off, my baby boy is now a “man” lol. Luke turned 2 on July.14th, and what an emotional trip that was for me. I created a video of our first two years together, with two songs that really get to the heart of our bond and how I feel for my boy. I also caught a few pics of our day before my camera died on me. He had a nice time. We went to visit Nanny at her house, then Grampy at his house. He had a birthday muffin with candles and recieved a box of plain timbits from Patty, which he of course, LOVED. He had a few little presents (Mamma didn’t have a whole lot of money to spend this month although he’s since gotten a few more toys and treats lol) It’s hard to believe he’s 2 already. Sometimes it seems like only yesterday I was picking him up at the airport…and other times, it feels like we’ve been together, attatched at the hip, forever.

Here are the pics and video. I hope you will enjoy them.

 

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Some pics from a day or two after his birthday, down by the water…a place we walk often.

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And now for some news!!
Lukey has a new sister/aunt ūüôā This is Sophie, a Valley Bulldog. She is my mother’s pup actually but since I will have her here with me a lot of the time, and will be doing most of her training with her, she’s sort of mine too lol. Luke will be meeting her tommorow and I will be getting some new pics and videos then. I’ll also be making videos of her training progress as we go along. I think he’s gonna love her! She’s a doll, that’s for sure.

 

 

Pics of Sophie from at the breeders, until now:

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Common Mistakes New Dog/Puppy Owners Make:part 2

To continue on where we left off….

Another hugely common mistake new owners make when first bringing home their new pup, and for the first few months of their lives, is allowing behaviors that they won’t want continued into adulthood. There’s no doubt about it, it takes a pretty tough person to say no to a brand new pup. The little face looking up at you with such love, excitement and trust, melts your heart and steals a part of your soul, leaving you unwilling to say that big bad word..”NO!”.

What we dont’ take into account, is that much of, if not most of what our dogs learn about life, social behavior, how to interact with other people and animals, and proper behavior in the home, is learned in those first few months when the cute overrides our sense. It is imperative, that we realize that every single moment of the day from the minute we bring home our new pup, is a potential for learning. Be it positive behavior or negative.

I find many dog owners seem to think that training is a chore. We take out a certain amount of time per day to work on things like “sit”, “Come”, “Stay”,etc. We forget that each and every interaction we have with our dog during the day, is indeed a training session. A time of learning, shaping behavior, teaching our dog what behaviors we want, and preventing those we do not want. Looking at it in this manner, and living by it, makes training SO much easier! It means that you are steadily and constantly working with your dog, even when you’re simply sitting down watching a tv show, or putting food in their bowl, every time you go to let them out to potty. Everything, even the most seemingly unimportant, means a lot in the end.

It is MUCH easier to work with and train a dog when that dog knows exactly what behaviors we want from them, expect from them and behaviors that please us….rather than waiting until they do something we want to correct…and expecting them to understand what it is they’re being corrected for and why. A dog that isn’t taught how TO behave, won’t understand what it means to NOT behave. Make sense?

It is a wonderful idea, to establish what “house rules” you want your puppy,and later on, your adult dog, to live by. These rules should really be established before you even bring Fido home. If you live in a family setting, or with anyone other than yourself…these rules/guidelines should be clearly discussed and decided on. It is imperative that each member of the household understands the rules, and how you will go about teaching them. If every member of the house has a different set of guidelines, or allows different behaviors…and if they go about training differently, it is going to be MUCH harder for the pup to learn, and quite confusing for them. All guidelines should be simple, clear and easy to understand.
That means..if you’ve decided no dog on the furniture…NO ONE is allowed to let the pup on the furniture. Period. No excuses. No special occasions. Later on, when the dog is older, more reliably trained, and more mature…perhaps you can then start showing him/her different scenarios¬†in which he’s allowed to go on the furniture. But allowing it one moment and not the next when first training, is not going to work well for most dogs and will indeed only make the dog not trust rules…since rules change so very often for no apparent reason in the dog’s mind. This is one of the hardest things for families to accomplish. Because we all see things differently, each member has a different bond with the pup, a higher or lower threshold for what behaviors they can ignore and what ones they can’t. But to successfully raise a well behaved pup who understands their place, it really is important to do our absolute best on this.

People don’t realize that you don’t have to be in “training mode” with clicker and treat handy at each moment…in order to teach your dog. Nor do you have to always give cues, or lure behaviors in order to reinforce them. A great example of this is the “sit” command. Go online and there are at least¬†a dozen different methods given by various trainers on how to teach “sit”. When really, it’s quite simple. No luring necessary, BECAUSE…the sit, is a natural body movement that every single dog, cat, person and animal does. Every day, multiple times per day.

Rather than put a dog on lead, pull up on the lead, push down on the back-end, lure with a treat,etc….the easiest and most common sense way to accomplish this, is simply reward and praise each time you notice your pup doing the sit naturally. If you are supervising your pup properly, which every dog owner SHOULD be doing in the first place, it won’t take long to teach this, as they will be sitting multiple times throughout the day. Each time they do? BIG praise…and add the command “sit”. Not only is this easy, it also helps with dogs that are a bit more stubborn minded and like to think THEY make the decision to do the behavior ūüôā Same thing with the down command. A lot of dogs do not take well to being physically forced into¬† down. Especially those who have fear issues or who are reluctant to put themselves in a vulnerable position. Rather than force them, causing more anxiety…simply wait for the natural behavior to occur, and praise/treat accordingly. No fighting with the dog, and you get the results you want. Relatively quickly too!¬†

Again…rather than wait until your pup is exhibiting behavior you do not want….teach them what behaviors you DO want, by always supervising, being close by and noticing their movements and actions, so you can then tell them when they are doing the right thing. Pup is sitting calmly at your side? PRAISE. “Good sit”. Pup comes up to you and doesn’t jump? Praise..good puppy. Pup barks once or twice to alert you of something, then stops barking….BIG PRAISE…”Good quiet”. You are teaching the pup long before excessive barking becomes an issue…that it’s ok to alert you, but once you’ve been alerted and acknowledge the situation, pup must then quiet down.

REMEMBER::Consistency is EVERYTHING when working with dogs, old and young. Use the same command for the same behavior, praise every time you see the good behavior, even after they’ve already learned it. Luke is 2 years old, and I still thank him for telling me when he has to go outside to pee. I still thank him for heeling properly, for quieting down after alerting me to strangers near our house, for waiting patiently for his dinner.

So, pay attention to your pup. Sticking a pup in a crate for most of the day, may make potty training easier for you, but it doesn’t teach the pup how to properly interact and behave in the home and out. That is up to you. They don’t come to us already knowing everything. It is our job to teach. Patiently, fairly and with the understanding that each dog is different. Each one will learn at their own pace. Each dog may require different methods of training than others. Some may be food motivated, some toy motivated. Some may just want praise. Learn about your pup, what motivates them, what makes them tick. Observe them in all surroundings and see how they naturally react. Make all of your interactions with your pup positive and rewarding for both of you. Training a pup can be hard work yes, but it should never be a dreaded chore. It’s a part of everyday life, and should be, for the entire life of the dog. Make it fun, make it simple. Make it a bonding experience for you both. And make sure the entire family is on the same page. I will share some more in-depth methods in a later post….

Common Mistakes New Dog/Puppy Owners Make

This article written by me (Jenn Higgins) will be posted in parts, as it will be too long to put in just one blog. Stay tuned ūüėõ

It is a fact, that a lot of, if not most of the huge number of dogs being re-homed, sent to shelters and rescued, or sold in the attempt to make a profit…are all the end result of common and all too frequent mistakes made by people getting a new pup or dog. despite¬†the over abundance of information IE education out there, accessible¬†by just a click of a button, we still see it over and over again. In this article I will try to outline each of the most common problems we see. Keep in mind that there are always exceptions to every rule…and that there are indeed some very understandable reasons why some dogs need to be re-homed. This post is in no way to degrade or look down upon those situations…but to instead, highlight some key points to think of before ever bringing that new cute puppy home.

– Not doing enough research on the breed of dog one is getting (if any is done at all) Not understanding or coming to terms with the reality of living with that breed…the specific requirements of the dog, as well as taking individual qualities and/or issues that may crop up.¬†
This is so rampant it’s not funny. Someone sees a cute puppy in a picture, on an ad site, out on a walk…and all of the sudden they just “have” to have that kind of dog. Or they see it on a tv show, movie, commercial¬†and that’s the dog they want…RIGHT NOW. No thought whatsoever is put into the fact that although every puppy is cute, cuddly and adorable, not every puppy who will indeed GROW UP TO BE A DOG…is the right one for them. In fact, very few people have a huge list of suitable breeds that actually match their lifestyle. So we have Mr. & Mrs. Jones rushing out to get this cute puppy,not realizing, or considering that the pup they just picked up, is a very high energy breed…one that needs continual training, socialization, mental and physical excercise multiple times per day, may have a host of health issues that is common to that breed of dog, has specific feeding requirements,etc. Perhaps they didn’t take into account that this dog may not be great with children, of which the Jones’ have three. So what happens when reality sets in? The pooch gets dumped on the first willing rescue or person who will take him.

There is a reason different breeds were created. They are all different in their own ways, while at the same time, sharing¬†certain similarities. They each had their own job that they were bred to do. While many breeds no longer retain much of the original¬†working purpose they were bred for, nor used in that way, many others still do. In fact¬†there are quite a few breeds that to this day REQUIRE work, in order to be stable, happy and healthy. Dogs like Border Collies, GSD’s, Malinois…without a steady stream of activity, both mental and physical, can become a NIGHTMARE in the hands of uneducated, ill prepared novice pet owners whose lifestyle simply does not match the needs of the dogs.

This is where we see the “I don’t have enough time for him”, “He needs more room to run and someone who’s willing to give him all the time and attention he needs” comes in. Which is basically the nicer way of saying “Hey..I have this dog who is no longer a cute fuzz ball…I didn’t think anything through before bringing him home. I assumed he’d raise and train himself and that knowing how to sit and give paw was enough in the way of “training”. I thought walking them once or twice a month for a half hour while I’m being drug down the road behind a dog who has no manners whatsoever, because of course we thought he’d learn those on his own too…was enough excercise. I was wrong. Now I need you, I need ANYBODY to come take responsibility for this dog so I don’t have to do what I should have been doing from day one. Thank you.”

Although each dog is at its core, and individual…it cannot be denied that indeed the breed DOES matter in the grand scheme of things. There are some breeds that are simply not suitable for a certain type of home. A BC should never be with an elderly, disabled couple who cannot walk much or leave their retirement home.¬†A Great Dane is not for someone who wants to run marathons and climb mountains everyday, someone who wants to be out in extreme weather or someone who requires a dog with a ton of endurance. There are general breed characteristics for a reason. So that each and every person can decide whether this is the kind of dog that will fit into their lifestyle smoothly and happily. Beware those who claim a lifestyle they do not yet have. It is very easy for someone to say “I’m going to change my life to start doing this, to accommodate my new dog”, but it’s very rare that the person will actually do it, and stick with it. Thus another dog being either trapped in a home that doesn’t suit, or re-homed. Every person MUST be 100% honest with themselves. ARE you truly an active person? Are you SURE that for the ENTIRE LIFE of the dog, you are going¬†to be willing and/or able to get up and take your dog out for walks, runs, training sessions, etc? What other options do you have set in place should there come a time when you are ill, or can’t do these things for a while. It’s easy to say “Oh I can get my neighbor or my sister to come over and let the puppy/dog out, etc.” REALLY? Are you SURE?¬† In the end we all should know who we are as people and what we want in our lives. If we’re lazy couch potatoes and aren’t absolutely¬†sure we can give a high energy breed 100% of us, then we have no business¬†getting that dog. If we’re a super high energy marathon runner who wants to go go go all the time or someone who travels constantly, then we do not need a Great Dane or¬†other moderate/low energy breed that NEEDS to be with their owners, not left alone or dumped in kennels every week while their people travel the world. So again, before ever bringing that puppy home…BE HONEST about who you are as a person, and what you are TRULY capable of giving, LONG TERM, to a dog. Any dog.

Simple Questions to ask one’s self before bringing home a new pup/dog:

-Do I have the time to train, socialize, walk, and otherwise spend quality time with a dog? Is fluffy going to spend more of her time in a crate alone, than being among family and her owners? Is she going to get enough excercise not just for this week, or the next few months, but long-term?

-Do I understand both the positives and negative aspects of this breed/ or mix of breeds? IE:Health issues, specific nutritional needs, training requirements (you may have chosen a stubborn, harder to work with dog, rather  than a super easy,brilliant and eager to please pooch) Can I handle things like possible dog aggression if I pick a breed that may be more prone to it? Do I understand that not all dogs learn at the same pace, that mine may be faster or slower than other and that it might be up to three years before I have a reliably trained dog in my home? Can I cope with that?

-Am I financially capable of caring for, feeding, vetting, this dog?

-What am I actually looking for from this dog? What am I expecting it to be like, act like, live like? Are my expectations realistic? Am I willing to put the time and effort, perhaps even money if I require a professional trainer, into making those expectations come to fruition?

-Does my entire household/family agree with getting this dog? Is everyone going to be involved in raising and the upkeep of the dog? Not just during the cute phase but for the entire life of the dog? Who will be the main caregiver? What will I do if I have to do it alone?

-If renting, am I absolutely positive that I’m allowed to have a pet, including a dog? Is there size or breed restrictions where I am living currently? What will I do in the event that I am forced to move for some reason. Do I realize how incredibly difficult it can be to find an apartment or condo that allows pets, let alone dogs?

-Do¬†I have enough on my plate already with children in the home? Am I truly willing to supervise the children and the dog AT ALL TIMES…NO QUESTIONS ASKED? For the safety of both dog and child? Am I prepared to teach my children the proper way to interact with a dog and make sure that this dog is not going to be used as a jungle gym, tail and ears as tug of war toys?

-Do¬†I already have pets in the home? Is one more going to upset the balance and cause issues? What will I do if they don’t get along? Am I willing to keep separate¬†any animals and do¬†a “Crate and rotate” type deal, if indeed they do not get along? Can I handle that stress and worry every single day for at least ten years?

These are just a few questions a person should ask themselves before bringing home a dog. The question should never be..what can a dog offer me. It should always be..what can I offer this dog. Only then, and only when all questions are answered truthfully and coincide with the dog you are getting, can you ensure a life long happy home with your new friend.