“Extra! Extra! Read All About It! Dogs Must Be Socialized To Be Well Behaved!”

Vets, friends, bloggers and even strangers on the street are all beating the “socialize your dog” drum these days but many people still don’t fully appreciate its importance. Fewer still know what it actually means. Typically when I ask people if their dog has been socialized I get responses like, “Oh yes, we go to the dog park every week.” or “No, he hasn’t been to the dog park.” but the question wasn’t about the dog park. The question was, “Has your dog been socialized?” So, let’s discuss more completely what socialization is and, more specifically, why teaching your dog to do nothing may be the best thing you can do for his social life. 

Okay, So What is Socialization?

While it very well may include going to the dog park, socialization is actually about exposing your dog to everything….men, women, children, fire trucks, rain, wind, umbrellas….you name it. On top of that, it means that the dog has positive exposure to these things. In other words, nothing bad happens. (A little startle hear or mildly stressful experience there is fine, it is a natural part of venturing into the world, just avoid anything traumatic.) This is the most basic foundation for a confident, well behaved dog. Without this foundation, a dog will likely be anxious, fearful or reactive when out in public.

The Importance of Control

Beyond just positive exposure they need controlled exposure. Control means that the dog is getting feedback from you about what is expected and allowed. For a dog to be well behaved they need to learn that the world is not a free for all, that there are rules and that manners are required. Example: Jumping on people is not an acceptable greeting.

The Art of Doing Nothing

Possibly the most important and overlooked of all forms of exposure is what I call Observatory Socialization or The Art of Doing Nothing. That’s right, nothing. Example: Sitting at an outdoor cafe with your dog not interacting with anyone or anything. Just kicking back and watching the world go by. You may exclaim “Impossible!” or ask “Why?” but hang on. Unless you are dealing with a major behavior problem like aggression or intense fear, I can assure you this is indeed possible and the value is that your dog will develop enough impulse control to go with you to all your favorite dog friendly places without being a bother.

Here’s How Doing Nothing is Done:

I wish I could say there’s nothing to it (pun intended) but you will actually need four ingredients for successfully doing nothing:

  1. A Tired Dog: The old saying “a tired dog is a good dog” is fitting for this situation. Exercise your dog before socializing because a tired dog will have an easier time doing nothing. 
  2. The Functional Heel: Your dog walks by your side with no pulling or sniffing for long durations. This is the first step towards the impulse control it will take to do nothing while stationary. Ignoring people and things will be easier for most dogs while in motion. Example: Walk through downtown without stopping to sniff or visit. Just smile, say hello and keep on walking with your dog at your side in the Heel position. 
  3. The Long Down: A solid Down command will keep your dog under control while he learns to ignore all the distractions of the world going by. Without being under command most dogs will continually sniff around, pace back and forth, pull on the leash and many will never relax on their own. Having them under command gives them a job to do and helps them relax. 
  4. Just Say No: “Sorry, we’re in training right now.” Practice saying that. It’s not so hard, is it? Many people have a hard time saying this and even more have a hard time hearing it. If you say it nicely and explain that it’s for training purposes, most will understand. Try not to feel bad about it, people can pet your dog at another time when you are doing interactive exercises.

Moral of the Story: Dogs need to have positive, controlled interactions with their environment, people and other dogs. They also need to learn to be non-interactive, turn it off and just chill.

If you need help with the skills discussed in this article start with low to no distractions and please contact us or find a good balanced trainer in your area.

Until next time, have fun and keep ‘em waggin’

Chad Culp – Certified Dog Trainer, Canine Behavior Consultant, Owner of Thriving Canine. 

© Thriving Canine 2020

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