by: Niall Kennedy
They may seem to be bold explorers - sniffing at and mouthing just about anything - but all dogs have an instinctive fear of anything unfamiliar to them. Fear causes stress on the body, which affects long-term health. To help your dog avoid the negative health effects of stress, it is important to socialize her. Socialization is the process of exposing your dog to a wide variety of places, situations, objects and people. A well-socialized dog is a confident, healthy dog that you can take anywhere.
An unsocial dog will attack other dogs, children, vets, and even you.
The things that startle dogs often surprise their owners. Hats, balloons, garden statues, and other mundane things that seem to pose no threat. To your dog, however, it is an unknown. If you are a subdued person, your dog might show fear around a bubbly extrovert. Basically, any situation or object your dog is not accustomed to can create fear and stress in her.
Cornell University College of Vet Medicine suggests that the socialization period lasts up to about 12 weeks (3 months) of age.
So it is best if the socialization process begins when the dog is a puppy. This is a key learning time for dogs, so they become socialized more quickly. However, even older dogs that were not socialized as puppies can reach that confident, relaxed state. Socializing a dog that is more than one year old may take a little longer, but the results are rewarding.
Socializing a dog is a very simple process: take the dog to as many different places as you can. Your dog will pick up on your body language and follow your lead, so it is important for you to act confident and relaxed, especially when your dog hesitates. While you are walking about, stop every so often to pet your dog and talk to her in a happy voice. Naturally, feeding her a treat or two will give her a positive association with the environment.
Here are some quick ideas to try to give your puppy confidence.
Invite friends to meet her. This will help her get used to unfamiliar people.
Take her to the shopping mall, into the park, school play areas to experience new environments.
Introduce the puppy to anything you expect her to use daily - the yard, her leash, stairs.
Since your goal is to give your dog confidence, not traumatize her, never force your dog to accept a person or situation. Respect her feelings, and try again later.
While you are out and about, remember that you are your dog's guardian. Keep an eye out for excited children running towards your dog. A good way to handle this kind of situation is to stop the kids verbally about 10 feet from your dog. Explain to them that your dog is just getting used to new places and new people. Ask them to approach quietly and one at a time so that your dog learns that children are nothing to be afraid of. Letting the children feed your dog a treat is sure to help her learn to accept these high-energy, enthusiastic strangers.
Properly socializing your puppy will ensure the best traits come out in your new pet and you and your pet enjoy your life together.
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