What does it mean anyway when we say a puppy must be socialized?

Basically, it boils down to several things:  Socializing means both allowing and assisting your dog in learning about the many aspects of the world around him within a mode of positive experiences and healthful adjustment for the dog.

Socializing means allowing your puppy to be a dog and not treating him like a human.  It’s protecting him from fearful circumstances or things while still allowing him to explore. It’s taking ample time to gently introduce your puppy to new people, places, other dogs, circumstances and things while making sure your pup is safe and knows he is secure.    So much of this is all about what the owner does since the dog is quite helpless when it comes to taking himself for a ride in the car or going to the pet store to select tasty morels. Your dog often will mirror the way they are treated by you.

A puppy who is not socialized may lead a life never understanding the sheer joy of romping with another dog.  Yes, a dog will love their human but he also loves and needs other dogs.  Without being introduced to the world around him, a dog can live a life of shyness, fear or even outright aggression.  Most dogs bite out of fear and not because they are a mean dog. Quite a number of non-socialized dogs are euthanized because people reject them.    A particular example of an non-socialized dog comes to mind.

Several years ago, a tiny, four-pound poodle named Sandy came to daycare. The owner had gotten Sandy as a rescue and the dog was the ultimate in shyness.  At the time Sandy came to daycare, we made sure there were no dogs in the playroom.  But it didn’t matter that there was nothing scary in the room, Sandy was literally terrified.  She started drooling, ran to the furthest corner of the warm room and hide under a table while shaking as if she was freezing cold.  She simply couldn’t move.

First, I allowed my dog, Maddie, to greet Sandy.  Maddie is the best host and greeter and totally understood the shyness and fear in this other dog.   He sniffed briefly while Sandy barred her teeth and then he turned and walked away. I then allowed another well-grounded dog into the room and he did the same.  Sandy seemed amazed that none of the others were going to eat her alive and, instead turned their backs on her to go do other things.  She was allowed to observe the little dog pack playing happily together.  Dogs are terrific teachers to other canines and there is a lot to be learned through observation.

It is extremely threatening to look a shy dog in the eye, face them squarely or stand tall above them.  Frequently, I went over and stooped down close with my side to her, never looking her in the eye, never reaching for her or pushing her but talking normally and then went to play with the other dogs. We put a bed and a dish of water under the table but she touched neither.  About the second day of daycare, I managed to put a leash on her and take her for a gentle, safe and brief walk.  It was very difficult for her.  If I can read anything, I’m fairly sure she looked up at me in gratitude when I took the leash off and she knew that she was still safe.

I have seen dogs come around in as short a time as fifteen minutes but Sandy was so traumatized that it took about two weeks of constant daycare visits.  Each day she would run under the safety of the table. Gradually she came out from under the table to sniff everyone, walk around and come up to me.  We now are best friends and Sandy stands in the middle of the little pack and decides who gets to play, when and how much.  She is the new boss lady.  We are happy to see her having that kind of confidence and self-assurance.  With gentleness, patience and encouragement on our part, it was Sandy’s decision to be friends.

Sandy was a lucky dog because her patient owner was determined to give Sandy the time to understand and the experiences to allow her to learn and adjust. A proper daycare facility is a great place to take dogs for socializing provided they are knowledgeable about dog behavior.  Over time this four pound poodle became the smallest but grandest dame of all the dogs.  This story is a happy one.