When you think about what it takes to raise a happy and healthy puppy, the first things that probably come to mind are proper nutrition, vaccinations, and regular vet visits. While socialization isn’t usually at the top of a new dog owner’s priority list, it’s actually one of the most important things you can do.
In simple terms, socialization involves safely exposing your dog to as many different situations as possible. Unfortunately, an occasional walk around the block or ride in the car isn’t enough to achieve socialization. To properly socialize your dog, you must take him out of the house, and you must do it frequently. You’ll also need to introduce him to a variety of different people and animals both in and out of your home. If your dog is only exposed to your immediate family and household pets, he will have a hard time handling himself properly in public.
While it’s best to start socialization at eight weeks of age, if you adopt an older puppy or an adult dog it’s still a good idea to start as soon as possible. Socialization is important for all breeds of dog but is even more critical for large breeds like German Shepard, Rottweiler, and Cane Corso puppies. Due to their intimidating size, the effects of poor socialization can create serious problems for both the dog and its owner.
Here’s a look at five reasons why a socialized dog is a happy dog and a few tips to help you get started.
1. A More Fulfilling Life
Well-socialized dogs are self-confident and can calmly handle themselves when faced with unfamiliar situations, loud noises, strangers, and animals. When your dog knows how to mind his manners, he’ll reap the advantages of being able to go places with you and enjoy a more fulfilling quality of life.
Teach him how to behave properly in public and you’ll be able to take him with you on family visits, bring him along for brunch at an outdoor café, and allow him to run off-leash at your local dog park. This will take some effort, but the benefits for both you and your dog are well worth it.
2. Better Physical and Mental Health
When your dog is poorly socialized, unfamiliar circumstances often create a fear response. This causes adrenaline production to go into overdrive, increasing blood pressure, respiration, and heart rate. It also leads to an increase in corticosteroids, also known as the “stress hormone.” When this happens frequently or over long periods of time, it can lower your dog’s immune system, cause muscles to break down, and decrease blood flow to the intestines and kidneys. Properly socializing your dog can help you avoid many of these physical issues and allow him to live a longer and healthier life.
3. Access to Proper Grooming
Most dogs don’t love getting their nails cut and their ears cleaned but getting them used to it from the very start will make both of your lives easier. In addition, breeds that require professional grooming must be socialized to avoid dangerous and aggressive behavior. Failing to do so could require your dog to be drastically restrained during grooming, which could lead to injury. It’s also likely that you’ll have a hard time finding a groomer who's willing to handle your dog in the first place. Even if you do, your dog might frequently end up with a sub-par cut.
4. Better Medical Care
A well socialized dog will sit calmly and allow the family veterinarian to conduct a thorough medical exam. This increases the chances that medical issues will be caught early and improves the likelihood of proper diagnosis and treatment when there’s a problem.
If your dog is poorly socialized, he’s likely to respond to the vet with fear and aggression. While this can be handled with the use of a muzzle, doing so will prohibit the vet from checking your dog’s teeth and gums, which is an important part of the medical examination. If your dog is stressed out, tense, and breathing heavily, it can also make it more difficult to check things like his respiration and heartbeat.
5. Regular Exercise
Dogs who are well-behaved typically get more exercise because they’re easier to walk. Owners of ill-socialized dogs often avoid taking them out because they’re worried about them pulling, lunging, or trying to run off. This is particularly worrisome when the dog is large and strong. If your dog gets loose and attacks another dog or person, it could cost you thousands of dollars in medical bills and possibly cost your dog his life.
While simply avoiding the possibility of confrontation might seem like the easiest solution, the lack of exercise will lead to other problems like muscle atrophy, obesity, and physical ssues associated with being overweight.
Socializing is Fun and Easy!
Socializing your dog is simple to do and can be a lot of fun. Start by taking him with you to as many places as possible. This may include your local park, farmer’s market, pet store, and other pet-friendly establishments. Note that for safety reasons, you’ll want to keep your puppy off the ground and away from potentially unvaccinated dogs until your vet has confirmed that he’s been fully vaccinated.
While you’re out, allow people to pet, cuddle, and hold your puppy. Introduce him to both men and women and to people of all different ages and races. Expose him to car horns, sirens, bicycles, skateboards, walkers, and wheelchairs. Consider enrolling in a puppy kindergarten class which will allow your pup to meet other dogs and learn basic obedience skills that you can reinforce at home.
While you’re socializing your puppy, keep an eye on his body language and don’t let him get too stressed out. If your puppy is yawning a lot, turning his head away, or clinging to you, he’s not having a positive experience. When you notice this happening, stop the interaction and try again at another time. Remember that your puppy is just a baby and can get tired and overstimulated quickly.
When you bring your puppy out, make sure you’re prepared to give him your undivided attention. Your number one responsibility is to keep your puppy safe and comfortable, no matter what. Proper socialization will take some effort up front, but the benefits will help ensure that your dog lives a healthy and fulfilling life for years to come.