Teaching socialization and coping skills to your new family member
It is important to know how to properly socialize your new puppy/dog and to teach them canine coping skills.To teach dog social skills, the re-enforcement/motivation MUST be positive or you can cause all kinds of behavioral issues in the future. Canine coping skills mean how to deal with change. All kinds of change from change in a surface to a change in household objects. In Week One of all my obedience classes, I start with an exercise we like to call “777”.The sevens are 7 surfaces, 7 sounds, 7 objects, 7 environments and 7 different size humans.
To explain further, the first 7 is “surfaces”. It is important that your dog can be on any type of surface and be comfortable. Even if they do not particularly like the surface they need to cope with being on it and not acting like a nut. I have a client who just recently moved toFlorida, whose dog hates sand. That is because the dog had never experienced sand before his adulthood, he freaked out when he first stepped on to the beach. The sensation of sinking into an unfamiliar hot surface was very strange to a 2 year old dog… You do not want to be dealing with this issue on your vacation. So socialize your dog to all surfaces now. Dogs do not like slippery surfaces. The sensation of slipping causes fear in most dogs. Get your dog used to a slippery surface at a young age.
The next 7 is “sounds”. I arrange for puppies/dogs to be around as many different sounds as possible. If the dog is sound- sensitive, then I start off quite some distance away and slowly introduce the sound louder and louder. I will start with a dull sound like dropping a book a few inches off the ground and rolling a treat to the dog. Then I will move to a tinny sound and progress to different sounds at different levels. Make sure you socialize your new dog to motorcycles because motorcycles have a very odd reverberating sound. I always use positive reinforcement as a way of associating the sounds to a good thing like a favorite treat. The next 7 is “objects”. You will be surprised how some dogs are afraid of different objects that they have never seen before.
It is important that you are able to go to new places and your dog has the confidence and coping skills to deal with unfamiliar objects. I have experienced in my agility classes, dogs who come in barking and in fear of the obstacles. They will huff and puff as they are backing up because they have not been socialized to odd objects not found in their immediate environment before. Amazingly a lot of dogs are afraid of dry cleaning bags. Try hanging a bag from a high place and see what reaction your dog has. If the bag is under a vent you will get more of a reaction. Again, I will use treats to encourage the dogto conquer their fear of this strange flowing object. Remember to socialize your dog to wheelchairs and walkers as well. The next 7 is “environments”. After they are fully immunized, I take dogs and puppies to as many places as possible. I like to take them into large buildings, pet stores etc… I have socialized one of my dogs at the airport because I am going to use her as a therapy dog in the future.
My beautiful dog, Isabella, has great coping skills and excellent social skills due to her experiences at the airport. Dogs are often intimidated by rolling objects such as suitcases and grocery store carts. Dogs that are socialized at a young age will be so much easier to deal with and also become more a part of the family because they can go anywhere with you. Use treats as a positive re-enforcer in strange environments. You might need a higher form of a treat in different environments. A treat that works at home may not necessarily work at a scary location. The next 7 is “different size humans”. Dogs will get used to the size human they are around most. Make sure you expose your puppy to babies and toddlers. Toddlers are the number one human who gets bitten. Toddlers and babies are at eye level and some dogs might perceive a stare from a toddler as a posturing threat. Toddlers also wobble and make weird noises that can scare a dog who is unfamiliar with kids.
Some dogs are scared of really tall people especially if they live in a household with smaller sized humans. Since some dogs are fearful of men, they need to have some positivere-enforcement from a man. Socialization teaches coping skills. Everyone wants that dog you see at the soccer game with the baby crawling all over it and it just lies there, oblivious to the different noises, people and the motorcycle going by. It is your responsibility as a human to train your dog and to teach them socialization/coping skills. Dogs are not disposable creatures. Dogs/puppies are just like kids – they need to be taught manners through kindness and trust.
Susie is a Certified Canine Behavior & Training Specialist and a member in good standing with the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. She has four rescue dogs and donates much of her time and services to Rescue Organizations. Susie hosts The Animal Hour Radio Show which can be heard through her site, and is Turner Brocasting’s Featured Pet Expert.