Adult Dog Socialization
If youíre bringing a new adult dog into your home, your major concern is to check out how well socialized the dog is and to strengthen any weak spots. For examples, if you find that this dog is a bit uncomfortable with men in hats, then you must make a concerted effort to help your new dog to learn to love men wearing hats. Invite over one or two friends at a time to meet your new dog. Ask them to bring hats, but not wear them. Have your dog on a leash and have everyone take a seat. Have one friend (without his hat on) hand-feed the dog his dinner. When your dog is comfortable, have your friend show the hat and feed the dog. Then ask him to casually put on the hat and feed the dog. Make an effort to invite over as many as possible of your male friends, one or two at a time, to follow this procedure. Pretty soon your dog will be searching out men wearing hats because he has learned they are a pretty generous bunch.
Socialization is on-going for the rest of your dogís life. Your dog may have gone to a puppy class (yippee!), and a lucky dog is walked to the park each day. But, while this dog has met a number of people and a number of dogs, it is also likely that he will meet those same familiar faces each and every day. To keep your dog socialized he must continue to meet new dogs and new people. The two best ways to do this are walking a different route each day and having parties in your home.
Problems Caused by Failure to Socialize
Socializing your dog is so easy and so much fun that a lot of people fail to take it seriously. However, without adequate socialization, your dog may become fearful and is likely to develop two of the most serious and hard-to-resolve problems, biting and fighting.
Fear or Aggression with People
Reward-based techniques are the method of choice when dealing with fearful or aggressive dogs. If you have a dog whoís a little afraid of or doesnít like people, you need to find a way to get the message to the dog, "hey buddy, I like you. If you just come close, Iíll give you a bit of kibble." Obviously, using the food as a lure is an effective way to communicate when the dog is afraid of your voice or physical contact (in which case you cannot praise or pat). But it is easy to toss a piece of kibble to the ground. Eventually the dog will come closer, lured by the kibble first on the ground and then in your hand. Try the following technique: Sit in an armchair and scatter food around you (or your friend). Your dog can approach and retreat as he likes. As he comes closer, he gets the food and as he runs off he gets nothing. Once he is more interested in the lure, you can now take the food and talk to the dog in the language that he has learned; come here, sit, and down. This in itself is like a behavorial pacifier and will accelerate the bonding process. If you think your dog is fearful, stressed or worried, for dogís sake please work on this problem. Itís no fun being anxious. If you think your dog has any kind of aggression problem, seek help immediately from a professional trainer (call 1-800-PET-DOGS).
If your dog is unfriendly with lots of other dogs, it means he is not adequately socialized to dogs. (But donít expect your dog to be best friends with every dog, after all we arenít with every person!) A well-socialized dog may still chase, hump and argue. However, socialization ensures your dog has the requisite social savvy to enjoyably and confidently interact with unfamiliar dogs that he may meet and to resolve arguments with other dogs without doing damage. It is easiest to socialize your dog when he is young, but it is never too late to make him more dog friendly.
Donít Make Matters Worse
Dog to dog aggression is most often inadvertently trained in by owners. When an owner sees another dog and tightens the leash, the ownerís tension is often relayed to their dog. The dog growls, the owner tightens the leash more and maybe yells at the dog. Over time, the dog becomes conditioned to get tense, as he makes the association between other dogs approaching and his ownerís anxiety. So now the dog wants the other dog to stay away, and one of the ways he tries to accomplish this is by growling and barking.
Furthermore, if your dog is uncomfortable with another dog, tightening the leash excludes flight from his possible options and leaves him with fight as the major option. Tightening the leash also distorts your dogís body language and all but forces him to lean forward on his front feetóa posture that the other dog may perceive as somewhat threatening.
Obviously, keep your dog on leash for safety, but youíve got to learn to control your dog without tightening the leash. By keeping the leash lose and acting calm, you may convince your dog to do the same! Think about using a head halteróthis is one time when it could be very handy.
Donít punish your dog for barking or growling at other dogs. The punishment may teach your dog "I donít like being around other dogs because I am punished whenever they show up, so Iíll bark to keep them away."
Instead, try to focus on making your dog enjoy the presence of other dogs by associating them with things he likes. For dog-to-dog aggression, the method of choice is reward training, and the best feedback is kibble and praise. Start by hand-feeding your dog and getting him fixated on an object (like a Kong or white sterialized bone). This way, you can expose him to one dog (or person) at a time, at a safe distance and give him something to do, such as chewing a toy or eating his kibble. It will give him something to focus on and associate the presence of dogs with things he likes.
The technique here is to go outside and sit on a park bench. Whenever you see another dog you say "oh, look, here comes a cookie dog." And as soon as your dog sees the other, you give him a treat. Even if your dog is tense and growling and one might say that you are rewarding the dog for growling and acting badly around other dogs, things will improve quickly. The dog cannot help but make the positive association between the approaching dog and the cookie and soon he will look forward to other dogs approaching. Any time your dog acts appropriately when a dog approaches, offer a reward. Be sure you give your dog enough space from the other dog to feel safe and comfortable. And watch for early signs of discomfort, such as yawning, and excessive panting or activity. You donít want to push your dog too far too fast.
A variation of this would be to get very happy whenever another dog passes by. Your dog cannot fail to make the association between the appearance of another dog and your positive change of mood. This is important because it is the ownerís change in mood that has caused most of the problem. if the dogs were left to their own devices, they would probably resolve the problem amicably.
"Properly trained, a man can be dog's best friend." ~ Corey Ford