Winter Weeding AKA Purge to Socialization

I am in dead-of-winter-purge-the-extra-crap-out-of-my-life mode. And so I finally attacked a large dusty box of papers needing my attention (easier than the emotional crap that also needs weeding) — would they live another season tucked in a file cabinet or go the way of the recycling fairies? And as I weeded through I found a few gems and thought to share. It also helps perpetuate avoiding another writing project hanging over my head. So, here, a hand out originally dated 11/2001 called….

Possible Reasons Why You Are Here and Things to Ponder Socialization

1. You’re here at least in part to socialize your dog thoroughly with other dogs; for puppies, choose playmates of a similar age and adults who have been well socialized themselves. This means off-lead socialization, not sniffing noses at the end of the lead. The more experience a dog has with other dogs, the more refined his judgment will become about what constitutes rude or foolish behavior and how best to deal with it. He’ll also learn how to be a polite dog himself.

If a dog has not or cannot be well socialized, be realistic about what you can expect from him in his dealings with other dogs. This may mean altering your training or goals to be fair to a dog who may not be able to cope with the stresses of more complex situations.

2. When socializing your dog under someone else’s instruction or guidance, be careful. Some instructors and trainers are appallingly ignorant about basic behavior, and unable to set up a positive socialization situation. If you feel uncomfortable with a situation, remove your dog. It only takes a few seconds for a bad experience to leave a lasting impression, particularly on a young dog. I try to make this part of class fun, educational and supportive. If you have any questions regarding the socialization part of class, feel free to discuss.
Just turning dogs loose together to play is not socialization. There has to be supervision, and intervention when the potential for a problem appears. I will be paying attention to each individual dog as well as the pairings or subsets within the whole play group. If one dog is getting overly excited, we may take him out of the play group and calm him down before letting him play again. If a fearful dog has reached his limit, we may remove her from the group and give her time to relax and build her courage before putting her back in. If a particular dog or dogs begins to gang up on another dog, we’ll break up the brat pack.

3. Watch your dog. Your dog will tell you all you need to know about his perception of the world. when you’re with him, really be with him. Pay attention to his behavior. Position yourself and/or the dog so that the dog is always in your peripheral vision. Practice checking on your dog often. If he appears to be concerned, find out why. And then help him. Protect him. Teach yourself to recognize the small, subtle signs that he’s shifted out of a perfectly relaxed state of mind. These may be as simple as the tilt of an ear, a raised eyebrow, a slight holding of the breath or tensing of the muscles. Each dog is different – learn to read your own dog.
If you can’t watch your dog in a situation where there are potential problems, put him somewhere safe. I’ve seen far too many incidents occur unnecessarily because a handler was engrossed in a conversation and ignoring the dog at their side.
Handle your dog with awareness, not by the length of your lead. I always try to have at least 30% of my attention on my dog or dogs at all times when they are with me, if not more. During the class I expect at least 50% at all times.

4. Be proactive in protecting your dog out in the real world. If you see an ignorant dog owner and his rude dog headed your way, do your best to protect your dog. If possible, walk away, lightly and quietly asking your dog to come with you. Be sure you are breathing and relaxed — don’t let your apprehension about a possible altercation impact negatively on your dog. Dogs learn to be very sensitive to the sometimes subtle shifts of an owner/handler’s mood.
If you can’t walk away, try to get the ignorant dog owner to stop. Position yourself between the fool and your dog. If necessary, loudly and firmly tell the approaching person that your dog is not good with other dogs. If someone says this to you about their dog, respect it. In close quarters where there really aren’t any options for moving away, shield your dog with your own body. (Remember, stepping between dogs is an act of protective leadership).
If you need to, sharply tell the fool to “please control your rude dog.” You’ll probably get a dirty look (fools rarely believe they or their dogs are rude and are shocked when spoken to sharply) but chances are good they’ll at least make a show at controlling their dog or move huffily away from you.

5. Be aware of how your dog’s social behavior will change over the course of the next month. Those of you with bouncy, rude dogs will see a calmer, more sophisticated play behavior. Those of your with shy, anxious, retiring type dogs will see a subtle or overt improvement in your dog’s interest and ability to play. Those of you with more middle of the road type dogs will see relationships develop and increased communication skills. The degree to which the dogs will improve socially will help you to recognize the concept of measurable change. Enjoy the process. It’s a lot of fun.

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