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Articles > Dogs

The Importance of Socialization

Topic: Considerations for High Energy Breeds

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Filed under Dogs
Tags: Socialization, Training, Enviroment, Behavior, Jumping, Puppies

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There are literally whole books and training programs dedicated to the development of the understanding of the importance of socialization in training a dog. Dogs need to learn how to interact with each other, other non-canine animals, humans and even new environments. A dog that is not properly socialized is a potentially dangerous animal, regardless of his or her size or typical temperament.

Often dog owners miss the importance of socialization in their zeal to train their new dog or puppy. Owners may spend hours in the backyard getting their dog to sit, heel, lie down and stay. The proud owner then takes their newly trained dog out of the yard and finds out that the dog acts as if they haven't been taught a single command. The dog barks, growls and attempts to run away as soon as they are out of the fence. The dog seems to be completely unaware of the owner's verbal commands, resulting in the owner become frustrated and even angry at the dog. If this happens a few times many owners take the easy route and just stop taking the dog out since they don't feel like dealing with the problem. High energy dogs then have a dual problem, they are not getting the physical exercise they need plus they are becoming bored with having to stay in the same environment all the time.

In reality every breed of dog needs to be socialized from a very early age. The mother dog starts the socialization process from day one after whelping, teaching the puppies how to interact with both their littermates as well as with her. One of the most important socialization tasks that the mother dog and the littermates teach a puppy is bite inhibition. Bite inhibition is the ability of the puppy and later the dog to adjust the pressure he or she uses when biting to prevent causing pain or injury. For most dogs this means if they are playing with a person they understand that biting or mouthing is not acceptable while playing with another dog gentle pressure is acceptable. The mother and the puppies signal to each other when the bite is too strong by yelping, biting back or ignoring the puppy that bites too hard.

High energy breeds, whether they are small, toy or large breeds need to learn bite inhibition early. This is because these dogs tend to be more prone to playing actively. Active play includes biting and jumping both as puppies as well as when they reach maturity. A high energy dog that doesn't understand the rules of how to interact with people is likely to be a serious problem as they mature. Even a toy breed can cause a nasty bite, so early training is very important. Large breeds that jump can knock people over and can terrify children with their rambunctious behavior. Socialization with other dogs, particularly ensuring that the puppy stay with the mother and littermates until at least 8 weeks of age is essential for early training.

Socialization is also going to help your puppy and dog stay much more focused and attentive to you during training routines and while outside of the yard. High energy breeds often have what is known as a high prey drive, which means they are hunting dog and as such as constantly aware of their surroundings. Once they are comfortable in a given surrounding they can focus more on their owner and the training. That is why in the example above of the dog that is well trained in the yard but seems to be a wild animal outside of the yard; it was the distraction of the outside environment that was causing the problem.

Owners that start taking their high energy breed puppies out of the home and yard on a regular basis are simply allowing the dog to become familiar with a wide variety of environments, cutting down on their distractibility in any location. Dogs that are used to crowds, noises, other dogs, traffic and even the TV and radio playing will be much more focused than dogs that haven't seen or heard these things before. This is true for any breed or type of dog, but it is a key factor in working with a high energy breed.

Socialization with high energy breeds can be a bit of a challenge as these dogs love to run and play. If you are lucky enough to have a dog off-leash area or a larger fenced yard there are several options available to you. The first one is to simply start taking your dog to the off-leash park and allowing him or her to interact with other dogs. High energy dogs tend to find other high energy breeds to chase, play with and even wrestle at the park. If you have a toy or small breed many off-leash parks offer a separate fenced play area for the smaller dogs, avoiding the concerns of injury by rougher play with bigger breeds.

Not all areas have off-leash parks, so you may want to consider either inviting a few friends and their dogs over or finding a group to walk your dog with. If you are inviting friends, try having one or two dogs over the first time, then increase the number as the dogs all become socialized and familiar with each other. This does give you the opportunity of matching good play and socialization companions with your dog and even combining new environments if you go to the other owner's houses on different occasions.

Puppy kindergarten and obedience or agility classes can also offer socialization opportunities as well as training benefits for higher energy dogs. If you are bringing a dog to a class, be sure to let the trainer know if you have any concerns or if your dog is not currently well socialized. This helps the trainer in monitoring both you and your dog plus the trainer can match you with owners with well-trained dogs for off leash times. Socialization on an ongoing basis is important for any dog, but it really is essential for the high energy breeds that crave physical as well as mental stimulation to be happy and content.

Other articles under "Considerations for High Energy Breeds"

5/19/2009
Article 3 - "The Importance of Socialization"
5/20/2009
Article 4 - "High Energy Dog Breeds"
5/21/2009
Article 5 - "Inside or Outside"
5/23/2009
Article 7 - "Kids and High Energy Dog Breeds"


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