Sunday, October 1, 2017

Socialization for an adult dog

Over the years I've had a lot of people ask about socializing adult dogs in a variety of manners. Some adopt a puppy, bring him to a puppy class and now maybe a year later they want to take him to a dog park or free range day care. Or more often they have adopted an adult dog, already brought him to an environment with other dogs and it went poorly and they want to know how to do it right. My response is very often there is no right way to do it as the dog likely has grown out of the need for this interaction. This usually doesn't sit well with the owner until I make the following comparison and then it seems to hit home.

This analogy doesn't apply to everyone so you may not be able to put yourself personally into it but I think most people can understand where I'm going with it. I am going to compare the social life of dogs, specifically in situations like the dog park or free range day care facilities to how many humans socialize. For some clarification, when I talk about dog parks I am talking generally about relatively big city dog parks. I've lived in Chicago for the last 21 years so I am talking about a smaller plot of land that is a fenced in, paved over square that typically has a high number of dogs (say 10 plus). There are absolutely wonderful dog friendly spaces all over but I won't go into what makes a good and not so good dog park. I'll leave that to another video. In addition to dog parks, I am also including what I call free range day care or boarding facilities. These are where a number of dogs (again say 10 or more) are in one room for an hour or more at a time. Again, I won't go into how I think these facilities could be run to avoid socialization issues in this video. What I am going to compare is how dogs change what appeals to them as far as socialization in the same way humans do.

So we are going to start out comparing young puppies to young adults. I find that dogs from the age of about 5 week to around 9-10 months are very comparable to humans from the age of around 18 (or 21 if you are good law abiding citizen which I was not...) to about their late 20's to early 30's. Dogs and humans usually love to party at this age. Puppies should want to play a ton and with any living thing. We see them flitting around, playing with lots of different puppies and playing until they crash. If you've ever gone out to bars that young adults hang out at it if often very much the same. They come in large groups, there is a lot of moving about interacting with different people. Also humans and dogs at this age will tend to party anywhere. Puppies want to play with every creature out on walks or anywhere they encounter something. Same with humans - they will go to bars, street festivals, concerts, house parties or wherever.

In this video of puppies playing watch how some pair off but they switch partners quickly and fluidly:
This is very much like young adults in social situations. I'm sure you can imagine these pups jumping up on the bar and dancing like I did, I mean other young adults do...

But as humans and dogs age things often change a bit. When humans get to their early 30's they often find that they don't enjoy all the different types of partying they used to. They will find their niche of maybe having friends over for dinner or going to a neighborhood bar or street festivals. There are definitely still some people that want to party anywhere and all the time but they are fewer and far between. This is the same for dogs between the age of around 10 months and 3 years. For humans this sometimes ends around early 40's. For dogs I see that a lot will still have a buddy in the neighborhood that they like to play with or they like to play fetch at the dog park but not so much roll around with the other dogs with the intensity they used to have.

In this video of mostly adult dogs, see how there is not a ton of playing. The two tan/golden dogs in the beginning have a nice play session but when they try to play again later other dogs try to get involved which is not as fun. Through most of the video it is just dogs checking each other out. I would equate that to introducing yourself around at a party where you don't know anyone. You aren't going to introduce yourself and then drag that person into a dark corner to confession your deepest secrets. That is essentially what these guys are doing - just introducing themselves:

Thank you Perfect Paws Studio for the footage!

This stage poses some difficulties for dog owners and humans alike. The time frames I have listed here are not at all exact. Just like some humans maybe liked loud crazy bars in college, they may have grown out of it by the time they graduate. And I have definitely seen some six month old dogs just not be into all the other puppy's crazy shenanigans. If you have a dog as a puppy and have consistently had them in social situations you need to keep a close eye on them to see when they lose interest. Very often people just assume that because their dog loved other dogs as a puppy that they will forever love dogs and this is not the case. There is NOTHING wrong with that dog just like there is nothing wrong with the fact that I don't enjoy staying up until midnight at a loud bar with people I don't know. If you learn about dog communication and watch your dog he will start telling you when he is not thrilled with the situation so you can get him out. The great thing about this is that your dog will start to rely on you to get him out of uncomfortable situations. It is when this doesn't happen that we see more severe reactions. The dog has learned that he is on his own so we will see them growl, snap or even bite. If this does happen you should absolutely NOT punish the dog. He was almost definitely trying to ask for help at some point but learned it didn't happen.

Lastly I see a final stage of socialization with humans and dogs that happens around 3 years old for dogs and somewhere around early 40's for humans. At that point all of those types of socialization becomes unappealing for both species. For humans they often will have a close friend or spouse that they just want to relax with. Maybe have a nice dinner or watch a movie. For dogs it is often just being with their humans. Going for a walk or just getting some nice petting. Yes, there are definitely still six year old dogs that adore playing with any and all dogs they meet just like you may run into some 60 year old humans partying until the wee hours of the morning. If you live in Chicago just take a walk down Rush Street at 11pm on a Saturday and you'll see some...

For the last video, while I don't know that any of these dogs are in the older adult age group they all are examples of dogs that either don't want to play or have had enough.

Thank you Great Dog Productions and Sue Sternberg for the amazing video and commentary. If you would like to hone your skills in understanding dog behavior these videos are the ones to watch!

So if you have a young pup, learn about dog communication (Turid Rugaas is amazing!) and keep an eye out for them to tell you when they've had enough. If you adopt an adolescent or adult dog consult a professional trainer to help you determine if "partying" is something they would enjoy!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

How to Socialize a Puppy

You got a puppy! Now what...

Most people have heard about the importance of socialization but what IS proper socialization?

What it is:

  • A well run puppy class. This puts puppies (under six months at least) in a safe environment where they can comfortably interact with other puppies.
  • A puppy play time. These should either be limited to young puppies (under six months) or have separate areas for different age groups. All dogs should still be under a year.
  • Puppies also need to be exposed to things besides other dogs. They need to be exposed to kids of all ages, other animals like cats and even horses if you may come across them, a variety of different people (different races, genders...) and even different surfaces to walk on. While this often isn't as adorable as puppies playing it goes miles to help form a confident adult dog.

    What socialization is NOT:

  • Puppies under a year should not go to dog parks. Play with a large number of adult dogs is not socialization. Think about having your five year old child hang around a bunch of teenagers all the time. It may be fine but they likely will learn a few swear words along the way.
  • As with dog parks, puppies should not go to the vast majority of dog day care facilities. Unless a facility has a specific program for puppies where they play with almost entirely other dogs under a year and there are lots of rest times (about 45 minutes of play with an hour to two hours of rest between) it is not considered socialization and runs the risk of them learning bad habits, getting over corrected by an adult dog or picking up an illness from the other dogs.
  • Puppies should not be allowed to approach all other dogs out on walks. Many dogs do not do well on leash with other dogs. This is not the fault of the owner often but is either a matter of genetics or lack of socialization which may have been out of the current owners control. Even more dogs that may be ok on leash with other dogs do not tolerate puppies. Lastly, what is often an adult dog teaching manner to a young puppy looks awful to owner so it is possible that the other dog will "correct" your puppy but that may be startling to both you and your puppy. It is best to allow a professional to determine what are appropriate corrections to behavior.
  • Forcing your puppy to approach everything. Let your puppy investigate things as he or she feels comfortable. The best thing to do is praise them when they approach something but allow them to hang back as they need to. Also don't put your puppy in a situation where he or she shuts down. Street festivals and jammed sidewalks are not a place for puppies to get used to new sights and sounds.

    When should I do this?

    Immediately! Dog's window for socialization with other dogs ends around four to five months so this must be done prior to that.

    There is so much more to discuss about how to prepare your puppy to be the happiest dog around so contact a qualified trainer as soon as possible!

  • Friday, January 25, 2013

    Frequency of illness in puppy socialization participants

    Here is a wonderful study Collins Canine participated in through the University of California at Davis.  They gathered data on the instances of illnesses in puppies that attended socialization classes as opposed to those that didn't.  They found no greater instances of illnesses in puppies that attended socialization sessions further supporting many trainers experience that it is much more likely to have issues with a dog due to lack of socialization than to contract an illness from being around other puppies.  Unfortunately many vets still prescribe to the theory that puppies should not be around other dogs until they are four or even six months of age.  This misses out on the window of socialization which can cause dramatic problems as the dogs mature.  If your vet is one that still thinks puppies shouldn't socialization please pass this on to them.  The more well socialized dogs we have out there the fewer behavioral issues we will have and therefore the less dogs in shelters and euthanized.  Please spread the word!

    Monday, October 22, 2012

    Working with a dog that is nervous around humans

    Very often we deal with dogs that are afraid or nervous around humans.  One great way to work with this is to teach the dog that if they give the person at the end of the leash a signal that we will get them out of the situation.  We look for what are called "calming signals" as a sign that the dog is not comfortable in the situation and then take them out of the situation.  Here is some work with Romeo, the Chihuahua.

    Saturday, October 20, 2012

    Jake, our foster dog!

    Meet the Collins Family's new foster! Jake is a one year old neutered male Ridgeback/Boxer mix who is up for adoption. He is housebroken, crate trained and wonderful with dogs and all ages of people. The only reason he isn't in his previous home is that he wants to play with the cat too much. Please contact us or One Tail at a Timeto find out more about adopting. There will be lots of training incentives for him as well!

    Monday, July 16, 2012

    Another fun game!

    To play Doggie, Doggie Where's Your Bone? you must have a group of two or more people with one dog.  One person has a treat in their closed fist but everyone has their fists closed in the same position so the dog can't tell who has the treat (or bone!).  Either have the dog in another room so he or she can't see who has the treat or pretend like you give a treat to everyone. The dog is then released to find the treat.  When they nudge the hand with the treat they get the treat.  Watch Darcy play it with our family and her friend Shannon.

    Thursday, June 28, 2012

    The Alphabet Game

    As trainers we are always looking for fun ways to practice obedience.  As a lazy mom I am always looking for ways to push chores off on my kid.  The Alphabet Game accomplishes both!  The rules of the game are simple - for each letter of the alphabet the human will pop a treat in the pups mouth as long as the dog remains in one position.  You can do this with a Sit, a Down or even a Stand depending on what your dog knows.  If the dog gets out of that position then the alphabet starts over.  Have more than one child?  Make this a little competitive by seeing who can get further in the alphabet without the dog moving.

    The treats must be in a bowl or in a pocket so the human has to reach to get each treat.  No fair having multiple treats in your hand so you can say the letters really quickly!  And if your pup has a bit of a harder mouth (you hear Justin say "ow" a few times when Darcy gets too into the game) you can have the person hold the treat in a flat palm rather than pinched between fingers.