Inflected Form(s):-ized; -iz·ing
1: to make social; especially: to fit or train for a social environment
2 a: to constitute on a socialistic basis (socialize industry) b: to adapt to social needs or uses (socialize science)
3: to organize group participation in (socialize a recitation)
intransitive senses: to participate actively in a social group
– so·cial·i·za·tion /”sO-sh(&-)l&-‘zA-sh&n/ noun1
Socialization is the process of developing relationships with other living beings, people, and animals.
As all animals develop, there are numerous stimuli (smells, sights, sounds, and events) that can lead to fear and anxiety. Habituation is the process whereby animals become familiar and comfortable with repeated stimuli, thus not reacting to them in a negative manner.
Localization is the process by which animals develop an attachment to particular places. For the purpose of this site, we include habituation and localization when we speak of socialization.
As adults we all know how difficult changing our own behavior or beliefs can be. We were socialized by our parents and other sources of influence while growing up. Through exposure we became comfortable in certain situations, with certain customs, and with certain sights, smells, and sounds.
Things that we have not been familiarized with can still be somewhat of a shock. The unfamiliar can make us feel uncomfortable or can just plain take some getting used to. If you live in a quiet rural area and then have to spend the night in a noisy city, you may not be able to sleep. When you are used to having the steering wheel of your car on the left side and then go to Europe and it is on the right, it can be very disorienting. What if you live in a warm climate and move to a climate with frosty cold winters? It takes some getting used to.
Our puppies can become comfortable and confident in any situation, with all types of people and with any stimuli that comes their way if we carry out a thorough and proactive socialization regime with them. This type of socializing must occur while the puppy is under 16 weeks. If you bring your puppy home at 8 weeks, you only have 8 weeks left to do the work needed to ensure that you properly socialize your dog.
We must get this work done with our young puppies because after the four-month mark has passed it is no longer as easy for the puppy to absorb anything that he may encounter or to accept anyone that he meets. After 16 weeks, the critical period of socialization is over for good.
This is not a newfangled idea but rather a scientifically proven theory that has been extensively researched, studied, and known about since the 1930’s. It is important information for anyone raising and or training puppies.
“The problem the domestic dog has is that it needs to become familiar with an enormous number of stimuli in a very short time so as to be able to live in and cope with the diversity of our world.” 2
When a dog feels uncomfortable with anything that is unfamiliar to him, he reacts in one of two ways: he runs from it or he fights with it.
Millions of dogs are put down each year due to preventable behavioral problems.
“One in five of the dogs that Dr. Valerie O’Farrell (1986) studied while conducting research at Edinburgh (Royal Dick) University Veterinary School had a behavioural problem to a lesser or greater extent. A similar, but larger, American study fixed the figure at one in four. In one year my practice treated 773 dogs – 79 of them, that’s 10 percent, had problems of fearfulness towards people or the environment due to a lack of early socialization or habituation and a further 4.5 percent were inept at relating to other dogs, again due to a lack of early socialization. The problem is immeasurably greater than these figures suggest. Many dogs show a weakness of temperament or inability to cope when faced with a particular situation, without their behaviour becoming problematical enough for the owners to seek help from a behavioural counsellor.” (See source.)
Once a dog has passed his Socialization Period (see Your Puppy’s Development) it does not matter that a dog has not had a negative experience with particular stimuli. He will treat any unfamiliar stimuli as potentially dangerous to his well-being. Our dogs have this built-in mechanism passed down to them from their ancestors in the wild. It ensures protection of baby animals from natural hazards in their environment.
The dog that has not been socialized becomes the epicenter in a storm of problems. Dogs get sick from stress. This can inhibit your ability to train them; they can shed excessively, and develop health problems. Stressed out dogs can get aggressive, unpredictable, and unmanageable. Children are bitten in huge numbers. People give up and the dog ends up in an animal shelter.
Can you live comfortably with a dog that bites (children, other dogs, and adults)? How embarrassing might it be if your dog growls, lunges at, or even barks at someone with a different ethnic background? Can you tolerate your dog chasing or attacking someone in a wheelchair or a walker? How would you feel if your dog bit and injured another dog?
The good news is twofold. First, more and more people are familiarizing themselves with this information, including breeders, vets, and trainers. Second, you have a new puppy versus an adult dog so the golden opportunity is in the palm of your hand.
Simple exposure is not enough. How you socialize your puppy will make all the difference in the world!
You must be methodical and calculating in your approach.
Make socialization a priority in your training regime. Turn each opportunity of meeting someone or something new into a positive experience with treats and toys and fun.
Each person that your puppy meets should give the pup a treat (supplied by you). This is thorough socialization. It is not enough for the pup to have a sniff of a person. You should set up a positive experience for the pup while meeting all types of people.
Seek out strange sights, sounds, and situations specifically to expose your puppy to them and have him get familiar and comfortable with them. The Social Schedule list, located at the end of this section, is a great resource for ideas. Refer to it frequently and mark off the experiences your puppy has encountered successfully.
1: Websters New Twentieth Century Dictionary, 2nd ed.(New York:William Collins + World Publishing Co., 1977)
2: Puppy Socialisation and Habituation (Part 1) Why is it Necessary? By David Appleby