Socializing Your Border Collie

What, Where, When, Why

Everyone reads or hears socialization mentioned when researching about dogs. What is the reason for socialization? When is the best time to socialize a shiny new puppy? Does it have to do with getting along well with other dogs and people, or is there more to it? Do I let my puppy loose with other puppies, just sit back, and watch? These and many more questions are often asked, so let me provide the answers.

Dog socialization is for your dog to learn and maintain acceptable behaviors in any situation, especially when the dog or puppy does not want too. The goal is for your dog to learn how to interact with any normal experience that occurs in life without becoming overly stimulated, fearful, reactive or aggressive. No matter what the circumstance, your dog should be able to go with the flow, keep centered and remain calm. Proper socialization of your puppy is a crucial part of preparing him for the rest of his life.

Exposures to the many things we think are normal are not normal to our little puppies or adult dogs. Mechanical noises such as lawnmowers, car horns, blenders, coffee machines, dishwashers, stereos, televisions, garbage trucks, and other similar items make noises that dogs have to adjust too. Beyond mechanical noises are living creatures represented by other household pets, strange dogs, cats and critters in the yard such as gophers, rabbits, squirrels, and birds. Then dogs must become accustom to family members, friends, neighbors and of course the dreaded strangers.

All of the things mentioned above and more are new to most six-week-old puppies arriving at your house, so immediately begin the gradual introduction to these items and living creatures from arrival.

Continually remain alert to your puppy’s reactions and willingness to either dive forward or withdrawal, and never force him or her to interact with things they do not wish too. Proceed at their pace by presenting the interaction and then observing their willingness of participation.

When strangers approach your pup do not allow them to automatically reach out and touch, leave a little space and time for your puppy’s reaction to be observed, and then you can grant or deny permission based upon you and your puppy’s intuition. We all know that many people fail to ask permission before reaching for dogs that are strange to them, so it is your job to instruct them in the proper interaction process.

Socialization Summary Goals

– Learning to remain calm when the world is buzzing around them.

– Exposure in a safe manner to the environment that will encompass his or her world, including the rules and guidelines that accompany it.

– Learning to respond to commands when they do not want too. For example, in the midst of a tail chasing session with a fellow puppy, or while stalking an irresistible squirrel.

Let us begin by looking at how a puppy’s social development process is played out from puppy to adulthood.

The first phase of socialization begins as early as 3 weeks and lasts to approximately 12 weeks, during this time puppies discover that they are dogs and begin to play with their littermates. Survival techniques that they will use throughout their lives, such as biting, barking, chasing, and fighting, begin to be acted out.

Concurrently during this time-period, puppies experience big changes socially and physically. Learning submissive postures and taking corrections from their mother along with interactions with their littermates begin to teach them about hierarchies. Keeping mother and puppies together for at least 7 weeks tends to increase their ability to get along well with other dogs and learn more about themselves and the consequences of their actions, such as the force of a bite on their brothers and sisters.

Between the ages of 7-12 weeks, a period of rapid learning occurs and they learn what humans are, and whether to accept them as safe. This is a crucial period, and has the greatest impact on all future social behavior.

This is the time we begin teaching puppies the acceptable rules of conduct. Take note that they have a short attention span and physical limitations. This is the easiest period to get your puppy comfortable with new things, and the chance to thwart negative behavioral issues that can stem from improper or incomplete socialization.

The sad reality is that behavioral problems are the greatest threat to the owner-dog relationship and the number one cause of death to dogs under 3 years of age. It is your responsibility to mentor your dog so a problem does not arise, and that shouldn’t be difficult because you adore your pup and enjoy being in his company.

From birth, puppies should be exposed to handling and manipulation of body parts, and exposure to different people, places, situations, and other well-socialized animals. Encourage your puppies exploring, curiosity and investigation of different environments. Games, toys, and a variety of surfaces and structures such as, rock, dirt, tile, concrete, pavement, tunnels and steps are all things to expose your puppy too. This exposure should continue into adulthood and beyond. This aids in keeping your dog sociable instead of shy, and capable of confronting different terrains.

Enrolling your puppy in classes before 3 months of age is an outstanding avenue to improving socialization, training and strengthening the bond between you and your puppy. You can begin socialization classes as early as 7-8 weeks. The recommendation is that your puppy has received at least 1 set of vaccines and a de-worming seven days prior to starting the first class. At his time, puppies are still not out of harm’s way from all diseases, but the risk is relatively low because of primary vaccines, good care and mother’s milk immunization.

It is important for your puppy to be comfortable playing, sleeping, or exploring alone. Schedule alone play with toys and solo naps in their crate or other safe areas that they enjoy. This teaches them to entertain themselves, and not become overly attached or have separation issues from their owners’ absence. Getting them comfortable with their crate is also beneficial for travel and to use as their safe area.

Two phases of fear imprinting occur in your growing puppy’s life. A fear period is a stage during which your puppy may be more apt to perceive certain stimuli as threatening.

During these two periods, any event your puppy thinks is traumatic can leave a lasting effect, possibly forever. The first period is from 8-11 weeks and the second is between 6-14 months of age. During these periods, you will want to keep your puppy clear of any frightening situations, but you will find that often difficult to determine. A simple item such as a chrome balloon on the floor could possibly scare the “bejeebers” out of your little pup. However, socialization continues and overcoming fears is part of that process so remain aware of what frightens your pup and work towards overcoming it.

There is no one-size-fits-all in knowing what your puppy finds fearful. Becoming familiar with canine body language can help you diagnose your pups fear factor. The second period often reflects the dog becoming more reactive or apprehensive about new things. Larger breeds sometimes have an extended second period.

Keep a few things in mind when seeking play dates for help with socializing your puppy. A stellar puppy class will have a safe mature dog for the puppies to learn boundaries and other behaviors. When making play dates, puppies should be matched by personality and play styles. Games such as retrieve or drop help to curb possessive behaviors as well as to help them learn to give up unsafe or off limits items so that the item can be taken out of harm’s way. Another important lesson during play is for puppies to learn to come back to their human while engaged in a play session. Your dog should be willingly dependent upon you and look to you for guidance.

Teach mature easily stimulated dogs to relax before they are permitted to socialize with others. If you have an adult dog that enjoys flying solo, do not force him into situations. Teach your dogs and puppies less aroused play and encourage passive play. This includes play that does not encompass dominance, mouthing or biting other puppies.

If you have rough play happening between multiple dogs or puppies then interrupt the rough housing by frequently calling them to you and rewarding their attention. The attention then is turned to you. To dissuade mouthing contact, try to interject toys into the play. As they mature, elevated play can lead to aggression.

The Importance of Play

When observing dogs in a pack or family, one will notice that dogs and puppies often enjoy playing with each other. During play, puppies learn proper play etiquette, such as how hard to bite or mouth and the degree to play rough. Their mother and littermates provide feedback for them to learn. Play is instinctual, and as an innate dog behavior, is something that needs to be satisfied. Humans and dogs both play throughout their lifetime and many studies show that this social interaction is important for the mental and physical health of the individual.

Providing your dog with ample amounts of play through games, such as fetch, tug, or chase helps to satisfy their need for play, and assists in strengthening the bond between dog and owner. When guided in play, your dog will not only acquire the rules of play, but his physical and mental needs will be met during the activity.

One terrific bi-product of play is that it burns off excess energy and as a result, it helps keep negative behaviors from surfacing. Dogs are naturally full of energy and they need an outlet to avoid potential negative behaviors such as chewing, digging and barking. While these behaviors serve them well in the wild, when living with humans they can be a detriment to the harmony and success of the relationship.

Socialization Summary

– Proper socialization requires patience, kindness, and consistency during teaching. You and your dog should both be having fun during this process. Allow your dog to proceed into new situations at his or her own pace, never force them into a situation that they are not comfortable. If you think that your dog may have a socialization issue, seek professional advice from a qualified behavioral person. Do not delay because time is of the essence during their rapid growth period.

– During the first few months of socialization, keep your puppy out of harm’s way because he can easily pick up diseases from sniffing other dog’s feces and urine. When you are first exposing your puppy to new people, places or cars, it is good practice to carry him to and from the car. Follow this practice both inside and outside when near dog clinics. Keeping your pup protected from contaminated ground surfaces will help keep him healthy until he has had vaccines and is a bit older. Avoid areas where you suspect other dogs might have eliminated.

– Socializing your puppy, especially before the age of six months, is a very important step in preventing future behavioral problems.

– Socializing can and should continue throughout the lifetime of your dog. Socializing in a gentle and kind manner prevents aggressive, fearful, and potential behaviors with possible litigious outcomes.

– A lack of socializing may lead to barking, shyness, destruction, territorialism, or hyperactivity, and the risk of wearing Goth make up and the smoking of clove cigarettes. The earlier you start socializing, the better. However, all puppies and dogs can gradually be brought into new and initially frightening situations, eventually learning to enjoy them. Canines can adapt to various and sometimes extreme situations, they just need your calm, guiding hand.

– If your puppy does not engage with other dogs for months or years at a time, you can expect his behavior to be different when he encounters them again. I mean, how would you feel if your sixth grade math teacher who you haven’t seen in 17 years, just walked up and sniffed you?

– Meeting new kinds of people, including but not limited to people wearing hats, disabled folks, and people in local services such as postal carriers, fire and police officers, and crowds. “Introducing your puppy to a circus clown is saved for another chapter.”

– Meeting new dogs is encouraged. Slowly expose your dog to other pets, such as cats, horses, birds, llamas, pigs, gerbils, and monitor lizards.

– Your dog’s crate is not a jail. Be sure and take the time to teach your puppy to enjoy the comfort and privacy of his own crate. You want your dog’s crate to be a place that he or she feels safe, for more information go to the crate-training chapter.

– To avoid doggy boredom, make sure your toy bin has plenty of toys for your puppy to choose. A Nylabone®, Kong® chew-toys, ropes, balls, and tugs are many of the popular things your dog can enjoy.

Here are some methods you can use when exposing your dog to something new, or something he has previously been distrustful.

– Remain calm and upbeat. If he has a leash on keep it loose.

– Gradually expose him to the new stimulus and if he is wary or fearful never use force. Let him retreat if he needs to.

– Reward your dog using treats; give him a good scratch or an energetic run for being calm and exploring new situations.

On a regular basis, expose your dog to the things in the world that he should be capable of coping, everything. His gained familiarity will allow him to calmly deal with such situations in the future. Stay away from routine, such as walking the same route daily. Though dogs love routine, periodically expose your dog to new locations and situations. This allows you to assess his need for further socialization.

Socialization Checklist for Puppies and Adult Dogs

Be sure your dog is comfortable with the following:

Male and female human adults.

Male and female human children.

Other household pets and dogs.

Meeting strange dogs.

Your house and neighborhood.

Mechanical noises, such as lawn mowers and vehicles.

Special circumstance people, for example, those in wheel chairs, crutches, and braces, Tourette syndrome or even strange indefinable Uncle Larry.

To assure that your dog is not selfish, make sure that he or she is comfortable sharing the following:

His food bowl, toys, and bedding, and that they can all be touched by you and others.

The immediate space shared with strangers, especially with children. This is necessary for your puppy’s socialization so that he does not get paranoid or freak out in small places. For example, at the next-door neighbor’s house or Hollywood elevators filled with celebrities.

His best friend YOU, and all family members or friends, and is NOT overprotective or territorial towards others.

For road tripping with your dog, make sure he or she is:

Comfortable in all types of vehicles such as a car, truck, minivan, and if applicable public transportation.

Always properly restrained.

You regularly stop for elimination breaks and hydration.

He knows how to operate a stick shift as well as an automatic.

I have faith that you will do a terrific job in socializing your dog so that he can greet the world calmly and is able to enjoy the surprises it regularly delivers.

~ Paws On – Paws Off ~

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