by Lisa Lyle Waggoner
The joys of living a rural life in these beautiful mountains certainly feeds my soul in a hundred different ways. I believe I can also safely say that my dogs would call life in these mountains “doggie heaven on earth,” as evidenced by the way they bound around with wild abandon on our 20 acres, with seven acres of fenced pasture. However, there can also be a downside to the life of a country dog and that’s what I call Country Dog Syndrome, a lack of appropriate socialization to a variety of people, places and things, including other dogs. They hang out with us at home, enjoying life on the farm or mountain top, and get few chances to become familiar and gain confidence in new situations. This lack of appropriate socialization can manifest itself as fear, which may present as withdrawal, avoidance or even aggressive behaviors.
The very best thing you can possibly do for your dog, besides loving and feeding him or her, is to make sure you start the socialization process early with your puppy. The prime period of socialization is the first three months of a puppy’s life. This is the period when they learn what’s safe and what’s not in our human world. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior recommends that owners take advantage of every safe opportunity to expose young pups to the variety of things they’ll experience in their lives and recommend they can begin class as early as 8 weeks of age (making sure they’ve had one deworming and first round of vaccinations). Enrolling in a puppy class during these first three months can be a great way of improving training and giving your pup exposure to people and other dogs in an environment where illness can be minimized. If you’ve just adopted an older dog, socialization is just as vitally important.
But what is “proper socialization?” It’s making sure your puppy or dog has a “positive and safe” experience with that new person, place or thing and not putting your dog into situations where he’ll be stressed. So, pick the park on a Sunday morning or a home supply store on a week night where there are fewer crowds and less activity in general. Expose him to tall people, short people, people of color, bearded people, big hats, open umbrellas, people with sunglasses, small children, people uniform (think UPS and FedEx), etc.. Also remember to pair these new experiences with a piece of yummy food that your dog loves.
Proper socialization also means that the socialization journey continues throughout the dog’s lifetime. It’s just not something you do for a few months and then stop. The longer a dog is away from something they were once familiar with, the more unsettling it can be when the dog is reintroduced to that stimulus. Similar to the way I used to be so very confident whipping my car in and out of 8 lanes of traffic in the city during rush hour. Today? Well, if I wasn’t visibly shaking, then I know I’d have a flurry of internal butterflies doing that very same thing! So make it a point to get out and about as much as possible with your new canine kid in order to help him/her become a confident, adult dog. Copyright 2010, Lisa Waggoner, Cold Nose College, LLC. All rights reserved.