THE LIFE OF THE PARTY (Musings on Socializing Dogs)

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As we travel, we see more and more dogs along for the ride. Most, I find, are friendly. A dog that has been socialized better handles travelling, making it more pleasant for him, his companions and people and animals he may meet. Otherwise, constantly encountering unfamiliarity could stress a dog or engender fear. You may end up with a noisy guy—excessive barking or whining, which annoys everyone around you; or he could develop worse problems, such as the propensity to bite.

I wholeheartedly believe in socializing dogs, not just for the ease of travel, but also in general, mainly due to my own issues.

I grew up with a fear of dogs. I’ve been told I was bitten when I was little, though I don’t remember it. The sweet and loving pooches I’ve met over the years since I was a teenager, when my mom adopted one such girl, made me realize their innate good-heartedness.

It seems problems usually occur from human influence or neglect. I’ve noticed certain puppies bubble with friendliness and enthusiasm, only to see them later as wary and distrustful adults.

What Does Socializing Involve?

  • Meeting other dogs and a diversity of people.
  • Exposure to new and different situations.
  • Ensuring all the above is positive and fun.

Keep in mind, subjecting a young pup to too many canines or other stimuli at one time may prove more overwhelming than fun and can bring about antagonistic behaviour in the future.

Life Stages

During the first six months most dogs are characteristically open to and curious about everything around them. This is the optimum time to start introducing them to their new world.

As they grow older, socializing can be more challenging if they haven’t previously been given the opportunity. As in most training, gradual habituation is key.

I applaud those people who attempt to socialize older dogs they’ve adopted that haven’t experienced positive interactions. The process can be difficult. This is definitely where you need to proceed very slowly and cautiously. (The links below offer detailed training tips.)

Getting Tessi

With my history of uncertainty of the species, why did I feel the urge to get a dog?

I was comfortable enough around easygoing pooches by the time we moved out of the city into the small village we now live in. Wayne was often away from home driving long-haul and I only knew a few of my fellow residents. The idea of my own four-legged companion grew. I researched the many breeds extensively, since I wanted one with a reputation for having a friendly disposition. (I would come to understand, however, that personality depends on the individual. Dogs, like people, have their own particular makeup.) In the end, I met a friendly, gregarious stray looking for a new home. She became my Tessi.

I’m still uncomfortable around aggressive canines, though I’ve learned lots about the species from all the research I’ve conducted before and since Tessi came into my life. Many of those old fears are unjustified—a dog may be barking; yet, it doesn’t necessarily mean he intends to attack.

A Lifetime Journey

Exposure to new stimuli needs to be continued for the rest of the dog’s existence. If it stops, then he’ll likely lose what he’s learned. And to add—just because he’s used to the animals around him everyday, it doesn’t mean he’ll easily welcome newcomers.

Socializing a dog is a worthwhile process. If done properly, you both can make lasting friendships. As we’ve journeyed through life and across country, I’ve met a myriad of people because of Tessi—many of my neighbours around home and fellow travellers that I still keep in touch with.

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 (c) Cheryl Smyth, 2014

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