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How the wrong socialization approach can backfire on you.

“If you try to change it, you will ruin it. Try to hold it, and you will lose it”
Lao Tzu

Some time ago I had a conversation with a dog owner who wasn’t entirely pleased with her dogs’ behavior and she wanted to change it. You may be thinking that I’m referring to risky or unpleasant behavior but I’m not. No compulsive destructive chewing, no endless barking, and no aggression of any kind. Nor could the behavior be considered even slightly annoying. So what was wrong with the dog? Nothing actually. In fact, the opposite was true.

Learning to read the signs of fear or discomfort in our dogs can help us avoid unpleasant situations and bad behavior down the road.

The dog was quiet, reserved, and rarely barked. She was extremely friendly and outgoing…once she got to know you. This “getting to know you” stage often stretched out to a matter of days and until then she would prefer to keep her distance. She was, by nature, a very shy and slightly fearful girl. Like many dogs who suffer from fear issues she was often skittish and took her time warming up to strangers.

But that was the problem, at least in her owners eyes. She was a highly social and active woman and couldn’t accept that her dog wasn’t more like herself. When she entertained guests at her home the dog would slink away from the crowd only to reappear when most of the guest had gone away. She had been advised to accept the dog as she was and was told that there was nothing wrong with her. That wasn’t good enough for the owner. Since the world viewed the dog as an adorable little thing it was only natural that her mom would want to show her off. This meant that despite the advice that had been given to her she began to put the dog into situations and environments that proved stressful and often overwhelming. This included allowing strangers to randomly pick her up (not just adults but children as well), forcing her to remain at her side during dinner parties when the dog was clearly uncomfortable, and even pushing her to interact with larger and more intimidating dogs during their walks.

Soon enough the dogs behavior changed for the worse. From a once sweet, shy, and already fearful girl she was now exhibiting signs of aggression towards other dogs and even humans. More so, it was clear that the comfort and attachment she had naturally enjoyed with her owner was beginning to deteriorate. The dog was now associating once pleasant and happy events, such as her walks, with fear and trepidation.

Let’s think about this differently

Some trainers are fond of saying, “You get the dog you need…or the dog you deserve.” I don’t know if that’s necessarily true but it is true that many of us have trouble accepting the dog we have. You’d be surprised to know how many times I hear an owner say about his or her dog, “I wish she got along better with other dogs”, or “He’s scared of the water in the pool so I just push him in when he gets near so he can get over it”, yes someone actually said that.

Avoid placing your dog into situations or surroundings that will add to her stress and anxiety. Nothing good can come from it but plenty of bad.

I’ve always maintained that every dog must be trained and provided with a home environment that provides structure and limits. Training really isn’t an option. You must also strive to socialize your dogs as often and quickly as possible. Socialization is crucially important. That does not mean that we do not have to make allowances for the dog’s personality or his particular issues. Forcing or bullying a fearful or anxious dog into doing something it clearly does not want to do is beyond what could be defined as a bad idea, it’s heartless, reckless, and potentially dangerous.

We shouldn’t expect our dog’s personalities to align perfectly with ours. Often times they do not and understandable this can add a level of inconvenience to our lives. Dogs, especially those who are adopted out of shelters, can come with their own emotional baggage. This doesn’t make them bad dogs. In most cases they can be perfectly suited and adaptable to our lifestyles. But this also means that in order to have a happy pet who feels safe and secure we need to be understanding and tolerant of their issues.

Simply put…Let’s be as accepting of them as they are of us.

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