Socialization Vs. Behavior Modification: Making the Correct Recommendation

One of the most common statements you’ll hear as a certified professional trainer is “I want to socialize my dog.” Clients express an interest in socialization in a variety of contexts: when bringing home a new puppy or adopting a new (to them) dog of any age; when their dogs don’t spend much time away from home; and when their dogs are exhibiting less than social behaviors. You face several challenges in handling socialization requests, primary among them helping your clients to understand when socialization is appropriate and when behavior modification with a canine behavior specialist is recommended.

When clients mention socialization in their pre-registration discussions with you, be sure to ask clarifying questions. (Review our blog post “Who Are Your Clients? Creating a Dog Training Intake Form” for help in creating an intake form.) The most important piece of information that you can collect is how appropriate are the dog’s current responses to environmental stimuli. Socialization is simply providing an opportunity for one’s dog to interact in a low pressure way with new stimuli: people, dogs, other animals, and objects. If your client’s dog is displaying inappropriate behaviors when encountering new stimuli – for example, cowering when encountering new dogs even at a distance or lunging at strangers on walks – then it’s time to recommend behavior modification.

Dogs that are cautiously curious, dogs that startle when encountering new stimuli but recover quickly, or dogs that show some mild concern over new things but when given time, warm up and begin interacting in a positive way, are likely good candidates for appropriate socialization. Dogs that are bold and curious should certainly be involved in socialization to maintain these healthy responses.

In summary, socialization is very important for dogs who have healthy responses to new stimuli. Appropriate socialization allows these dogs to maintain their healthy responses. Dogs displaying undesirable responses to new stimuli should be routed toward behavior modification with a canine behavior specialist.

Don’t miss our upcoming blog post,“Socialization: Tips for Success,” which discusses what constitutes appropriate socialization! 

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