Socializing

As a breeder I struggle with explaining what I mean when I say this breed NEEDS socialization. People generally think of breeds such as golden retrievers and labs that love everyone and they buy an aussie hoping for the same personality. News Flash! Aussies have been bred for many years to be RESERVED with strangers. In order to ATTEMP to get a more social Aussie who enjoys society you MUST do a LOT of socializing. It is a LOT of work. Aussies are not born as social butterflies, some blood lines will never be everyone's best friend. BUT there is a lot you can do to help your Aussie be more comfortable in our busy world. 

Step one is understanding what the word socializing really means for this breed. It does NOT mean you have to shove your dog into situations he's uncomfortable in and make him love everyone and everything that crosses his path. Socializing does NOT mean he has to be social and interactive with other dogs and people if he does not want to. If you picture socializing as teaching your dog to love everyone and everything and you expect at the end of the training he will bounce up to strangers looking for affection, then please walk away from this breed now. 
 
What socializing DOES mean is you are going to expose your dog to different social settings as I will outline below for you, and you will recognize your dogs comfort level, you will respect it and you will back up your dog and respect how far he wants to go into the social situation or how distant he needs to be. You will NEVER force him, you will NEVER push him, You will NEVER bribe him with food or toys, and you will NEVER EVER allow anyone to make him uncomfortable for any reason.
Re-read this paragraph a few times until it sinks in.

So what are you going to do in your every day life? Walk the kids to school? Go to the park with the kids? Go to your parents or siblings homes for dinner? That is all great BUT that isn't nearly enough, not by a long shot. Those are things you are going to be doing anyway, it will all be a part of day to day life so it doesn't actually count as active socializing. Socializing means introducing your puppy to things they won't see day to day.

Make a list of no less than 100 places, sounds, smells, people etc that you will not see at least once a week with your puppy.  
Try and put them in three categories, sight, sound, and touch. Some examples may be.....

  • Clowns

  • people with facial hair

  • people with different skin colour

  • different ethnic backgrounds (cook with different spices so smell different to the dog)

  • roller skates

  • hats

  • turbans

  • wheel chairs

  • sand

  • gravel

  • grass

  • church bells

  • emergency service sirens

  • cats

  • farm animals

  • shopping centers and shopping carts

  • school yards ( kids and bells)

  • the beach

  • construction sites

  • grates in side walks

  • snow mobiles

  • ski's

  • rain

  • mud

  • thunder and lightning

  • chain saws


Socializing should be work. It should not come easy. It means leaving the familiar areas you frequent and going to new places to expose the puppy to new things.  

Socializing means being in the area of these things but not necessarily right in the middle of them. If the dog is a bit uncertain you may need to be across the street, far enough away that the dog can see/hear/smell what is in the area but he is still relaxed and comfortable with the distance between himself and the object you are exposing him to. It may take days - weeks - or even months before you can be up close and intimate with a situation, you can not rush or push the dog, you must take his cues and respect them and use them as guidance.

As humans we see these things on TV and in movies and we often experience these things when the dog is not with us, like in the work environment. Then one day when the dog is with us we take for granted he will be comfortable and accepting of these types of things and are confused when he reacts to them. These are the types of things you need to work on. Working on them is a job. Every week you should be able to mark some of these things off of your socialization list and make notes as to how the dog did, how close could you get, how comfortable was the dog? Ideally every week your puppy should have experienced one new experience from each list: sight, sound and touch.
If you go a week without marking something off the list, you are starting to slack in your socialization process. Put the chart on the wall, make copies for every member of the family and have the entire family work on getting the puppy out and exposed to things he isn't going to see day to day.  If you find something he is unsure of, highlight that and make sure you work on it a lot and make it fun and positive from a comfortable distance so he can try and get over that anxiety.

Another thing you need to do is really dig deep into your soul to not worry about what other people think. If someone is rushing up to your dog and he is nervous you CAN NOT allow that situation to continue. You must use words, body language and anything else necessary to stop the situation from  proceeding. The closer the person gets, the more unsure your dog will be and that is NOT socializing, that is terrorizing the dog. Socializing is making every experience a good positive experience so he will want more of it.

Think of socializing from a human point of view. If you have a fear, even if it's an irrational fear of spiders, snakes, clowns etc it is a fear. If I take you by the hand and drag you into a room full of what scares you, just because I am not afraid if it, that is not going to curb your fear and in fact it is going to break your trust and faith in me. Instead if I show you pictures of these things far away and give you $50 for looking at the picture, you may be more inclined to look at pictures of things you do not like, and then if I bring them out in person but they are across the room behind glass and I give you $50 for every step closer your willing to go on your own, you will probably get closer than you expected, if we do this every day and nothing bad happens and you keep getting rewarded chances are it won't take long for you to be right up next to them. Do you ever have to hold onto one? No of course not, just like the dog should NEVER have to let other people touch him or allow other dogs in his face, you are allowed to have boundaries and so is he. The goal is to teach you that you don't have to be terrified of the spider/snake/clown etc, you can live in this world and co-exist in harmony, but you never have to be best friends. Your dog can live in this world and co-exist with people, animals and day to day life without having to love and embrace every person or animal he meets, he does have to trust that you are not putting him in a situation that he is not capable of handling. Just like you do not want anyone to force you to be locked in a dark room with your fear, he does not want to be forced to physically and emotionally deal with his fear more than is reasonable and necessary for his existence as the breed he was bred to be.

One thing we NEVER do is ask a stranger to offer our dog food or toys, that is bribing the dog to step into a situation he does not want to be in because he wants the reward. You are breaking his trust. Being close to something is very different than having to interact with it. You NEVER ever want to bribe your dog into something he is showing signs of being uncomfortable with because then he learns he can not trust you. 

If you think staying home and going to a friends house is going to be enough socializing, then you are setting yourself up for a very insecure dog who can not function in society. A dog that will bark, back away, become stressed, possibly stressed enough to bite!
I can not stress enough that socializing an Aussie is a good amount of WORK!

Also just because your dog seems comfortable with the cat in your house it doesn't mean he will be ok with your neighbours cat in their house. The same stimulus in a different environment is a whole new equation for your dog to adjust to.

This is probably one of the toughest breeds when it comes to socializing, I am not even going to sugar coat it a little bit, they were bred to be reserved with strangers so they could be great farm dogs protecting the livestock for the farmer. That in turn makes it harder for them to adjust to city life, specially a city life where we have unrealistic expectations of how they should interact with people and other animals.
They need our constant help and guidance to accept all the hustle and bustle of city life and to learn to be good members of society within the boundaries of their genetic make up.

 

They should absolutely be able to walk down a road and not react to everything going on, but they never need to directly interact with other people or other animals. They should have the freedom to completely ignore them and you should respect that. 


If you need help with socialization let me know.