Why are happy associations with places, things and people so important? And how should you give those to your dog so they get the most out of it?
It has been found that dogs that gets a lot of happy associations with a lot of different people, places, things and other animals early on in life are less prone to develop fear and anxiety later on in life. But how can you give your dog those happy associations and what if you got a dog that is no longer a puppy but a grown dog?
To answer that we must first talk about socialization.
Socialization is one of the keystones in racing a puppy/dog in order to create a proper mental and social development in our dogs brain. But it needs to be done in the right way and at the right time. If done wrongly it might end up having the opposite impact on your dog and instead of getting a confident and happy dog, you will get a shy and aggressive dog (Read more about the importance of socialization here).
So how to give your new dog/puppy those happy associations in a proper way without overstimulating or forcing the dog to be social?
It is okay to challenge a dog a little, but to successfully socialize a dog to a new thing, place or person is must be done in a positive manner. Say that you are out walking and you come across a field and start to play with your dog there. The field is a little scary, because a big road is right next to it and the cars on it are making a lot of noise, but then you start a fetch game and suddenly the field is the most amazing place on earth.
Next time you pass that field your dog will remember that you played there and it won’t matter that much that the noisy scary cars are also there. You have let your dog be successful in a place, created a happy association and that is the most important when it comes to socializing your dog – You have to make every socialization an experience where your dog can become successful. It is not only about taking your new puppy/dog to new places, you also have to create a successful experience where they have gained something positive and feel like winners. That is how you create a happy association with people, new places and new things.
Play plays a crucial role here. Play is a reinforcer. Playing with your dog not only helps develop their brain, it is also a stress relief and, as shown in the above example, helps your dog in his/her social competence. It also inhibits fear. Therefor using play in new places, or having strangers play with your dog as their first interaction is an awesome way to give your dog a happy association with either the new thing, place or person. They will also remember this in the future.
Let’s make an example – say that you take your dog to the vet and the first time your dog visits the vet office the veterinarian only plays with him/her. Next time you come in for a vet check your dog remembers this as a place to play and although something not so nice might happen, like a vaccination, that makes your dog a little scared or insecure, your dog is faster in bouncing back because you have created that strong first impression and happy association.
Many times people think that if they just take their new puppy/dog to a new place or do a new activity with them it will be enough, but that is when socialization can backfire on you. It is not only about visiting new places, it is also about creating that happy association where your dog experiences success and that is often what takes time.
So go out and create those happy associations with your dog, but remember to take it in their pace and always make it a successful, positive experience for them.
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