Socialization - Why is it so Important?

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What is socialization and why is it so important? 

Socialization is preparing our dogs to greet new experiences with calm and confidence. It is teaching our dogs to be social with other dogs and other people. With puppies we have a window of time from three weeks to around sixteen weeks when they are most comfortable accepting new experiences. After that it becomes more difficult. If you bring an older dog into your life who has not been socialized, you will need to be very patient and comitted to helping your dog successfully greet new experiences. Going about it slowly with a lot of love will help your dog trust you and perhaps trust some of the new experiences. In some instances you may have to protect your dog from experiences he/she has been unable to embrace. Doing your best with your dogs best interest will provide the best possible outcome. Inviting the help of a professional trainer may also be an option. 

Socialization is (like training) a life long experience.

Truly a dog can have a new experience  every day of his life. A socialized dog can greet these new experiences with calm and confidence. Sometimes dogs are more comfortable with people and not comfortable with other dogs. Sometimes a dog is comfortable with other dogs and not with people.

It is important to socialize dogs to other dogs and to people.  

When a puppy or a dog of any age joins your family, you can invite friends and neighbors over to meet your dog and welcome and celebrate your new family member. This way your dog or puppy will have a chance to meet people with beards, wearing bright colors, glasses, hats, high voices, lower voices, tall, short, and many more new experiences. Taking your dog on walks or to scheduled play dates or even a well supervised dog park can give your dog opportunities to meet other dogs. These events need to occur as often as possible. I took my dogs to meet persons in uniforms. I asked kids with skateboards to let my dog sniff the skate board. Any time I asked someone to engage my dog in a socialization opportunity, they were always more than happy to do so. 

Socialization is helping our dogs become familiar with the environment they live in.

It is a way to make their world bigger and more interesting. Socializing our dogs helps reduce any anxiety they feel about being in a new situation. The more opportunities our dogs have to successfully master a new experience builds their confidence and when they have the next new experience they can face it with more confidence and less anxiety. Over time the result is a more confident and more relaxed dog. 

I am always taken aback a bit every time some one comments on how "calm" my dogs are. 

I am mot sure why I have that reaction. Perhaps it is because I live with my dogs and experience their calm demeanor every day. It does seem whenever someone meets my dogs they comment on how calm they are. I truly believe that is a result of the socialization and the training they have experienced, which by the way continues to this day. As I said, training and socialization are life long. 

A dog who is trained and socialized is truly a joy to live with. May you and your dog/s know much joy in your life together. 

WOOFS & SMILES!

MUTUAL RESPECT

They say respect is earned. This is true for pet parents and their dogs for sure. All relationships require a foundation of trust and respect to flourish and grow. This is especially true when two entirely different species make up the relationship. Canines and humans are different species who also enjoy some similarities.

Understanding and respecting these differences as well as similarities is important. 

Canine Specie
Anatomy
Dogs walk on four feet and anatomically have very different digestive tracts from humans. Dogs have a keen sense of smell that far surpasses the human olfactory abilities. Dogs can sniff out bombs, drugs, bedbugs, diseases, and any treat no matter how well it may be hidden. These are only some of the many things dogs can locate with their sense of smell. Dogs hearing is also very keen. A dogs anatomy is different from a humans but we share some diseases like cancer. Dogs need routine medical/veterinary care. Dogs also need physical exercise to maintain over all heath.

Language
Dogs bark and use their entire body language to communicate with us and each other. Movement of their ears, tail, mouth, eyes and posture all have meaning for different reasons. Dogs can learn and understand an average of 30-40 words (sometimes more) in the human language. 

Intelligent
Dogs are as bright intellectually as a 2-3 year old human toddler and need mental exercise as well as physical exercise to maintain a healthy state of mind and body.  

Sentient
Dogs are sentient beings. This means dogs have feelings. They feel love, fear, pain and sadness and many more feelings. Dogs express these feelings with their body language. Dogs communicate with each other with barks and touch and also through their eyes. They also communicate with their humans in much the same way.

Human Specie

We walk on two legs and have a more complicated anatomy than dogs. We are responsible for taking care of our dogs. They need us to take them to the veterinarian and to provide them with food and water and most of all love. Dogs are very dependent on us. Respecting this dependency and not abusing it is a wonderful thing. We already have our dogs attention and do not need to impose any dominance on them. This is a level of respect that promotes a positive bond.

We need to speak to our dogs often. Tell them where we are going and when we will be back. Look into their eyes and share our thoughts about them, and they will look back into our eyes and do the same. Looking into each others eyes stimulates the hormone oxytocin which is often called the "love" hormone. Learning our dogs body language and what it means is part of communicating with them.
As communication grows so does respect for each other because we now understand each other more. 

Our dogs are intelligent and as we embrace this about them this too creates a mutual respect. Making sure they have mental stimulation with toys they need to work to find a treat or treat hides they can find are fun ways to offer mental exercise for our dogs. Canine sports and fun games like fetch are also excellent mental exercise.  When we view them as the intelligent beings they are we find ourselves  enjoying being with them even more and see clearly the need to provide them with mental exercise.

Thinking of our dogs as sentient beings is very important and helpful to our mutual relationship. When you perceive your dog as feeling lonely when you are gone you may tell him you will miss him and when you will be back. You may even leave soft music on in the background to drown out natural sounds that may cause them to react. Recognizing they feel happy is a wonderful feeling to share with them. Your happy tone of voice tells them you are happy to see him and be with him. Understanding your dogs emotions and sharing them together is an automatic level of respect that develops between the two of you. 

Love and respect build the foundation for a life long relationship of happiness for you and your dog.

WOOFS & SMILES!

What Do I Feed My Dog?

What do I feed my dog?
One of the most confusing and potentially challenging issues a pet parent faces is what to feed their dog. There are so many different recommendations. There are so many different diets. There are so many different foods. A pet parent often does not know where to begin. 

These are the basic diets/food to select from:

1 - Dry food (kibble)
2- Wet food (usually in a can)
3- Raw diet (protein based with meat and poultry)
4- Vegetarian Diet (plant based protein)
5- Any combination of the above

What the experts suggest         
The current argument seems to be between the raw meat based protein diet and the vegetarian plant protein based diet. I am not a nutritional expert. I follow people who I think are. The holistic veterinarians and nutritionists I follow suggest dogs are definite carnivores and a meat based raw diet is the best food for our dogs. I am a vegetarian and I feed my dogs a raw meat based diet. I also supplement the raw with fruits, vegetables, sardines, and many other healthy foods dogs can safely have. Grains and carbohydrates are not healthy for our dogs to eat in a daily diet.

The two things dogs definitely need in their diet are:
Balance & Variety.  


VARIETY
If we feed our dogs the same dry kibble day after day it would be similar to if we ate (for example) the same breakfast cereal every day for every meal. Eventually our immune system would begin rejecting the cereal and we would experience some physical symptoms. The same thing happens to our dogs and the symptoms for them are often itchy skin as an allergic reaction. Variety is very important for our dogs. Dogs need protein, fresh veggies and fruit and fish like sardines and other foods that are healthy for them to eat. A wide variety is important. Variety keeps the immune system happy and keeps dogs interested in eating not to mention other health benefits like strong bones and internal organ vitality which are signs of good health.  

BALANCE

We are what we eat and that applies to our dogs as well. Obesity is the number one health issue for humans and the number one health issue for dogs. Balance in a dogs diet is essential. Rotating protein and vegetables and fruit will keep a healthy balance in your dogs diet. It is important to feed foods that will provide the mineral and vitamin supplements a dog needs. Balance is best obtained with a variety of foods and a rotation of those foods. In my book "Being A Super Pet Parent" I provide a list of all the foods dogs can have and a list of all the foods dogs should NOT have. 

What diet is best for my dog?
Of the diets available to select from, I think a combination may work well. I personally cannot afford to feed my two dogs a total raw diet. Since I prefer to purchase the ready packaged raw food that comes with all the mineral and supplements already in it, that can get expensive. So I supplement the raw with fruits, veggies, fish and other health foods for them that I may have available. I give them their health supplements mixed with some pumpkin after their morning meal. I avoid junk treats and make homemade treats. There are also healthy treats you can purchase ready made that are good for them. 

The diet you select for your dog will be a result of how much money you can spend, how well you know your dog and how informed you are about the food choices. I encourage you to be informed and read all the labels on the food packages. Research or read the work of nutritionists in the dog world like Steve Brown
Introduce new foods to your dog gradually. Your dog will let you know the foods he likes and the foods he does not care for. Keep food fresh and rotate the foods. 

A healthy diet will promote a healthy dog who can live a robust life by your side. 

Let food be the medicine and medicine be the food.  - HIPPOCRATES

WOOFS & SMILES!

COULD YOUR DOG BE A THERAPY DOG?

Do you ever think your dog would make a good therapy dog? Many of the people I know and talk with say yes to that question. We love our dogs so much and often we think how nice it would be to share that love with others. We want other people to feel what we feel when we are with our dog and we truly think our dog could help people feel better if they are in a nursing home or in the hospital as just two examples of where therapy dogs visit people.

If we think about dogs providing therapy in the broadest terms I believe all dogs who are loved give that love back to their pet parents and that in itself is therapeutic.

Research has shown a hormone called oxytocin is shared between our dog and us when we experience those hugs and loving gazes into each others eyes. This hormone exchange highlights the warm feeling of being loved. This happens to us at home living with our dog and this exchange also occurs in the pet assisted therapy experience between the dog and whom ever they are visiting. This experience contributes to the success of pet assisted therapy work.

Even though all dogs can share love with us not all dogs are necessarily suited to be pet assisted therapy dogs. Dogs who are not comfortable with new people or new environments would be more stressed doing this work. Temperament is important but so is training.

If you have the perfect dog for doing pet assisted therapy work but your dog has no basic obedience training...this needs to be addressed before doing anything else. 

For a dog to become registered with any pet assisted therapy organization, basic obedience training is a must for the dog to pursue the additional training needed to qualify to do pet assisted therapy work. The training involves class work for the handler and the dog. A dog needs to demonstrate an ability to tolerate loud noises like equipment and elevators as well as new and different people of any age. 

Here are some considerations for pursuing pet assisted therapy work:

1) There are a few organizations available for you and your dog to work with. Pet Partners is one. Inter Mountain Therapy is another. There may be even more. Find one that fits your values and is accommodating for you to work with.

2) There is a cost for the initial training and the ongoing renewal training which varies a bit with each organization. This also involves a clearance from a health standpoint from your vet initially and with each follow up renewal. This is also a cost.

3) You may need to purchase some basic equipment like a short working leash for your dog and a bag to hold the treats and other items like a water dish etc. for the time you are both on the job. Sometimes the organization you trained with has a scarf or other items you may wish to purchase.

4) There is a commitment of time from you. Organizations who rely on volunteers need volunteers to be reliable. Being reliable and professional is important as you are representing the organization you trained with and are representing pet assisted therapy with your conduct. 

5) I find it important to do therapy work with a business or non-profit organization that has a volunteer program in place and specifically a pet assisted therapy volunteer program in place. This can cover possible liability concerns and just makes it easier because the expectations and guidelines are already in place. Things like where to be and where not to be in the facility. Where to enter and exit. Where your dog can go to the bathroom and other specifics to the facility you are visiting.

You could also be the one who helps develop a volunteer pet assisted therapy program where one is needed. That would be awesome!

There are benefits to doing pet assisted therapy work:

1) You feel good seeing the joy your dog brings to other people. You may visit a nursing home or a hospice. You and your dog may need to try a couple different settings before you find one that feels ideal for the two of you. 

2) Your dog develops confidence and experience with new situations and new people. He also enjoys the interaction with the people you are visiting.

3) The bond with you and your dog grows. Your time working together builds respect and appreciation between the two of you. You enjoy being together and learn more about each other in the process. Together you become a solid team which is great experience for both you and your dog.

4) You will quickly learn the staff in the facility need their therapy time with your dog almost as much (if not more sometimes) than the clients you are visiting. You will develop relationships with the staff that will become memorable as well as those with the clients.

I have been doing pet assisted therapy work with Jazz and JIve for almost ten years. We began in Children's Hospital and now are working with children in a trauma pre-school setting. It seems children are our calling. When we are on our walks if a young child is walking or a smaller child is in a stroller, both Jazz and JIve seem to think they need to meet the child. It is not always appropriate for that to happen but when it does the dogs and the child are delighted. 

If you decide to join the world of pet assisted therapy with your loving dog i know you will both benefit and enjoy the journey together. 

WOOFS & SMILES!