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The Chew: The Importance of Environmental Socialization

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The following bi-weekly column is written and sponsored by Dog Paws n Cat Claws, which provides a heart-centered and safe environment for your pets. Conveniently located at 5818-C Seminary Road in Bailey’s Crossroads, DPnCC offers doggy daycare, boarding, grooming, walking and training services, plus in-home pet care.

A few years ago, one of my friends had a rare vacation in which she was unable to take her black Lab, Moonpie, along for the fun. She asked if I could take care of her for the week instead of boarding her. This was before I had a dog of my own and I thought it could be great training for me in becoming a dog owner, something I’d always wanted to experience.

One day, I decided to take her hiking on my favorite trail. When we got to our first manhole cover, instead of walking over it, she detoured around it. I thought it kind of funny so every time we approached another manhole cover, I would observe her behavior. Each time she went out of her way to avoid walking over them.

That night, I spoke with Moonpie’s owner Sonia, and asked about her dog’s little quirk.  She told me, “I know! At some point in time she must have walked over one and maybe it was too hot, or loose or something? Whatever it was, it scared her to death and she thinks manhole covers are the devil now.”

Last year, I was invited to a doggy dip and observed the different ways dogs reacted to a swim in the pool. Some jumped in head first, while others avoided getting too close to the edge. A few clung to their owners in fear. “If a puppy isn’t socialized during the first three months it can increase the risk of behavior problems later in life such as fear, avoidance and aggression,” says veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker.

At Dog Paws n Cat Claws, we recommend introducing a dog to as many different environments as possible. We work with our clients on having a well-rounded dog and to minimize the development of potential fear factors. While socializing your pup with other dogs is important, we think it’s just as important to take socialization a step further.

Introduce Different Environments

When you bring home a puppy or a rescued dog, expose them to as many different environments as possible. Show them how it feels to walk on grass, sand, gravel, pavement, dirt and mud. Lead them into water so they can experience that sensation. Take them outside when it’s raining or snowing to familiarize them with different weather conditions. Because puppies are more malleable, taking them out in different weather conditions can diminish the likelihood of developing a fear of such conditions as they mature.

Taking your dog to unfamiliar buildings is also important. Introduce them to pet friendly buildings and unusual spaces like pet stores, flea markets and outdoor shopping centers, both crowded and sparse.

Put them in your car and visit family and friends who won’t mind having you and your dog over for a visit. Your presence will help ensure your dog’s confidence.

Environmental socialization may be challenging if you bring home an adult dog that already has certain fears or dislikes instilled in him. However, if you expose your dog to these different environments, you will gain valuable insights and can begin to put a counter-conditioning plan into action if needed.

Every dog may react differently to new environments but widening your dog’s environmental socialization will improve your dog’s confidence and make YOU feel more confident the next time you are out together on a new adventure.

Sara Schabach
In-Home Pet Care Manager

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