What dogs aren’t learning in school

By Nicole Gnazdowsky

Coming across a dog that does not play well with other dogs at the park can be intimidating for any dog owner. That’s why socialization is an important and necessary part of any dogs life.

Ted Efthymiadis is the co-owner of Mango Dogs, a dog training and rehabilitation company in Halifax. His speciality is rehabilitating aggressive dogs. He says dogs that exhibit aggressions are often the product of poor socialization.

“Lack of socialization is definitely one of the main reasons is why I have so many dogs coming in for aggression rehab, a lot of it is fear,” he says, “people never made it a priority to socialize.”

Most people assume taking their young dogs to puppy school, where dogs learn obedience in a class-like setting, will set them up for a lifetime of social success, but Efthymiadis says social skills need to be built over time.

“While puppy school is beneficial it’s not all that people make it out to be,” he says. “Most puppies have spent the last eight weeks playing with puppies. The skills they need to develop are with adult dogs.”

“People need to shift how they look at socialization, it needs to be looked at in a much broader term,” he says.

Efthymiadis says there are three areas of socialization a dog owner must insure their dogs are exposed to. They include socialization amongst other dogs, people and environments.

Exposure and socialization to a variety of different situations creates the familiarity that will allow a dog to be comfortable and behave properly in all situations.

Amy MacRae is a dog trainer for Sublime Canine in Halifax, she says she agrees that it is important to familiarize your dog with as many people, places and things as possible, especially while they are still young.

Josh Bennett, a dog walker in the Halifax area, says there are a number of places that are great for reinforcing socialization among dogs.

“I always took my dog when he was a puppy to the boardwalk on the waterfront,” he says.

“Even just walking down Spring Garden Road offers a lot of opportunity for exposure … the other day my dog met a police horse there.”

Efthymiadis says “one thing I always suggest to all my clients as a key point is to have the dog work for their food everywhere that they go.”

MacRae also recommends taking treats or their favourite toys to the veterinarians, or other places that may make them nervous. This way they will associate these potentially scary experiences with something positive. Efthymiadis says it’s even more important to reiterate the point that while a lack of socialization leads to aggression, a lack of proper socialization will also lead to aggression.

“We can compare how people are and how dogs are and draw conclusions from that. We’re two different species but as far back as our records go scientific proof says we are the two most social creatures on the plant,” he says, “our social interactions as people very much mimic what we’re naturally going to see with dogs.”

Efthymiadis says the likeliness a dog never liked other dogs is pretty much zero, if a dog doesn’t like other dogs, something has gone wrong along the way.

If a person grows up and is constantly bullied and experiencing negative interactions with other people, they’re likely going to grow up not liking people. The same goes for dogs.
“For this reason, I would rather focus on quality over quantity when it comes to socializing a dog, 50 positive interactions with zero negative is much better than 1000 interactions with 20 being negative,” he says.

Efthymiadis says it’s important to watch when your dog is interacting with other dogs and to become a mediator when necessary.

Often times people have the mentality of “dogs will be dogs,”but if your dog is being bullied it is important to step in not only to save your dogs social skills and prevent the development of a fear of other dogs, but also to maintain the trust your dog has for you as their owner to protect and guard their best interests.

MacRae agrees. “Careful socialization is key, we need to be protective, monitor and not overwhelm our dogs”.

Once this trust and these essential skills are lost it can take years to rebuild.

Efthymiadis says, “If you can set your dog up to succeed every time, and have them know you’re going to be there to help them, you’re golden. You’ll have a happy, healthy, secure dog.”