As a pet parent, you know that socializing your dog is super important. But did you know that surface socializing and exposure to noise and environments can be just as important as socializing with other animals?
Have you ever seen a dog balk at walking across a shiny, glossy floor? If your dog has never encountered such a surface, he won’t know how to make sense of it. In his mind, that shiny surface is most likely a giant pool of water, which isn’t something he wants to try to walk into, no matter how much you coax him.
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Harrison Forbes, a celebrity pet trainer, recalls his experience with training award-winning police dogs. While many of these dogs show incredible courage and skill in nearly all situations, in the beginning, many times they have not been exposed to a lot of different surfaces. Take for example if they’ve never been trained on open-riser stairs, they may refuse to enter basements, upstairs apartments and rooftops with similar access stairs. Surface socialization helps trainers see how a dog will react in different situations. It’s important to address these issues before a dog goes into a working environment.
It seems silly to us, after all, we have thumbs to catch us if we fall. But dogs perceive the world differently than we do. It’s our job as pet parents to help them gauge their environments accurately and navigate safely through life.
Some common surfaces to expose your dog to may include:
- Polished, waxed floors
- Wood flooring
- Closed stars
- Open -backed stairs
- Escalators (if in area your dog will frequent)
- Barred sewer grates
- Beds and bedding
- Brushy landscapes
- Surfaces up off the ground
While not every dog will need exposure to all types of areas (unless he’s training to be a service or working dog), exposing your dog to multiple surfaces will provide him with more confidence.
Make a list of the ground types of all the areas you commonly go, and spend some time intentionally exposing your dog to these surfaces.
How to Socialize a Dog to Surfaces
One of the best ways to socialize a dog to a new surface is to divide and conquer. You’re going to divide his attention by showing him a yummy treat while at the same time guiding him onto the new surface. By the time he realizes he’s standing on a new surface, he won’t have time to balk or panic. Just power through by continuing your walk as if nothing changed.
If your dog does show fear or trepidation at a new surface, be careful not to console or “baby” him. Giving him praise and affection will teach him it’s ok, and even a good thing, to be afraid.
Just remain calm and assertive and call him onto the surface alongside you. Your dog will mirror your level of anxiety, so remember to stay calm.
Going to the Veterinarian
Many dogs balk at visiting the vet. Did you know they put things in your rear and give you ouchy shots there if you’re a dog? It’s not a nice place to visit- at least that’s what your dog thinks.
To help your dog adapt to visiting the veterinarian without fear, you’ll need to create positive associations for him.
Visit the vet’s office every week and simply walk in, ask the receptionist to give him a treat and some lovings, and then leave. After a few visits, the vet’s office will become an enjoyable destination for your dog.
You can use this approach to socialize your dog to nearly any environment.
Socialization to Noises
If your dog is a puppy, you have an ideal time frame of between 5 and 20 weeks of age where your pup is very open to learning. Lessons learned and environments exposed to during this timeframe will shape your dog for the rest of his life.
But, even older dogs can be retrained using positive associations and rewards.
Simply create a party for your dog with lots of treats hidden inside scraps of cloth or toys and let him explore and root out the treats while you expose him to new noises, like the vacuum, car engines, the lawn mower, or the TV on high volume. It helps tremendously if he’s hungry during your training sessions. He’ll be engrossed in finding the next morsel of food, and will barely register the new noises.
- Don’t reward cowering and scared behavior with attention.
- Power through new surface using redirection with treats.
- Create positive associations with new situations and noises using food.