We are very pleased to announce that two fearful dogs, Champ and Duke, have found their forever homes! Each of them have faced challenges while at the shelter, but they have also made a lot of progress. We believe that they will blossom even more in their new homes! In honor of these adoptions, we’d like to emphasize the importance of socialization throughout a dog’s lifespan.
Left: Duke enjoying the snow!
The most important period for socialization is early puppyhood, from 4 to 12 weeks of age. If they are exposed to a variety of people in a positive way, they are more likely to grow up being accepting of others. If, on the other hand, they have negative interactions or only meet a few people, they are more likely to have fearful or aggressive behaviors around humans.
Above: Champ is comfortable enough to cuddle with Jessie!
When a fearful dog enters our shelter, we initially have him interact with staff members only. This way we can establish a trusting relationship and observe their typical behavioral responses to scary situations. Then we begin to slowly (and we mean slowly) counter-condition them to that particular situation. This involves exposing them one step at a time to the frightening stimulus, and rewarding any confident behavior along the way. We always use postivie reinforcement because it is scientifically proven to be the most effective training method. If the dog acts scared, it means we have gone past their comfort threshold, so we simply remove them from the situation. For example, when Champ confidently greets a new person, we verbally praise him and give him treats. When he is showing signs of discomfort (tail-tucking, hiding, bulging his eyes etc.) we bring him back to a safe spot and try again when he is feeling comfortable.
Proper socialization is an exercise that should continue throughout a dog’s lifetime. If a dog has had bad or limited experiences in the past, it’s never too late to start exposing them to different types of people. Just remember to take it slow, watch body language to know his or her limits, and keep it fun and rewarding!