I gave a workshop for new and prospective dog adopters last weekend. One of the topics we covered was socialization. Socialization is key for puppies, but is more important than many realize for newly rehomed adult dogs. (It can also be important for moving with your dog, but I won’t cover that in depth here.)
Regardless of their background, your home is not exactly the same as your new dog’s previous home and will include new things to which your dog needs to be socialized. This is increasingly important to keep in mind in our area as more and more rescue dogs are brought into local shelters and rescues from other areas of the country. For dogs that come from an entirely different background, whether an outdoor life, a rural area, or a racetrack, the reality of everyday life in a city or suburb is filled to the brim with new experiences and stimuli.
What do I mean?
Let me give you a couple examples based on my experience socializing Gandalf to “retired” life over the last two months. Prior to coming into our home, he had lived his entire life in a track environment. For the first few days, everything was new. The first time he saw a skateboard—what is that? The first time he saw a baby stroller—what is that? The first time he saw a dog that was not a greyhound—what is that?
He has proven to be a fairly resilient dog, at least so far. Except for one occasion when we pushed his tolerance, he has been remarkably calm. (On that occasion, he stopped walking and had to be carried to a quiet area while one of us ran for the car.) Even the things that made him nervous on original exposure, like skateboards and freight trains (we live right by a freight rail track; I didn’t seek trains out), he was able to accept after a couple of exposures.
However, even with his remarkable ability to accept exposure to new stimuli, we still regularly encounter “new” things. Just in the last twenty-four hours, he has discovered that rubbing the clasp of his leash against a street sign pole makes a loud metallic clang and that a stiff breeze rushing through the filled in leaf canopy makes a sustained rustling noise. Both of these caused him to freeze, startled, before he was able to move on again.
Realizing that things this routine in our mind can still be new and startling after ten weeks should be a reminder: we take for granted many things we encounter in our daily lives. Many of these are far outside the experience of our new dogs, especially those transported from other areas of the region, country, or world. To be fair to them, we need to make careful, thoughtful socialization part of the process of acclimation for our new dogs, and we need to let them determine the speed of that socialization.