SOCIALIZING
WHAT DO DO AND WHAT NOT TO DO!
As a breeder I struggle with explaining what I mean when I say this breed NEEDS socialization.
People generally think of breeds such as golden retrievers and labs that love everyone and
they buy an aussie hoping for the same personality. News Flash! Aussies have been bred for
many years to be RESERVED with strangers. In order to get a more social Aussie who is a great
member of society you MUST do a LOT of socializing. It is a LOT of work. Aussies are not
born as social butterflies, some blood lines will never be everyone's best friend. BUT there is
a lot you can do to help your Aussie be the best socialized Aussie he can be.

Step one is understanding what the word really means. It does NOT mean you have to shove your
dog into situations he's uncomfortable in and make him love everyone and everything that
crosses his path. Socializing does NOT mean he has to be social and interactive with other
dogs and people if he does not want to.

What it DOES mean is you are going to expose your dog to different social settings as I will
outline below for you, and you will recognize your dogs comfort level, you will respect it and
you will back up your dog and respect how far he wants to go into the social situation or how
distant he needs to be. You will NEVER force him, you will NEVER push him, and you will
NEVER EVER allow anyone to make him uncomfortable for any reason.
Re-read this paragraph a few times until it sinks in.

So what are you going to do in your every day life? Walk the kids to school?
Go to the park with the kids? Go to your parents or siblings homes for dinner?
Thats all great BUT that isn't nearly enough, not by a long shot. Those are things you are
going to be doing anyway, it will all be a part of day to day life so it doesn't actually count
as active socializing. Socializing means introducing your puppy to things they won't see day to day.

Make a list of no less than 100 places, sounds, smells, people etc that you will not see at least
once a week with your puppy.  
Try and put them in three categories, sight, sound, and touch. Some examples may be.....
  • Clowns
  • people with facial hair
  • people with different skin colour
  • different ethnic backgrounds (cook with different spices so smell different to the dog)
  • roller skates
  • hats
  • turbans
  • wheel chairs
  • sand
  • gravel
  • grass
  • church bells
  • emergency service sirens
  • cats
  • farm animals
  • shopping centers and shopping carts
  • school yards ( kids and bells)
  • the beach
  • construction sites
  • grates in side walks
  • snow mobiles
  • ski's
  • rain
  • mud
  • thunder and lightning
  • chain saws

Socializing should be work. It should not come easy. It means leaving the familiar areas you frequent
and going to new places to expose the puppy to new things.  

Socializing means being in the area of these things but not necessarily right in the middle of them.
If the dog is a bit uncertain you may need to be across the street, far enough away that the dog can
see/hear/smell what is in the area but he is still relaxed and comfortable with the distance between
himself and the object you are exposing him to. It may take days - weeks - or even months before
you can be up close and intimate with a situation, you can not rush or push the dog, you must take
his cues and respect them and use them as guidance.

As humans we see these things on TV and in movies and we often experience these things
when the dog is not with us, like in the work environment. Then one day when the dog is with us
we take for granted he will be comfortable and accepting of these types of things and are confused
when he reacts to them. These are the types of things you need to work on. Working on them is a job.
Every week you should be able to mark some of these things off of your socialization list and make notes
as to how the dog did, how close could you get, how comfortable was the dog, ideally every week your
puppy should have experienced one new experience from each list: sight, sound and touch.
If you go a week without marking something off the list, you are starting to slack in your socialization
process. Put the chart on the wall, make copies for every member of the family
and have the entire family work on getting the puppy out and exposed to things he isn't
going to see day to day.   If you find something he is unsure of, highlight that and make sure
you work on it a lot and make it fun and positive from a comfortable distance so he can get over that anxiety.

Another thing you need to do is really dig deep into your soul to not worry about what other people think.
If someone is rushing up to your dog and he is nervous you CAN NOT allow that situation to continue.
You must use words, body language and anything else necessary to stop the situation from
proceeding. The closer the person gets, the more unsure your dog will be and that is NOT
socializing, that is terrorizing the dog. Socializing is making every experience a good positive
experience so he will want more of it.

Think of socializing from a human point of view. If you have a fear, even if it's an irrational
fear of spiders, snakes, clowns etc it is a fear. If I take you by the hand and drag you into a room
full of what scares you, just because I am not afraid if it, that is not going to curb your fear and
in fact it is going to break your trust and faith in me. Instead if I show you pictures of these things
far away and give you $50 for looking at the picture, you may be more inclined to look at pictures
of things you do not like, and then if I bring them out in person but they are across the room behind
glass and I give you $50 for every step closer your willing to go, you will probably get closer than
you expected, if we do this every day and nothing bad happens and you keep getting rewarded
chances are it won't take long for you to be right up next to them. Do you ever have to hold onto
one? No of course not, just like the dog should NEVER have to let other people touch him or
allow other dogs in his face, you are allowed to have boundaries and so is he. The goal is to teach
you that you don't have to be terrified of the spider/snake/clown etc, you can live in this world
and co-exist in harmony, but you never have to be best friends. Your dog can live in this world
and co-exist with people, animals and day to day life without having to love and embrace every
person or animal he meets, he does have to trust that you are not putting him in a situation that he
is not capable of handling. Just like you do not want anyone to force you to be locked in a dark
room with your fear, he does not want to be forced to physically and emotionally deal with his
fear more than is reasonable and necessary for his existence as the breed he was bred to be.

If you think staying home and going to a friends house is going to be enough socializing, then
you are setting yourself up for a very insecure dog who can not function in society. A dog that will
bark, back away, become stressed, possibly stressed enough to bite!
I can not stress enough that socializing an Aussie is a good amount of WORK!

Also just because your dog seems comfortable with the cat in your house it doesn't mean
he will be ok with your neighbours cat in their house. The same stimulus in a different
environment is a whole new equation for your dog to adjust to.

This is probably one of the toughest breeds when it comes to socializing, I am not even
going to sugar coat it a little bit, they were bred to be reserved with strangers so they
could be great farm dogs protecting the livestock for the farmer. That in turn makes it harder
for them to adjust to city life.
They need our constant help and guidance to accept all the hustle and bustle of city life
and to learn to be good members of society within the boundaries of their genetic make up.

If you need help with socialization ideas just let me know. I am happy to come up with many
different ideas to help you socialize your Aussie.