Can we change “socialization” to stabilization?

A popular buzz word in the dog community is socialization. Everyone talks about it, but outside of professional training or owners that have undergone extensive training with their dog, almost no one can properly define it. I find this word to be highly misleading and am here to offer a replacement option.

When I think of socialization, the first thing that comes to mind is a night out with friends or family. Socializing for humans is being around others, holding conversation, enjoying time spent together, and forming relationships. Socializing makes me think of people who are outgoing and approachable. When you are told to socialize your dog, wouldn’t you assume to do so in the same way that humans do?

Waiting patiently at the vet

Socializing a dog typically includes building their confidence in different environments, introducing them to new activities, and emphasizing a neutral approach to people and other dogs. As you can see, there is a vast contrast between a social person and a social dog. Here is my thought- let’s rename this training process for dogs to “stabilizing”. Socialization for a dog ultimately leads to a stable dog. This is the kind of dog you can bring anywhere, who will try almost anything, and can apply solid obedience in any setting. A stable dog is not trying to greet every person and dog they see, because they value their relationship with their handler. Personally, my goal for any dog that I train is to help them become as stable as possible.

Chickie meeting the Tractor Supply chicks

My theory for why socialization has gone so askew in dog training has to do with anthropomorphism. Something I do not subscribe to is the humanization of dog behavior. I see this as a major pitfall in dog training, as this practice typically leads to close minded approaches to behavior modification. If dog owners approach socializing their dog in the same way they choose to socialize, you can see how that could lead to a dog with decreased handler focus and overstimulation in novel environments.

First puppy class

I have found that training my dogs to be stable and neutral allows them to have much more freedom. They can join me in public settings where there are other people and dogs and their training allows them to stay focused and under threshold. No… this does not apply to Vinny. Chief’s training was a HUGE undertaking to get to a point where he could be considered stable. He went through many different phases, from being too excited about seeing other dogs to being over protective of me and reacting to create space. (Quick reminder that what you perceive on social media isn’t always reality. Many people are surprised to find out that Chief was fairly reactive for a while and required a lot of training to regain stability).

Training at Lowe’s

I will admit that I did not understand socialization when I brought Chief home. I cringe thinking of the time I brought baby Chief to a brewery and allowed a dog at the table next door to get in his face as Chief was trying to settle while we ate. I allowed anyone who asked to pet him to shower him with affection. I allowed him to greet other dogs on leash because he “just wanted to say hi”. All of this fueled reactivity and required months of training to build back his handler focus. I essentially had to reorder his priorities and make myself his number one focus.

Park training on a busy day

I am approaching Chickie’s socialization completely different. I am placing emphasis on building our relationship and her confidence. She is already fairly comfortable in new environments, settles extremely well in her crate and pen, is excelling in basic obedience, and even has decent recall. She is only meeting dogs that she will have a long term relationship with, and their play is kept to short sessions. I advocate for her space in public settings to increase her focus and above all protect her physically. She comes to dog sport events to observe and immerse herself in chaotic environments.

The bottom line- I will be shifting my mindset to stabilizing rather than socializing. A stable dog can be difficult to achieve but should be a goal for anyone who wants a “go everywhere” kind of dog. My dogs and I have thrived as a team since adjusting my approach. I hope this resonates with some of you!

To leave any questions or comments, check out our post on Instagram here!

Most recent blog posts

“But, Did you die?”

Up until a few years ago I was an extremely active member in the Crossfit community. I ended up with…

Birthday Giveaway!

Chief’s 2nd Birthday Giveaway, featuring a new, unreleased Canis Mountain Outfitters rope! Chief…

Step One: Call It What It Is

I want to start by saying thank you to everyone who read our last post “The Happy Heeler is Not…