Scientific Studies and Socialization: Quality and Size of the Sample Matter

A new puppy needs to get socialized. But what does that mean? Most people believe that it means the puppy meeting dogs. What seems to escape many is that it also means different kinds of people and different kinds of things and places. And yet that's not what my article is about.

I am going to start with a story.

We all traveled after hubby's work and are staying at a new place—small, lovely town. Other than walking the dogs I stay in the house and work. I don't get a whole lot of exposure to the people here, unless during our walks.

Yesterday we had an encounter with a very rude man.

As if he was already in the fight before anybody actually had a chance to participate. He was a moron.

On the way back I jokingly pointed out that given my scientific sample, 75% of people in this town are morons.We met our neighbor who's a quiet, peaceful man. We met a guy who figured that the best way to pass people with dogs on a narrow bridge is to ride his scooter at full speed without even the thought of slowing down. He not only upset the dogs but scared us too. Also a moron.

Our data says that two out of three people in this town are morons.

Are we going to be eager to meet more people here?

Of course, this is ridiculous. On a rational level we know that the sample was too small and bad quality. How do we know that? Because through our lives, we met a lot of people. And only some of them were morons. We have previous data.

How does that translate to dog socialization?

Behaviorists are trying to stress an important point, which often gets lost in translation. Yes, socialization equals exposure. But successful, effective socialization means POSITIVE exposure. At least at the beginning.

If your new puppy meets three dogs two of which are aggressive, what is the puppy to make of that?

What if the first dog your puppy meets is aggressive? The sample you provide is the only data your puppy gets. And it will, indeed, draw conclusions from that. You might inadvertently teach your puppy to be afraid of other dogs. Or people. Or objects. Whatever encounters went wrong.

If your puppy meets a hundred dogs who are nice and friendly and then one that is aggressive, it will figure, "ah, SOME dogs are aggressive." But if the first dog your puppy meets is aggressive, a scientific sample of one, your puppy will figure, "[all] other dogs are aggressive and dangerous."

Such data will have a lasting impact on your puppy and it will be much harder to convince it otherwise.

Yes, puppies need to be exposed to as many dogs, people, objects, places and situation as possible. But, please, don't forget to make sure all these encounters are positive.

Of course, not all life experiences can be controlled.

But the broader the initial positive sample, the less damage will any future negative encounter do.

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  1. A story with a great point! Positive socialization is similar to ending a training session on a success. There are failures and there are morons, but teaching dogs that the successes and the kind people and calm dogs are the norm is our job as their human partner.

    1. It can get tricky sometimes but it's worth it.

  2. SUCH an important point! Positive experiences not just any experiences. Thanks for sharing this and all those extra resources. I'm going to bookmark this and refer back to it whenever this discussion comes up. Thanks for sharing your story!


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