A service dog has the important job of helping someone perform tasks that he or she otherwise wouldn’t be able to do due to physical disability. Unfortunately, not every dog is suited to become a service companion. Working as a service animal requires much more discipline than many pets have, even if they are well-trained. Socializing your dog is the foundation of training it to become a companion animal.
The Definition of Socialization
When most people think of socializing animals, they think only of getting them used to other humans and animals. True socialization requires much more. Your service companion must be able to handle a wide range of people and animals, yes, but also much be socialized and conditioned to properly react—or not react—to smells, sounds and even certain objects.
Socialization Is a Forever Task
Socialization for a service dog begins very early. At three weeks old, dogs that are to become service animals will begin socializing in protected environments in the home and backyard. It is important not to allow your dog into other situations until he or she has reached 12 weeks old and has had all vaccinations. At this point, it is time to take it to a special obedience school that begins teaching you how to interact and teach it all the special skills it will need. Training for a service dog remains intensive throughout the first two years and should be reviewed periodically after that, because dogs experience personality changes as they age much like humans do. If you are not raising your dog from birth, be sure the person you purchase it from has been socializing it, lest you risk one who is deemed unacceptable as a service companion due to a lack of social skills.
Socialization With Different People and Animals
As you work on socializing your service dog, you should expose him or her to as many different people as possible. Your dog should meet newborns, toddlers, school-age children, teenagers, adults and the elderly. These people should be various heights, weights, genders and ethnicities and should even have different hair colors and lengths. Some dogs react to hats or other outerwear, so focus on coats, scarves and other head or face coverings. Introduce animals in the same fashion. Include dogs of all breeds and sizes, cats, rodents, birds, reptiles and farm animals.
Introducing Smells, Sounds and Objects
Smells and sounds are of special importance and should always be introduced long before going into public. Play tapes of sounds that normally frighten dogs such as thunder, loud trucks and fireworks. Introduce various types of food smells, including dog food that is not his or her brand, as well as a wide range of other odors and aromas. It is also important to teach your animal about different objects such as vacuums and balloons.
Going Public With Your Dog
As you begin to take your service dog on outings with you, it is important to socialize him or her in a variety of situations. Take your dog to pet stores, children’s birthday parties, festivals, concerts, parks and nature trails in addition to more traditional outings like the grocery store or a restaurant. Be sure to introduce him or her to a variety of surfaces as well. For example, some dogs become scared of gravel, slippery surfaces or puddles. They are often scared of metal grates because they can see through them and fear falling. Your dog should be introduced to as many different surfaces as possible.
Once your dog is well socialized, you can take him or her almost anywhere you like under protection of federal law. Although you should register a service dog, it is not required to show proof as long as the dog is wearing a harness and vest and is not being disruptive. USA Service Dog Registry provides affordable service dog certification services.