When you first welcome a new puppy into your family, you understand that socialization is critical to her mental and emotional development. But, as she finishes puppy class and reaches adulthood, you may find her socialization falling to the wayside. There are no new class sign-ups or puppy playdates, as all her friends from puppy school have also grown up. Now, your older pup now follows the same path around the block each day, and you cross the street to avoid strange dogs or people on your route.
Unfortunately, the thinking that only puppies require socialization is a huge misconception in the canine behavior world. All pets should undergo lifelong socialization and experience new environments, to promote mental stimulation, and reduce anxiety and stress. To understand the importance of ongoing socialization and activity for a pet’s mental and physical health and well-being, read the following story about a few of our beloved canine patients.
The story of the four canine musketeers
In our neighborhood, some streets end at the Lake Pontchartrain levee, allowing no traffic through these dead-end areas. With no vehicles whizzing past, this spot is perfect for playdates for children and dogs alike.
Four dog owners lived next to each other on one of these dead-end streets—the ideal setup for their four large dogs. The best of friends, the four pooches romped for hours after their owners returned home from work, and let them out to play each evening. During their playdates, they explored the neighboring homes, and splashed in the pool at one dog’s home.
One day, the pool owner packed up the family and the dog, and moved away, and the pool became off-limits. The four amigos became the three musketeers, who could no longer enjoy their daily swim in nice weather.
The three dogs continued to play each day, but then Brew tore his cranial cruciate ligament, and required surgical repair. Similar to an ACL tear in a human athlete, Brew suffered from instability in his rear leg, and was stuck inside for six weeks to recover from surgery, when he could only mope, as he watched his friends through the window as they played outside.
A year after Brew’s recovery, he tore the ligament in his other knee, and again needed surgery. Six more weeks of being confined indoors followed while he stared miserably out the window at his pals.
Life went on and the dogs grew older. Wally developed diabetes, and now requires insulin injections twice daily, but he still wants to hang out with his doggy friends, although he plays more slowly. Despite the passing time, the three canine companions are still the best of friends, and plan to remain that way until the end of their days.
How important continued socialization and activity is for your pet
This heartwarming story of four best friends shows how deeply dogs can form bonds, which can fulfill and enrich their lives. As busy individuals, you can be challenged to spend as much time exercising and playing with your dog as you—or she—would like. But, by engaging in regular socialization through doggy playdates with friends, your pooch will be mentally and physically stimulated, which will help her stay happy and healthy.
Remember the adage, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” Your pet needs routine exercise and socialization, to continually use her mind and body for overall health and well-being, or she may fall into a vicious cycle of inactivity and stress-induced behaviors. Keep your dog mentally and physically active to reduce stress, anxiety, obesity, and a variety of other disorders by following these tips:
- Join — Enroll your dog in a doggy daycare or playgroup multiple times per week. Research facilities carefully before signing up, and choose a program that places your dog with other dogs with similar play styles, to avoid conflict.
- Entertain — Invite your friends over to entertain your dog. People outside the core household are much more interesting to your dog, especially if they bring a friendly canine companion along for a playdate.
- Explore — Discover new walking routes or hiking trails that offer unique scents for your pooch to sniff. Look for places with unusual textures, sounds, and sights, such as playgrounds with various equipment and cushioned surfaces. Exploring new areas will help condition your dog to relax in unfamiliar surroundings, while providing mental stimulation.
Without lifelong exposure to new situations and surroundings, your dog may suffer from anxiety when faced with novel experiences. Accustom your dog in a positive fashion to different, unfamiliar scents, sounds, sights, people, and pets, to reduce stress, provide environmental enrichment, and create a happier dog. The additional exercise from seeking out new activities will help keep your pooch in tip-top shape, reducing pressure on her joints from excess weight.
Ensure your four-legged friend is all set to socialize by scheduling an appointment with the Animal Medical and Surgical Hospital team, to update her vaccinations, and for a physical exam.