What is Socialization?

The term “social­iza­tion” has sev­eral def­i­n­i­tions depend­ing on whom you are tak­ing to and what that person’s back­ground is.

When dog own­ers speak about “social­iza­tion,” they gen­er­ally mean they want their puppy to get along with peo­ple and other dogs.

Dog train­ers along with some cer­ti­fied ani­mal behav­ior­ists and vet­eri­nary behav­ior­ists have a dif­fer­ent def­i­n­i­tion of social­iza­tion which encom­passes expo­sure to dif­fer­ent peo­ple, ani­mals, loca­tions, and stim­uli includ­ing all the five senses.

The def­i­n­i­tion of “social­iza­tion” for ani­mal behav­ior­ists is how an ani­mal learns to inter­act socially with ani­mals of its own species.

Social­iz­ing” is ani­mal to ani­mal, two liv­ing beings.  How­ever, in the realm of dog­dom, the terms “social­iz­ing” and “habit­u­at­ing” have been lumped together under the term “social­iza­tion” for such a long time that it’s dif­fi­cult for many of us to sep­a­rate them now – we are using the terms col­lo­qui­ally even though our use is tech­ni­cally incor­rect.  I think where the over­lap stemmed from is that Scott and Fuller said that three to twelve weeks is a crit­i­cal social­iza­tion period.  They were talk­ing about dogs.

Later research was done on whether habit­u­a­tion to the envi­ron­ment needed to occur dur­ing the same period.  In sev­eral sub­se­quent arti­cles by many authors, both the terms of “social­iza­tion” and “habit­u­a­tion” were used sep­a­rately.  At some point, the terms seemed to have mor­phed together so that “social­iza­tion” included habit­u­a­tion (which is another term hav­ing sev­eral mean­ings depend­ing on the source; but for our pur­poses here, it means get­ting used to something).

To fur­ther muddy the waters, many peo­ple con­fuse “social­iza­tion” with “behav­ior mod­i­fi­ca­tion.”  The time for social­iza­tion is when the intro­duc­tion such as hear­ing thun­der, meet­ing another dog, see­ing a per­son with a beard, etc. hap­pens while he is a puppy with empha­sis on before the onset of the fear period.  Behav­ior mod­i­fi­ca­tion is his learn­ing to adapt after this time.

We are going to marry the tech­ni­cal with the col­lo­quial and talk about a puppy’s being com­fort­able around any­thing new before he is 16 weeks old – includ­ing humans, other ani­mals, and the sights, smells, sounds, and loca­tions of every­day life – and, yes, that does lump together “social­iza­tion” and “habit­u­at­ing,” but we talk about them separately.

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