The pure wolf is a highly sensitive creature who learns from a single source and tends to be neophobic - afraid of any new experience or something out of the ordinary. They tend to be less forgiving than our domestic dogs and consequently if you make one mistake with a wolf you may very well have to live with it for the rest of the wolf’s life. Unfortunately, many wolfdogs tend to follow their cousin’s lead. Many are very shy and cautious around people and novel situations while others are just stubborn, aloof and independent regardless of the bond forged with them.
In many studies over the last 50 years dog researchers have found that a domestic dog requires very little human contact and handling to reduce his fear of humans as compared to a wolf or wolfdog. In fact, one study in the 1960s (DG Freedman etal) determined that a total of just 90 minutes of contact with humans when the puppy is between 4-8 wks old will result in reduced fear of humans to the point that the puppy will actively seek attention from humans. Because of the wolf or wolfdog’s innate cautious nature they require a much more demanding and concentrated exposure to humans and our entire world. To build a lasting bond and develop a social wolfdog many believe it takes a minimum commitment of 16 hours a day and close to 2000 hours of socialization, handling and imprinting during the first 4 months of a wolfdog’s life to come close to the socialization a dog will reach. Once that initial period is over you still need to work daily to maintain that same level of socialization.
Socialization is not about quantity of experiences. It is the quality of the experiences and the positive associations that impacts the puppies life. With every positive encounter the puppy builds confidence and you successfully shape the puppy’s view of the world.
Basic Rules for Socialization:
Build the Relationship – Think like a Dog
Before you begin any socialization program it is important that you first build a rapport and develop a relationship with your pet as that will be the focal point for everything you do in the future. It is so vital that you understand that the dog views the world from a very different perspective than we do and keep an open line of communication so we know how the dog is feeling and the dog clearly understands what we are asking.
Be Your Dog’s Advocate
Your job as a responsible wolfdog owner is to be your dog’s advocate and to set him up for success. The best way to do this is to protect them early in life from the scary things that this world offers. Take them to places they are capable of handling at that phase of their development and build on those experiences.
Start Slow – Familiarize First
Don’t flood the puppy with too much too fast. Take it slow and keep a safe distance. Let the puppy approach each new experience at his own pace and become familiarized before asking him to interact A get over it or all or nothing attitude has no place in puppy socialization. A fearful experience can have very long lasting negative effects on a wolfdog and you don’t want your puppy to learn that the world is a scary place.
Treats, Treats and More Treats
The whole goal of socialization is to have the puppy make positive associations to new things. So doling out tasty treats while the puppy is experiencing something new is the perfect way to teach him about the world. It can also be the perfect early warning system. A puppy will refuse food when he gets too scared. So if he won’t take treats it is your indicator to back the puppy off to a point where he feels safe again.
While we are on the subject of treats it is also important to know which treats your pet likes the most. For more scary socialization situations you will want to use the highest valued treat. So have a mental checklist of your dog’s 5 favorite foods, and always have at least 3 of them with you during socialization outings.
It has been our experience with wolfdog puppies that the socialization process should begin very early in life. They should begin with general handling exercises, and a combination of touches, massage, sensory stimulation, training and games mixed with building a relationship of love, dignity and respect to optimize the socialization and conditioning of the puppies we raise.
We also feel that no socialization program should just be a checklist or based on how many times the wolfdog was introduced to a situation. Obviously, the more exposure the dog has to a greater number of things the more socialized it will become. But just seeing 100 people walk by is not enough to do anything more than a general familiarization. A good, sound program will look hard at the quality of the socialization and what the animal’s reactions were. It will include familiarizing the wolfdog to a number of different smells, touches, animals, sounds, surfaces, movement, people, places and things.