As trainers we are at fault for this, we have spent so much time stressing the need for socialization we forgot to explain what we meant. Socialization means Desensitization. We want a puppy to have positive interactions with a variety of people, dogs, and situations, so he learns to be comfortable or ignore those things as, normal and non-threatening. It doesn't require a "puppy party", just a willingness to take treats to new locations /situations and give the puppy a nice experience when there.
A trainer with a good understanding of canine behaviour will rarely recommend flooding. Flooding is the "sink or swim" method. This method advocates putting a puppy in a large group of other dogs, children, or adults and letting them learn to "deal with it". The common reaction to this method is that the dog is initially frightened, and then eventually gives up trying to escape. A person not educated in dog behavior might see this and assume the puppy has relaxed, or is "calm, submissive". What has actually happened is that the puppy has gone through a mental process called "learned helplessness". He has not desensitized to the environment, but learned that he cannot escape-- he has "shut down". When a dog learns that shutting down is a way of escape, then he is more likely to do this in the future, this is not a happy, socialized dog. This is a dog that has been pushed to the point of a physiological break.
Another common response to flooding is sensitization. The dog becomes more and more panicked until the owner finally relents and removes the dog. The dog has now learned that panicking is what he needs to do to escape and will panic more quickly and more intensely in the future.
Flooding is an unpredictable and dangerous training method that can have serious fallout which can be completely avoided by safer socialization methods.
Here are some ideas for setting up a good socialization routine with your puppy.
Park outside a Veterinary clinic and giving the dog a treat and praise for being quite as other dogs pass by the car, let the dog enter the Vet centre, get weighed, then fussed over by the staff before leaving (no shots or exams).
Take your dog to a local park to see kids on scooters, wheelchairs, games, people, other dogs (all at a safe distance to start with) and get a treat whenever someone passes by. Not only will your puppy learn that these new things are harmless and ignorable, but they will also learn that they can come to you if they are nervous and you will make them feel better (early stages of a recall cue). They will learn appropriate clam behaviours in the situations because that is what you are reinforcing at an early age!
You can even help re-socialize a dog that is fearful using the same technique (and bigger distances to start with).
Submitted by Marika Bell, WHS Director of Behavior and Training