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"Needs socialized"

Do you ever see posts for various rescue or shelter dogs with description that says "needs socialized," "takes a little while to warm up," "shy with kids," "need to be the only dog in the house," "needs to learn some manners," and wonder what that means?

These phrases are coded language that remind me of real estate ads. Think about a house or an apartment that's advertised as one of these things- cozy, quaint, lovingly maintained, handyman special. We can translate those once we've had an experience or two renting or buying a home. Cozy means small, quaint means dated, lovingly maintained means no updates since forever, handyman special means there's some work to be done, and how!

Let's walk through some of the coded language in rescue or shelter ads. I find this language much more serious because when you go check out a home, you can quickly see for yourself what the situation is, but a dog is not always easy to assess. The dog may be stressed in a shelter situation or happy in a foster home that is far different from your home. It can be quite tricky to know what a dog will be like in your home in 3 days, 3 weeks, or 3 months.

"Needs socialized"- this one drives me crazy. Unless we are talking about a very young puppy, the socialization window has passed, so I suspect they mean this dog doesn't really like other dogs. An undersocialized dog will require more than just exposure to things he hasn't seen before, and "socializing" doesn't mean just going out and meeting some other dogs in a social setting the way it does for humans. It's likely you will need to understand how to properly introduce your dog to things at a careful distance, at low intensity, and paired with delicious food to help him feel more confident. This process can range widely from quick and easy to a lifelong effort depending on just how undersocialized a dog is, and what his genetic predisposition is to feel nervous or confident.

"Takes a little while to warm up"- this dog is not going to run up and greet you at your first meeting, or maybe even your 3rd. It's likely this dog does not trust people quickly or at all. I love these dogs and love teaching them that they now live in a safe space with trustworthy people, but they are not necessarily suited to homes with young children, lots of visitors, or families who like to take their dog out and about.

"Shy with kids" - this dog may think kids are scary as heck. Fair enough, some of them are. Kids are erratic, they make funny noises, they move fast, and sometimes they want to show their dogs love with hugs and kisses that dogs tend not to enjoy. My advice if you have kids or grandkids, or might during the lifetime of the dog, is to find a dog that wags all over, body and tail, when they see kids.

"Needs to be the only dog in the house" - this dog may guard resources or just not get along well with other dogs. That can be due to past negative experiences or lack of early socialization. Most dogs get a bit more selective with age, too. If the dog guards resources, dig a little deeper. Some dogs will guard items /food / spaces /people from humans and cats, too!

"Needs to learn some manners"- this dog acts like a dog, not like a dog who has lived with humans. I would expect anything from jumping to counter surfing to pulling like a freight train on leash and be prepared to put in the time to teach.

There are surely many more of these coded phrases out there. I am certain the people writing the ads mean well; they want to find the best homes for these dogs. However, I think being as clear and forthright as possible without sugar coating things is the key to placing and keeping a dog in a home. If you have seen any ads that you aren't too sure about, let me know and I will help you figure out what questions to ask and what to look for when you meet the dog.

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