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Since the year 2007 I've been arranging weekly dog socialization meetings. During these classes dogs meet each other inside an enclosed area. The purpose of these meetings is developing the dog social skills, anticipate any problem and help the dog showing troubles in the interaction with other dogs.

It's the same thing people do when they want to develop their own dog social skills: they make their own dog meet with other dogs, either on a leash or without leash. My experience with socialization classes changed my approach and my procedures. A dog doesn't choose to meet other dogs. It's our call, therefore it's our responsibility to always act and care for our dog wellbeing.

- Socializing doesn't just mean to make a dog meet other dogs; it means to provide the dog with a "toolbox" to cope and effectively communicate with other dogs. This is the reason why we choose dogs to interaction not according to age, breed or gender, but according to personality, skills and relational capacity. To me there are no dogs with a special ability; all dogs can learn and all dogs can teach.

- All behaviors the dog shows, each interaction must be the dog choice. Dogs shouldn't be required to interaction, intervene or behave at command. The purpose of the socialization classes is not to control the dog, but to allow him to express himself and be well. All dogs must be protected in the same way.

- In the socialization classes the dog owner doesn't act as a bystander; he and his dog are part of a family unit, part of a social group. The owner must be able to understand his dog behavior, emotional condition and motivations and must be able to provide useful, effective and consistent information. He must communicate with his dog using his look, his voice and his gestures; he is allowed to communicate with the other dogs in the area. One of the very purposes of the socialization classes is developing an effective communication between dog and owner, a better mutual agreement and a better mutual confidence.

- The owner should not act against his dog or call him off, stop him or inhibit him. On the contrary, it is most important to pay your dog your attention, show approval, consideration, support and use, whenever necessary, effective coping strategies. A dog learns to rely on the owner only when the latter is aware of the emotional condition of his dog and can understand his dog signals and answer properly; only when the owner feels confident and stays on his dog side.

- There are no social barriers between dog and people: all the people present take part to the interaction. The dog interacts with all the actors on the scene: his owner, the other dogs, the other dogs owners and the bystanders. Each of these interactions has a meaning and a value.

- If you have to stop your dog, either calling him off or throwing either water or other objects at him, using either a spray collar or other ways or strategies, the dog behavior is not wrong: the context is wrong. If the dog is in the proper context, you don't need to stop his behaving or stop the dog himself, even if he communicate by means of aggressive signals. Dogs use aggressive communication as part of their social communication standard repertoire. The dog has to be free to show his emotional condition, his motivations and his personality.

- Physical barriers such as a fence, a gate and a leash can be useful to help and protect the dog during interactions. Gentle Team has developed a safe procedure based on the use a safe area, a pen that helps the dog manage the emotional stress arising from interaction. Dogs ask to go out or go in this safe area.

- You should muzzle your dog just during the assessment and during the first steps of the interaction, if you believe your dog may be dangerous. The need of a muzzle means a poor knowledge of your dog and that you trust him insufficiently.

- The result of a proper socialization is a dog able to show his personality yet maintaining an emotional balance; a dog that communicates effectively, developing the relationship and the communication with his owner. Finally it means providing the dog the experiences and the instruments to improve his wellbeing.

Pictures and videos of the Ethograms were realized mostly during the Gentle Team socialization classes.

Text and video Alexa Capra

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