Socialization is the process of teaching a dog how to behave well in a human world. Socialization is important for any pet but it's especially critical for Chow Chows!
Chows are natural watchdogs. They're suspicious of strangers. This is an instinctive quality of the breed. It doesn't have to be taught. Without socialization, a Chow may become so suspicious that he won't let anyone touch him. He might even become aggressive. Most of the stories you hear about "vicious" Chows were inspired by unsocialized dogs.
Socialization should start as soon as the puppy is born. A good breeder lays a foundation for good behavior by handling the puppies every day. As they grow, the breeder allows them to go outside, to play and explore their new world. The pups are introduced to a dog crate and housebreaking. The breeder has merely started the socialization process. Now it's up to you to go on from there.
To a puppy, everything in the world is brand new. He's never seen any of this before! Try to remember his perspective as you teach him what's expected of him. Dogs learn from positive and negative experiences. They learn fastest from positive experiences. You'll get best results if you make it easy and rewarding for the puppy to do what you want. It helps to have patience and a good sense of humor.
Throughout his life, your Chow will need grooming and medical exams so the first thing a Chow puppy must learn is to allow himself to be handled and touched all over his body. Several times a day, pick up your puppy and put him on his back in your lap or on the floor. He'll probably struggle to get away so rub his tummy and talk to him until he relaxes. Run your hands all over him - down his legs, play with his toes, feel his ears, lift his lips to look at his teeth, scratch his back, etc. He might nip your fingers in play and wriggle all around while he's getting his "massage". It's important that you make these sessions enjoyable but not let it turn into a wrestling or tug of war game. Have everyone in your household handle the puppy like this every day. Gradually increase the length of time the puppy must lie quietly until he'll lie there to be massaged as long as you want. Introduce a brush during some of these sessions and make the brushing feel good.
Chows can be reluctant to meet new people and need to be taught to tolerate strangers. Many Chow puppies enjoy people they meet and want to be petted. Others don't. Some puppies learn to like it but a few never do. It really doesn't matter how your puppy feels about it, though. The most important thing is that he learn to tolerate being handled because you want him to. Without this training, visits to the vet clinic, groomer or boarding kennel will always be difficult or even impossible.
When a visitor wants to pet your puppy, pick him up and put him in the person's arms. Shy or frightened puppies often do better when picked up than if the person approaches them on the ground. Both of you should talk to him in a happy, cheerful voice. Have your visitor offer him some of his favorite treats. If your pup is frightened or upset, ignore it. Chows can put on a great show of disgust or misery when they're forced to do something they don't want to. Don't use a sympathetic, comforting voice or baby the puppy - "There, there, puppy, it's okay. Don't be scared." - because it backfires. The puppy usually responds by acting worse. Make your puppy feel more secure by being confident and enthusiastic. Be gentle but firm.
Some kennel clubs, vet clinics and animal shelters offer "puppy kindergarten" classes. Created especially to help with socialization, these classes are great opportunities for both you and the puppy. They're fun, too! Be cautious about places that provide “puppy play groups”, though. These groups need to be more than just throwing a variety of puppies together in a pen and letting them interact. They need to be supervised by an experienced handler who can recognize when puppies are being bullied or intimidated and take appropriate actions.
Your puppy especially needs socialization in the outside world. As soon as he can be taught to walk on leash and has had his puppy shots, take him everywhere with you. Let him investigate everything. If he's afraid or confused, find a spot for the two of you to just sit and watch things go by. Bring along some of his favorite treats and toys. Let him check things out at his own pace and encourage him with a happy, confident voice. For some puppies, it might only take a few minutes for them to get comfortable in a new environment. For others, you might be making several of these "watch and relax" stops throughout the course of a walk.
When you take your Chow puppy to the veterinarian, be positive but firm. In order to work efficiently, the vet needs your dog's cooperation. No vet likes to work with a growling dog that's not under its owner's control. Encourage your puppy to stand quietly on the table. Keep gentle control over his head.
When your puppy is old enough, 4-6 months, you can start him in obedience class! Even the most well-behaved Chow puppy needs to learn to obey commands. Classes are meant to teach you to train your dog; they're fun and they offer plenty of socialization opportunities for your Chow. Your veterinarian or the AKC (http://akc.org) can refer you to local training clubs that offer group classes at convenient times and reasonable rates.
Socialization with other dogs: The Chow is not a "pack" breed. Most of them are fairly solitary and may not enjoy the company of other dogs except those in their own household. Puppy kindergarten and obedience classes are good socialization opportunities. You can teach a Chow to be a gentleman around other dogs when he's under your control, but off leash is another story. Many Chows will fight when given the opportunity and should not be off leash around other people's dogs.
Some Chows are "born" socialized but most of them require some form of socialization throughout their lives. Like obedience training, it's an ongoing process. Once your Chow has grown up, keep taking him with you whenever possible. If left at home too long, out of sight of the real world, your Chow can quickly forget how he's supposed to act. Give him plenty of socialization refresher courses. Let him meet new people and make new friends. There'll be plenty of people wanting to admire your beautiful dog and you'll probably make some new friends, too!
Written by Vicki DeGruy, Thunderhill Chow Chows
and published by the Wisconsin Chow Chow Club, Inc.
Contact the club for permission to reprint.