The following is an excerpt from "The Complete Guide to Rhodesian Ridgebacks" by Tarah Schwartz. For more information visit the books Amazon Page.
Author Credit: Tarah Schwartz
Importance of Good Socialization
Proper socialization is important for several reasons. First, taking a well-socialized dog into new situations will put a minimal amount of stress on her. Properly socialized dogs are confident and used to encountering new people, places, and animals. Even if she’s a little nervous, a well socialized dog is more likely to look to you for reassurance, rather than panic. Second, it ensures that your dog leaves a positive impression on people no matter where you take her. She will be an ambassador for the breed and even people who have never met a Rhodesian Ridgeback will fall in love with the breed. Finally, good socialization is essential to your Rhodesian Ridgeback’s overall happiness because it means that she can spend more time with you. She will be able to accompany you while running errands, and even to work if you work in a dog-friendly environment. You’re also more likely to take a well-behaved dog with you on vacation than you are a fearful, panicky dog that overreacts to new situations. The mental stimulation your dog gets from socialization and going new places will keep her happy. Making new friends and playing with them will also keep her fit.
Good socialization is as simple as exposing your Rhodesian Ridgeback to positive experiences with new people, places, and animals. While it’s best to socialize puppies while they’re young, socialization can be done at any age. Use caution in any situation that you feel could overwhelm your dog or leave a negative impression on him. If a dog’s first exposure to something new causes fear, he may remember that feeling and you’ll then need to work on overcoming his fear, rather than progressing in his socialization. For example, dog parks might seem like a fun place to socialize your dog, but very few owners keep a close eye on their dog’s body language and situations can escalate quickly. Carol Vesely of Northstar Rhodesian Ridgebacks advises, “Socialize your puppy only in controlled environments where you know the other animals and their owners.” Even if your dog is not injured, even the smallest scuffle could damage your dog’s confidence around strange dogs or people.
Introduce your dog to new situations slowly. Set up a few playdates with friends or family members who have dogs or children. Introduce her to one animal or person at a time and be sure to give her a little space if she seems unsure. Pushing your dog to socialize faster than she’s ready can cause her to react to new situations with anxiety.
Behavior Around Other Dogs
Rhodesian Ridgebacks are confident, fun-loving dogs, but they can be wary of strange dogs if they haven’t been properly socialized. Most Ridgebacks are happy to make new friends, but it’s important to keep an eye on your dog’s body language during all interactions with other dogs, especially if those dogs are significantly smaller. Rhodesian Ridgebacks are big dogs with powerful jaws, and they can do a lot of damage to a dog of any size, so it’s crucial to prevent fights. If your dog has a tendency to display aggressive behavior around other dogs, don’t be afraid to consult a professional trainer or behaviorist if necessary. The sooner aggressive behavior is corrected, the less likely your dog is to be involved in a serious fight.
When introducing two dogs, remember that a wagging tail doesn’t always mean a dog is happy. Understanding canine body language is key to preventing aggressive behavior. Friendly dogs will approach each other with a relaxed posture and wagging tails. They will sniff each other with interest, but not in an intense manner. They may then go into a playful pose, or simply part ways. Unfriendly dogs will be more tense in their body language. They will hold their heads high and stiff, and although they may be wagging their tails, the rest of their body will be tense. More aggressive dogs may also growl or show their teeth. Fearful dogs may lick their lips or lower their heads in submission. They will cower and tuck their tail between their legs. If a dog is displaying fearful behavior, don’t be fooled into thinking there’s no chance of a fight. Fear can easily escalate into aggression, especially if the other dog pushes the fearful dog’s boundaries. If your Ridgeback or the dog you are introducing to him shows anything but friendly body language, you may want to reconsider the introduction or allow the dogs more space before trying again.
Your own body language can also impact how your dog reacts during introductions. If you are fearful or stressed, you may be tensing your body or tightly gripping the leash. Your dog will sense your tension and may think that you know something he doesn’t. The more relaxed you are, the more likely it is that your dog will approach other dogs as potential friends rather than possible enemies. Even if you’re unsure of a situation, remain calm and confident to influence your dog to do the same.
Ways to Socialize Your Rhodesian Ridgeback with Other Pets
Exposing your Rhodesian Ridgeback to a variety of other pets, even if he’s the only animal in your home, will make him a more self-assured companion. You’ll be able to take him anywhere without fear of him showing fear or aggression toward other animals. Some Rhodesian Ridgebacks have a high prey drive, so they may take more time to adjust to smaller animals such as cats. Many Ridgebacks live comfortably in multi-pet households or even farms, but it does take time and consistency for them to adapt to living safely with other animals. Remember, as sweet as your dog may be, dogs are predators and caution must be taken when introducing them to other animals. Take your time and don’t push your dog or the other pet further than they are comfortable with. If either animal displays fearful or aggressive body language, discontinue the introduction immediately and give the animals some space.
Regardless of whether you are introducing your Rhodesian Ridgeback to a hamster or a horse, it’s important to keep all animals restrained for their own safety. This way, if anything should go wrong, you can control the animals and separate them quickly if necessary. It can also be helpful to introduce your dog to new animals in neutral territory. Some Ridgebacks can be quite territorial, so introductions should be done in an area that is not frequented by your dog. This will also help prevent the other animal from feeling like it should defend its territory against your Ridgeback.
Until you are certain that you can predict your Ridgeback’s behavior around other animals, you must never leave her unsupervised with other pets. You may need to watch your dog’s interactions for several weeks or even months before you feel comfortable leaving her alone with certain animals. Some dogs may not ever be trustworthy around smaller animals such as rabbits or domestic rodents. In the case of larger animals, such as livestock, both puppies and adult dogs can be severely injured or even killed. Ridgebacks can be quite fearless and can also injure or kill animals larger than themselves if they become afraid or aggressive toward other animals. Use your best judgment to determine when and if you can trust your dog to be left alone with other animals.
Properly Greeting New People
With proper socialization Rhodesian Ridgebacks are confident and friendly dogs. However, they can be somewhat reserved around strangers if they haven’t been taught that new people are potential new friends. Teaching your Ridgeback to properly greet strangers is key to making progress toward having a well-socialized dog. If you have a timid puppy or an adult who hasn’t been socialized much, you may need to introduce strangers slowly and methodically. Some dogs may be particularly afraid of men or children and may need extra time dedicated to those types of introductions. It’s important to introduce your dog to as many different types of people as possible to get him used to the realities of life among humans. The bigger the variety of people you can introduce to your dog, the less likely he is to have a negative reaction toward strangers and the more confident he will be while accompanying you in your daily life.
The best way to introduce your dog to new people is to allow her to approach them on her own. Shoving her toward strangers or pulling her toward them on a leash is likely to create tension and anxiety, setting the introduction up for failure. If your Ridgeback seems uncomfortable, ask the new people to let her sniff them for a bit before they try to pet her. Reaching out toward a fearful dog can cause her to lash out to try and defend herself. If your dog is on the other end of the spectrum and is quite enthusiastic about meeting new people, you may need to work on keeping her calm. Most people don’t enjoy having dogs jump on their laps and lick their face in greeting, so you need to teach your dog to greet people calmly and respectfully. Keeping your dog on a leash during introductions will help you control her. Ask your dog to sit politely before allowing the new people to pet her. It may take a few repetitions for your dog to learn that she must sit quietly before she can say hello, but eventually she will learn that she can only get the attention of new people by patiently waiting for them to greet her first.
If your dog seems fearful when meeting new people, it’s crucial that you do not comfort him during this time. Comforting a fearful dog will not give him confidence, it will only reassure him that he needs to be worried about the situation. Instead, you may need to correct him for growling or barking. You can also try to distract your dog by asking him to sit or focus on you. You can have the new person offer him treats to encourage him to approach. Remember to use plenty of positive reinforcement when your Ridgeback behaves appropriately.
Rhodesian Ridgebacks and Children
Children and dogs can be ideal companions, but a lot of preparation and supervision must be dedicated to their interaction in the beginning to ensure a safe and friendly relationship. Rhodesian Ridgebacks are large dogs and can easily knock over or accidently injure a child, especially a toddler. Care must also be taken to educate children on the proper way to interact with dogs. Some dogs do not respond well to roughhousing or heavy-handed affection, so supervision is essential to keep everyone safe and comfortable.
Prior to introducing your Rhodesian Ridgeback to your children, you need to have a conversation with the kids about the proper way to handle a dog. If you wait until the actual introduction to have this discussion, you may find that the kids are too overwhelmed by the presence of the adorable dog to listen to you. Younger children may not understand that they are hurting the dog by tugging on his ears or tail and the dog may respond with fear or aggression. You must explain to the kids that they should be gentle with the dog and treat him with respect. They should not try to climb on adult dogs or try to pick up puppies. Once you are confident that they understand the rules of interacting with a dog, then you can introduce them to their new family member.
Kids and puppies can be easily overwhelmed with the excitement of the first introduction, so it’s important that you go slowly and supervise the interaction closely. Be prepared to correct the behavior of both the children and the dog if necessary. If things get out of control, you can always ask everyone to take a break and try again later. You may need to do several short sessions before everyone is calm enough to interact responsibly. Be sure to use plenty of positive reinforcement and praise both the children and the dog when they play calmly and appropriately. If your dog displays any signs of fear, you may need to have the children try to hand him a few treats to encourage him to interact.
Under no circumstances should you leave your children and your new dog unattended during the first few weeks or even months together. Accidents can happen in the blink of an eye and only proper supervision can prevent a tragedy. Most of the time, injuries are purely accidental, but the more excited and rambunctious everyone gets, the more likely it is that it will end in injury. To prevent the kids or dog from getting hurt, it’s best to keep an eye on everyone until you can trust that they can play together safely.
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