One of the most important things as a dog owner is knowing how to properly socialize your dog.
Socializing your dog means getting him comfortable with being around other dogs and people, as well as unfamiliar locations, sights, and sounds. Proper socialization allows you and your dog to explore the world together without fear of the unknown.
Unsocialized dogs often display fear in the presence of new people and animals, most times in the form of raised hackles, excessive barking or lunging, or nervousness of loud noises and unfamiliar places. These behaviors are often interpreted as “aggressive,” but this does not deem the dog “aggressive.” This is often the reason that older dogs are overlooked at shelters.
Although it is ideal to have a dog that is well socialized at a young age, all dogs deserve a shot at living a happy life which can easily be achieved with the right person and some training.
Socializing your puppy
I’ll be giving some tips on how to socialize an adult dog, but for now, let’s chat about when we should start working on socialization with puppies. Socialization must be a huge factor in training a young puppy and it’s best to start right away, ideally by 12 weeks of age. Always keep in mind that your puppy should be fully vaccinated before interacting with other dogs and exploring well-trafficked dog areas (dog parks, pet stores, etc).
Here are a few of the main tips that will make the process easier:
Take them on lots of walks so that they have the opportunity to meet other people and dogs, although it would be best to wait until your dog is fully vaccinated to ensure they do not contract any diseases. It is important to allow your puppy to approach other people and dogs at their own pace, forcing them to interact when they are scared could end in a traumatic situation for your puppy.
Avoid dog parks as this can be very overwhelming for your puppy and it isn’t safe to interact with dogs with unknown vaccine history.
Introducing your puppy to children is another very important aspect of socializing. Children can be very overwhelming for a new puppy because they are often very loud and their movements are often unpredictable. Be sure not to allow the children to scare the puppy by picking it up or playing too rough, being around them often will help get your puppy used to their crazy antics.
Desensitize your puppy by playing with their ears, paws, and even their mouth. This will make things a lot easier at their annual vet visits once they are adults as these acts won’t be as scary for them.
Puppy socialization classes are a great tool to use once your pup has been fully vaccinated. These are typically offered at pet stores, but you can likely find specific training facilities around your city as well.
socializing your adult dog
Now let’s get back to socializing adult dogs that may have had a rough start to life. Although a lot of the tips are the same, they need to be altered to ensure this is done as safely as possible for everyone involved. Remember that if you are struggling to train your adult dog, reaching out to an animal behaviorist or professional dog trainer is a valuable tool as they will be able to assess the situation and provide you with a training plan specifically for your dog.
Here are some tips to try at home:
Take lots of walks around your neighborhood, trying different routes each time if possible. This alone allows your dog to see different places and things without being overwhelmed.
Basket muzzles are really helpful tools that ensure the safety of yourself and others. Don’t let the stigma around them deter you from using one. Your dog is still able to enjoy treats and drink water through them, so it is not harmful in any way! The best way to use a basket muzzle is to first train your dog to wear one by providing a lot of positive reinforcement during application and wear. Doing so will make sure that they feel comfortable anytime they are wearing it.
Avoid dog parks. Just as with puppies, these environments can be extremely overwhelming for some dogs and may not end in a great experience.
Introduce other dogs through a fence. This provides a barrier between the dogs and can make both the dogs and owners feel much safer. If the dogs react positively, you can slowly introduce the dogs face to face. Make sure to read your dog’s cues to ensure they are feeling comfortable and safe.
Have new people approach slowly and offer treats. Do not force your dog to interact with anyone they do not feel comfortable with. Offering treats can sometimes help them warm up to a new person, especially for our food-motivated friends.
No matter how you look at it, proper socialization is key when it comes to training your puppy or adult dog. Many dog fights or scuffles can be attributed to one (or both) of the dogs not being properly socialized. These dogs don’t know how to react to a situation that is uncomfortable for them which often triggers their flight or fight reflex, the more concerning one being the fight reflex.
Stay vigilant and pick up on your dog’s cues quickly to avoid dangerous situations. Remember to never insert yourself into the middle of a dog fight. Even if your dog has never bitten you before, they don’t realize who you are or what you’re trying to do during a situation like that. They will attempt to protect themselves at any cost, including potentially harming you. The best way to avoid these situations is to make sure you and your dog are prepared for them.
need more help?
Training classes are such a wonderful tool to take advantage of, so if you are having trouble with socializing your dog, I urge you to reach out to a professional dog trainer! Let’s do right by our dogs and make sure they feel as safe as possible in our crazy world!