One of the most important things you can do for your canine companion is to properly train him. Dog training includes not just housebreaking and crate training, but also leash training and proper socialization.
What is socialization? Socialization is vital to your pet’s mental health – and sometimes her physical health as well! Much as we would train a child in proper behavior, we must also do the same for our fur babies. Socialization is getting dogs accustomed to people outside the immediate family as well as teaching them how to behave with other dogs and various types of pets, such as cats.
Socializing your dog is really not a difficult task; it is more dependent upon consistency and patience. You should begin socialization from the time you bring your fur baby home; however, adult dogs can also be socialized properly, although it may require more of that consistency and patience than if he was still a pup! We’ll take a look at socializing both puppies and adult dogs.
Socializing a Puppy
Think of socializing a puppy the same as you would a child. As soon as a child is old enough, we begin teaching them how to interact with others— how to share toys with other children, how to be polite, and more. The same is true for puppies. When you bring your puppy home, hopefully at between eight to ten weeks of age, you can begin teaching her how you expect her to act in various situations. A dog socialized as a puppy will be well behaved in most situations.
Socializing Your Puppy to Humans
Some dogs are naturally “one-person” dogs. This is true of breeds such as the Dachshund or the Chihuahua. However, you can teach a puppy how to be more accepting of humans both in his immediate family and outside of the family.
One way you can do this is to take daily walks with your puppy, introducing her to new people along the way. Now, before we begin discussing this topic, let me make this clear – you should NOT take a puppy out for walks until she has had her vaccinations for parvovirus (this should be complete around sixteen weeks of age). Parvo, as it is commonly called, lives on the ground and virtually nothing can kill the virus (not even extreme heat or cold!). However, once your puppy has been immunized, you can take her out for daily walks and enjoy the socialization that takes place during said walks.
When you take your puppy out for a walk, you are exposing him to the world around him. Not only will you have an opportunity to teach him about vehicles zooming by, but you will undoubtedly encounter a few friendly human faces who would love to pet your pup. This is a great- and easy- way to socialize your pup to the world and strangers in a low-pressure manner.
It’s also a good idea to swap up your walking route every once in a while. Remember, your goal is to expose your puppy to various people, places, and things. You want your dog to interact with both a variety of humans and, hopefully, other dogs who are out and about on your daily stroll.
A few guidelines for taking your pup on a socialization stroll
Keep her close to you
When strangers ask to pet your dog, make sure they keep their hands where the dog can see them. Give your dog a treat for positive behavior.
How can I socialize a puppy that hasn’t completed his vaccinations?
Experts tell us that the “sweet spot” for socializing a puppy is between three and twelve weeks. The good news is there are many other ways to socialize a puppy aside from the daily walk.
Expose the puppy to different people
This is where you can enlist your friends to come by and interact with your pup. It is especially important to get friends who have children to come by and have some playtime with the puppy, especially if you do not have children in the home. A word of caution, however— make sure the children are old enough to handle the puppy properly, and never leave children unattended with your young pup.
Socialize your dog by encouraging other friends or family members of various ages to come by and spend some time with him
The key here is to expose your puppy to different types of people— young and old, quiet and talkative, calm and peppy.
Expose your puppy to unfamiliar objects
This is one type of socialization you can do all by yourself, no help necessary! You’ll want to expose your puppy to clothing that you might not wear routinely – rain jackets, coats or hoodies, and hats. You even want to get them used to you or others wearing sunglasses!
When it comes to jackets, hoodies, and overcoats, take the time to put these items on and let your puppy see you wearing the clothing. Some trainers even take the jackets off and will let the puppy smell the clothing, and they may rub the clothing against the dog in order to get them accustomed to these items. Take your dog’s lead on this. Always speak calmly to your dog, and, if the puppy seems really scared of a jacket or hat, be careful in how you press when touching your pup with these items.
It is also a good idea to touch your puppy a great deal during the three to twelve-week period. This is especially important in dogs that will be groomed on a regular basis. Rub her ears; pick up her paws and handle them while you speak calmly to the dog. You’ll also want to get her used to people handling her head and tail. You can also begin regularly brushing or combing your puppy’s fur in order to socialize her into being touched.
A great place to take your dog for socialization is the dog park if there is one in your area. If not, plan a doggy date with friends who have dogs in order to get your dog used to not only being around other dogs but also how a dog should behave at the dog park (or a regular park).
Other things that you’ll want to include in your journey to proper socialization
Get your puppy accustomed to things they’ll see as they go on walks with you— park benches, strollers, and even bicycles. Take your dog for a stroll on the beach or near bodies of water if possible.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t discuss socializing your pup with other animals. Many times, your dog will encounter other types of animals. You may have cats or other types of pets in your home. For you, socialization with these pets will be easy as the puppy will simply learn to live with them (in other words, she knows the cat or another pet is a part of her family). However, if the puppy is your sole pet when you bring her home, then make an effort to expose her to cats as a puppy. You never know when you may wish to add a pet to your household, and it’s always a good idea to expose puppies to other animals, just in case.
Socializing Adult Dogs
Socialization for the older dog includes much of the same training. You’re going to need a few more doses of patience, and remember, consistency is the main ingredient for successful training.
Daily walks in order to carry out socialization are recommended for older dogs just as they are for puppies
Expose your adult doggie to new people, sounds, sights, and a variety of people. The key to correcting negative behavior – barking or reacting with other undesirable behavior – is to turn and walk in a different direction. Allow them time to calm down before resuming your walk.
Enlist your friends and family to come over and interact with your adult dog
Remind them to keep their hands where the dog can see them when petting the adult dog; watch for potential warning signs that your dog is uncomfortable such as growling or shying away from the new person. Encourage your friends to have treats available for good behavior and positive associations. Have people of all ages come over for a visit, including friends with children of various ages. It is extremely important, however, that these children have experience with dogs and know how to interact properly with a dog.
It is a good idea to have your friends over and to interact with your older dog not only in the living room but even in your family’s backyard. Ask your friends to interact through play with your older dog so that they learn how to behave around different people.
Experts recommend the dog park for the ultimate socialization for your dog
No local dog park? Then get some friends with dogs (bonus points if you’ve had these dogs over to interact with Fido prior to the “play date”) to meet you at your local park. Walk your dog around the park by herself at first, then bring the other dogs over and allow them to “say hello.” Remember to give your dog treats for positive reinforcement. The reward will form positive associations.
Keep in mind that this is a big step for older dogs. If you notice that your dog seems apprehensive or even reacts somewhat aggressively, then it might be a good idea to try again another day. In the meantime, you can enlist your friends to bring their fur babies by your home – it’s a place where your dog is already comfortable; they will be more ready to accept this type of socialization in a place they are already accustomed to.
If your dog seems ready to play at the park, then allow her to do so. Stay close by just in case, but if the dog is having a positive experience, then let them have fun while they learn.
Surprisingly, you will need to make sure you yourself are calm and promoting positive behavior. Remember, your dog can and will pick up on your emotions. If you are apprehensive when meeting friends at the park or introducing your pup to the dog park, she will pick up on this and it can influence how she reacts to the situation. In fact, you may want to act as if all these new situations are commonplace and “no big deal.” Your dog will be calmer and less anxious if you exhibit a confident attitude.
If you feel you aren’t equipped to properly socialize your pet yourself, then do not hesitate to hire a certified dog trainer to assist in this manner. You can also take your older dog to a “doggie daycare” where normally a professional trainer is there, ready and willing to help you socialize your older dog.
Socialization is part of dog training and is highly important to your dog’s overall happiness. With a little time and patience, you can properly socialize your dog so that he grows to be a happy and confident pup.