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Socializing your Dog

Monday, January 22, 2024

Socializing Your Dog

When should I socialize my dog?
The ideal time to socialize your dog is when he is a puppy. That’s not to say that adult dogs can’t be socialized. However, if you are able to socialize your dog as a puppy, it can help him to grow up into a friendly and confident adult.

In the wild, puppies are socialized pretty much from birth. They are raised with the pack, and they learn the verbal and bodily cues from the adults in the group. When living with humans, dogs still get that early socialization in the early weeks from their litter. However, especially if your puppy is adopted out at an early age, they tend to miss out the crucial socialization that their litter and mom provide in those early weeks.

The ideal initial socialization period for a puppy is between 4 and 12 weeks. This is when social skills will be imprinted on them, and they stand to learn the most. Ideally, their interactions with other dogs and humans will be positive. When dogs are not properly socialized during this period, it can affect them as adults.

An adult dog can be socialized just as well as a puppy can. You just have to take proper precautions when introducing adult dogs to other adults. Especially if you got your dog as an adult, you don’t know what experiences your dog has had in his life. However, that doesn’t mean that he can’t meet other dogs and learn to interact with them properly.

Tips when socializing your dog
Especially if your dog is a puppy, make sure that he has the necessary shots. You don’t want him to accidentally get around a sick, unvaccinated dog and get sick as well. However, when your dog has the proper shots, feel free to introduce them to other dogs you know. Still try to steer clear of unknown dogs, as you don’t know if they have been vaccinated or not.

It is important that you make your dog’s socialization positive. Take your dog to a place where he will be able to see other dogs, but not get to them. When a dog comes close (such as on the other side of the fence in a dog park), give your dog a treat to create a positive association with seeing other dogs. If he barks excessively or lunges at them, back up until he is calm. A little excitement is okay. Aggressive behavior is not. Let your dog observe the other dogs, letting him get used to them.

Not only will you have the opportunity to meet more dogs on a daily walk, your dog will be properly exercised and will have the opportunity to get his excess energy out. A tired dog is much more likely to be calm and submissive when meeting other dogs.

If your dog is walking on a leash and pulls when he sees other dogs, don’t automatically jerk the leash towards you and yell at your dog. This can cause your dog to associate other dogs with the negative behavior you just performed. Instead, get your dog’s attention and praise them or give them a small treat when they look at you instead of the other dog. A quick, calm correction is fine. Making a huge deal out of the leash tugging is not.

When you were first learning to swim, you probably weren’t just thrown into the deep end, expected to get it on your first try. You likely took baby steps towards learning how. The same goes for dogs. It isn’t wise to just throw two dogs that have never met each other into the backyard together and say “have fun”.

A good baby step for introducing two dogs is to let them go on a walk together first. Start off by walking across the street from each other in the same direction. Gradually get closer together until they are walking side by side. If they tolerate that well, you can continue letting them spend time together until you let them play off leash. It is wise to let them play somewhere other than where one of them lives. This could lead to one of the dogs potentially thinking he has to guard your home (and his domain). While it might not be convenient for you, taking it a little at a time can go a long way in properly introducing two dogs and getting your dog better socialized.

Watch for negative cues in your dog. A dog likely won’t go straight to growling and baring his teeth. Early discomfort cues can include licking their lips, tongue-flicking, yawning, tail between their legs (or even wagging with some dogs), and excessive panting. If you notice that your dog is showing any of these behaviors, it may be a good idea to take a break and try again later. Remember, a little at a time is a good thing.

​If you aren’t comfortable introducing your dogs to other dogs, or if your dog is displaying aggressive behavior, it may be best to work with a professional dog trainer. Dog training is a great place for your dog to get socialized in a safe and controlled environment.

Bryan Bailey

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Bryan Bailey

CBCC-KA Certified

Bryan Bailey, an acclaimed author, media personality, and expert in canine behavior and training, co-founded Taming the Wild and brings his diverse experience and innovative methods to his role as a mentor and director at The Academy for Canine Behavior and Training.

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