How to Socialize Your Dog

Mix of Dogs

Have you ever noticed that some dogs get along very well with humans and with other dogs, while other animals simply are not very sociable at all? While genetics play a much larger role in these behaviors that many give them credit for, it also has to do with behaviors they acquired on a daily basis from puppyhood on up. Owners can actively influence those behaviors in a major way by engaging in activities to promote more social behavior from your dog. Below are listed some recommendations which you should pursue if you really want your dog to be accepting, and maybe even enjoy the presence of humans and other dogs.

Daily walks

Daily walks are essential for all dogs, but can be particularly helpful to acclimate your dog to other people and animals. If your pet sits home inside the house all day, or even out in the yard and doesn’t interact with any other living creatures, it typically will be over-the-top excited, or fearful and nervous when it comes in contact with others. When you take your dog out for a daily walk, it will help the animal become much more comfortable with the world around it, and all the people which inhabit that world. It’s a good idea to vary your route on these daily walks, so that your pet gets exposed to a number of different people, and to other animals in the neighborhood.

Mix things up

It’s best if you expose your dog to a number of different people, including both adults and children. If your dog is only exposed to a single person like yourself, it’s very likely to become really excitable when in contact with any other individuals. It never hurts to have multiple people walk the dog on different days to widen your dog’s horizons. On those occasions where your dog seems to be scared or skittish about something, try not to make a big deal out of it, be matter of fact rather than coddling them or totally removing them from the experience because that is likely to make things worse.  They will not build confidence or learn anything if you just remove them and avoid the situation. A word of caution…exposing a dog to a variety of people and situations does not mean FORCING them to be petted by a stranger or to sit in the middle of a situation that terrifies them. Ease into situations and exposures and praise your pup for good behavior and building tolerance.

Get started early

Start socializing your dog at a young age, ideally between three and 12 weeks. When you begin your socializing program, you should make a point of exposing your dog to unfamiliar people, to different types of clothing, different sounds and smells and to different environments in your area. It’s also a good idea to familiarize your dog with different types of vehicles, different neighborhood objects like bicycles and strollers, and other kinds of pets which may be out and about, like cats and other dogs. If you wait until your dog is older than four months, it will become much more difficult to socialize your dog, especially if they are nervous.  Don’t let them hide behind you or run away. Move a further distance from the source that is bothering them, reward for good behavior and slowly with closer with successes.

Keep treats on hand

The majority of dogs are only too eager to be accommodating if you happen to have their favorite treat or toy on hand, so you would be well advised to stock up for those occasions when you need them. For instance, if your dog has a stressful encounter with some other person or pet while out on a walk, give them a treat or toy, as a reward for good behaviors and as a way to break their focus on the “shiny objects”, and that will likely help your pet forget the unpleasant encounter to concentrate on something they like and get conditioned to the new situation. Don’t get carried away with this for a couple of reasons.  First, keep in mind that anything you give your dog in the way of a snack is excess calories, and you’ll have to subtract that at the dog’s mealtime. Secondly, make sure you are not rewarding your dog for an undesirable behavior. For example, don’t just shove treats into their mouth when they are barking uncontrollably at another dog or person. Lure them to turn their focus on you and reward for that shift.

Use caution

This is more a common sense recommendation than anything else, and it just means that you should ensure that another party is friendly before arranging a meet-and-greet with your dog. Learn to recognize your dog’s signs of discomfort or anxiety, so that you can avoid trauma to your dog for life from a harmful or stressful situation. 

Conclusion

You can make a huge impact on helping your dog to become more social, especially if you begin behavior training at a very young age. One of the most important things you can do is take your dog on daily walks around the neighborhood, to outdoor parks and venues and mix up the environment that it gets exposed to, so it can become familiar with more things. Whenever it looks like things might be getting a little out of hand, be a good leader to your dog, step a little farther away from the stressor, use a treat, toy, trick, etc., to pull attention back to you and then reward your pup for focusing on YOU and tolerating the other thing that initially was a stressor.  With a little patience and proper leadership and guidance, you can improve your dog’s acceptance and tolerance of humans and other animals in their environment.

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