Do you want a dog who’s friendly and trustworthy around both people and other dogs? Of course you do! You might think all you need to do is adopt the right breed, and your job is done. But how you care for your canine–and socialization training in particular–plays a big role in how they respond to people and other pooches, especially if you’ve adopted a puppy.
There is a short period in a puppy’s development, from early puppyhood to three or four months of age, when their experiences have a big effect on their entire approach to life. So what happens if you do not socialize your puppy?
Puppies who are not socialized can grow up to be fearful of other dogs, people, and just about anyone and anything outside of their routine—and that fear can lead to aggression. Studies show that poor socialization is a major factor for dogs with aggressive tendencies.
Although puppyhood is the prime time for socialization, it is not the only time. Even a dog who had a thriving social life in their youth can become less friendly over time if they’re isolated during adulthood.
If your adult dog did not get enough socialization growing up, you may still improve their social skills; although, an adult’s personality is more fixed than a puppy’s.
You’ll have to move slowly and cautiously, and if you see signs of aggression or timidness, get help from a professional trainer or behaviorist right away.
How Can You Use Socialization to Raise A Friendly Dog?
If you are considering adopting a puppy, socialization should begin almost immediately after you bring them home.
Ask the shelter or rescue you adopted from for tips on how to start the process. You may also wish to get some recommendations for doggy daycare and obedience classes that will let your pup learn and meet with other people and dogs. These classes are also an excellent way for you to bond with your pup.
Here are a few tips for starting the socialization process with your puppy.
Puppies Should Learn from Mom
Interactions between moms and siblings teach young puppies a lot about getting along with other dogs. If you take your puppy away from their canine family too early, you may do permanent damage to their social skills. This is why puppies must stay with their mother until 8 weeks of age.
Meet New Dogs
Give your dog plenty of positive early experiences with other dogs.
Obedience classes, dog park romps, and playdates with your friends’ dogs will help your pup learn how to get along with other canines.
If you have shelter-in-place orders or the dog parks and canine classes near you have closed, consider fostering an older, more relaxed dog who has more experience. They may provide your puppy with some companionship, but always make sure the dogs meet first and get along.
For puppies, playing with other pups has another, even more important, benefit: it teaches them not to bite humans.
Meet New People
Give your dog plenty of happy experiences with all kinds of people.
If you can, have your dog meet big kids, little kids, running-skipping-yelling kids, tall men in boots, women in hats, and people of every shape, color, and size. If your dog gets regular exposure to humans of all types, especially in puppyhood, they are less likely to be fearful or aggressive.
Experts recommend throwing “puppy parties” to expose a young pup to lots of different people when they are learning how to behave around humans. You can also have your dog make friends with the mail carrier and your neighbors and take them to cafes or to work.
Again, if meeting new people is difficult or unsafe at this time, you may have to get creative. However, this may be a good time to introduce your pup to people wearing gloves and face masks.
It may be hard to socialize during a pandemic or any other situation where there are new dangers. But be responsible and keep up with social distancing when possible while still training your dog.
Make Your Dog A Part of The Family
Almost all dogs want to be a part of their “pack.” You and your family are that pack, so include your dog in as many activities as possible. I regularly take my two dogs with me to run errands. It gives them a chance to see the outside world, and then of course we stop for a puppacino at Starbucks!
It should go without saying, but let your dog live indoors. There are no good “outdoor” dogs. A dog who lives in the home with their human pack all around them will be more comfortable with people and the bustle of the household, and they will be much happier, too.
Expose Them to New Situations
Expose your dog to all kinds of noises and experiences. Skateboards, bicycles, lawn mowers, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, the garbage truck, thunder, fireworks, and the like can frighten a dog who is not used to them.
Nail trimming, being grabbed by the collar, getting touched on the rump or other potential “hot spots,” and having people around their food bowl will not get a warm response either.
The solution is to expose your dog to all these experiences, ideally during puppyhood.
If you have an adult dog, be sure to move slowly and keep the mood positive with food treats to reward them at each step. This works for puppies, too.
Teaching your pup to be dog- and people-friendly is possibly your most important job as a dog parent. It keeps people safe around your dog, and—since aggressive dogs often get put down—it keeps your dog safe around people.
Giving your pup regular exposure to dogs and all kinds of people, especially during puppyhood, results in a more confident, sociable dog.