You may bring home a newborn puppy or adopt an adult dog. In either case, socializing a dog is important. It leads to the dogs being well-adjusted, obedient, healthy, and easier to groom and handle.
Ideally, the first three months of a puppy’s life are vital to socialization. As the puppy is still growing, they are more receptive to your teachings and are open to new experiences.
So what can you do when you bring home a 6-month-old puppy? Or a fully grown adult dog? It is understandable for you to question, is it too late to socialize my dog? What techniques can I use to train my dog?
Let us get into the article to understand different aspects of dog socialization, benefits, methods, and mistakes to avoid during the process.
- What Does Socialization Mean in Dogs?
- Is It Important to Socialize Dogs?
- What Signs Do Under Socialized Dogs Show?
- When Are Dogs Typically Socialized?
- Is it Too Late to Socialize My Dog?
- How to Socialize Your Dog?
- What Mistakes to Avoid When Socializing the Dog?
What Does Socialization Mean in Dogs?
If we look at the meaning of the term socialization, it states that it is the process of learning the norms, behaviors, skills, and values required to function in society.
Puppies also need to be taught how to behave in society. For example, how the puppies should behave in the company of other dogs and humans. Or what is acceptable behavior when they have children around.
So basically, you are exposing the puppy to new situations early on. Exposing them to different sounds and smells and introducing them to other dogs and humans can help.
The type of experience they have, behaviors they learn, and bonds they form will have an impact on their later life. For example, if the puppy has a good time at the groomer, they will be happy to visit the groomer in the future as well. But in case of a bad experience, the dog may grow fearful or aggressive when taken to the groomers.
Is It Important to Socialize Dogs?
Yes, socialization is important in dogs. The process will help them navigate through their daily lives. Apart from behavior, it will also promote healthy living among dogs.
Let us look at the reasons why it is crucial to socialize dogs.
1. Develop Confidence
Positive reinforcements, activities, training, and rewards will help build your dog’s overall experience. For example, your neighbor or a friend walks through the door. You can give the dog a reward when it does not charge toward the person or cower in its hiding place.
This small interaction over time will build the dog’s confidence. It will not be afraid to meet people.
2. Manage New Situations Better
Dogs that are socialized are likely to adapt better. This is because they have been exposed to new experiences, and you have worked on building their confidence.
For example, you have moved houses. Now, this is a complete change in the dog’s routine. It will take some time to adjust, but a socialized dog will be open to learning and establishing new routines. On the other hand, an under-socialized dog will be fearful and anxious about the whole move.
3. Physically and Mentally Healthy Dogs
Well-socialized dogs will like to go out and play around with their human family and other furry friends. Activities such as playing, exercising, and being in the company of other animals are good for the dog. They will be physically healthy and mentally stimulated.
There are several causes why a dog can get stressed or anxious. But the chances of a well-socialized dog developing anxiety are less.
4. The Dog Will be Easier to Look After
If your dog is well-behaved around adults, children, other dogs, and pets, it will be easier for you to handle them in social situations. Activities such as going to the groomers or vet, taking the dog to a park, or a doggy daycare would be easier. Of course, you will still have to watch their interactions.
5. You Can Add Pets to Your Family
A socialized dog would be open to having new pets around. It could be another puppy or even a cat. Yes, dogs and cats are seen as mortal enemies. But, with proper training, you can both pets can live harmoniously under the same roof.
What Signs Do Under Socialized Dogs Show?
A dog’s experiences during the first 12 weeks on if its life can influence its behavior in the later years. It can affect how the dog behaves in new situations. For example, under-socialized dogs often show signs of social anxiety, fearfulness, and aggression.
Here are some traits that under-socialized dogs may display.
- Fearfulness: Anything unfamiliar can instill fear in such dogs. For example, a new person entering the house, or sudden crinkling of a bag of chips, or a door shutting because of the wind outside. The dog will not investigate, be curious or even approach the situation. It will be too scared to do so.
- Aggression: The dog may get aggressive if you push it into uncomfortable situations. Its aggression could be stemming from fear. It could be the dog’s way of protecting itself in unfamiliar situations. For example, if the dog is scared of other animals, it may react aggressively when another dog enters the house.
- Difficult to Handle: If you have friends over, the dog will always have to be on a leash or kept holed up in a different room. Grooming can get challenging, as it may not let you clip its nails or brush its teeth. In addition, visiting a dog park may be an overwhelming experience for the dog and you.
Other visible signs observed in under-socialized dogs are cowering, hiding, uncontrollable drooling, peeing or pooping, and whining.
When Are Dogs Typically Socialized?
The primary socialization is the time when dogs develop bonds with their own and other species. It can have both positive and negative experiences. And these experiences determine the dog’s behavior and interactions.
The ideal period for socialization begins at the age of 3 weeks. By 12 weeks, the early socialization window starts diminishing. 6 to 8 weeks is considered the peak period for this process. Post the eight weeks mark, the puppy might start developing fears.
Socialization, though, is a continuous process. The puppy should still be around other animals and humans so it can practice what it has learned. If the puppy does not get a chance to use its social skills, its fears might get the best of it as it grows up.
Is it Too Late to Socialize My Dog?
We all are familiar with the phrase that an old dog cannot learn new tricks. But, you can safely assume that is not true. Your dog does not stop learning; it is a life-long process. So, yes, it will take time and patience from your end. The socialization process can even get challenging, though it sure is possible with training, positive reinforcements, rewards, and a little love.
So, is it too late to socialize my dog? We say no. It is never too late to socialize your dog.
Dogs are always interacting with their environment, trying to make sense of what is happening around them. They are curious by nature. You can use this curious nature to your advantage.
In fact, it can be easier to train older dogs because they can focus for longer periods, unlike a puppy that can run away from training at the mere sound of a passing car.
Socializing an adult dog can be challenging because it already possesses learned behaviors. It may have developed undesired habits and have a set pattern of reacting to certain stimuli. However, the dog can learn to leave undesired behaviors behind and adopt healthier alternatives with consistent training.
How to Socialize Your Dog?
Let us go through some techniques that can help socialize an adult dog.
1. Take the Dog Out for Daily Walks
So, you have brought home an older puppy or adult dog. Going out for walks is a simple and effective way of bonding with the pet. However, always keep the dog on the leash. You do not want it running away at the sound of a loud horn.
When out on a walk, the dog sees new people and animals, hears new sounds, and gets exposed to new smells. Daily walks can help build a routine, and the constant exposure to new things can make the dog less fearful.
Avoid crowded streets for a walk. A night walk would be suitable if the dog is sensitive around humans and does not like loud sounds. A pro tip would be to carry treats around. Your dog does deserve a treat for positive interaction.
2 Introduce Your Friend to the Dog
The dog should first get comfortable around its immediate family. For example, it could be you, your significant other, or a sibling. Once the dog gets comfortable, slowly start introducing it to other people in your life.
Invite a friend over to your house. A setting like your home, where the dog is comfortable, would be ideal. If the dog does not charge or hide from your friend, it remains calm, then give it a treat.
Your friend can then try approaching the dog, sitting nearby, petting it, or giving it a small snack. Treats tell the dog its calm and receptive behavior is appreciated. Using the same approach, you can introduce the dog to new people.
3. Organize a Playdate with Another Adult Dog
Under-socialized dogs can get uncomfortable or even grow fearful in the company of other dogs. A way to overcome this fear would be to introduce your dog to another in a safe and controlled environment.
For example, you can ask your friend, and their dog could join you on your daily walk. Or, if you have a spacious backyard, you can have both the dogs in the same area. It would be best to keep their leashes on first and put some distance between them. Then, you can give the dogs their individual toys to keep them busy.
Monitor their behavior. If your dog is calm, give it a treat. If your dog gets scared, it would be best to step back or remove it from the situation.
Once your dog gets comfortable in the other dog’s presence, you can encourage interactions between the two. Over time you can remove their leashes and extend the time of their playdates.
4. Attend an Obedience Training Class Together
An obedience training class can be a good way of learning new behaviors and also a bonding experience. If the dog is uncomfortable around other dogs, you can talk to the trainer and opt for a smaller batch. Or you could let the trainer know your dog may require extra attention.
In an obedience class, the dog will be focused on learning new tricks and behaviors. There will be no need to interact with other dogs and humans around. But it will still learn to be itself in a social situation.
5. Take the Dog to a Dog Park
Once you have gone through the above steps, it may be time to visit a dog park. Start taking walks around the dog park. For example, you can walk the dog on the outer side of the fence. This way, it can see the other dogs but is well separated from them. Reward its calm behavior.
When the dog is fine on the walks outside the park, you can venture inside the dog park. Initially, maintain distance from other dogs and humans. Keep the visit time short. It will give your dog a chance to see the interaction between other animals.
You can slowly let the dog interact with other animals around. Functioning and even enjoying in a social setting like a dog park can be a confidence booster for your dog.
6. Enroll for a Doggy Daycare
Consider enrolling it in doggy daycare instead of leaving your dog home alone when you are off to work. It can be an excellent place for your dog to practice the social skills it would have gained from the techniques mentioned above.
Doggy daycare can be good for your dog as it will have someone watching over it. This is better than being alone for longer periods. It gets a chance to interact with other animals and make some friends. If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, it would appreciate the company. In addition, it can get its daily dose of physical exercise and be kept busy with activities.
What Mistakes to Avoid When Socializing the Dog?
An under-socialized dog does not behave badly on purpose. If it displays undesired behaviors, it could be because no one taught it any better. It may be habits it picked up as a puppy. It would be best to be patient with your adult dog’s socialization process.
1. Avoid Going Too Fast
New experiences can be scary. Even for us humans, breaking away from routine, trying new foods, or moving to a different city can be daunting. But, slowly, we learn to adjust and form new routines.
The same goes for dogs. They can also get scared when introduced to new sounds, smells, or sights. So, start slow. If they are scared of other dogs, visiting the dog park would not be good. Instead, introduce it to a dog or puppy in a controlled environment, and get it comfortable.
2. Shouting or Punishing the Dog
Please do not yell at your dog or punish them during training. If it is scared, shouting will not make the situation any better. On the other hand, physical punishment can lead to the dog fearing you or developing a fear of particular stimuli such as leashing.
Instead, you can try to distract the pet. When it is in the process of committing an undesired behavior, clap or raise your voice and firmly say no. You can call out the dog’s name and redirect its attention to another toy.
3. Do Not Throw the Dog Into Uncomfortable Situations
Your dog may be fine interacting with your friend’s dog. It may also be fine watching other dogs when out on a walk. A visit to the dog park may seem like the next logical step. But monitor the pet’s behavior. If they are scared or nervous, do not forcefully drag them inside the park. Instead, step back, go home and try another day again.
Is it too late to socialize my dog? No, it is never too late to socialize your dog.
In an ideal scenario, puppies should be socialized before they reach the age of 12 weeks. But socialization is a skill that needs consistent training and practice. So, even if your dog is past 12 weeks or is an adult, you can still work on their social skills.
Techniques such as going out for daily walks, introducing it to other dogs and humans, attending obedience training classes, and enrolling in doggy daycare can help. However, if your dog is not receptive to these techniques, you can seek help from professional trainers.
Heather Abraham is an owner of two dogs, one cat, a leopard gecko, and a parrot (who her dad still cannot teach bad words to), and an avid blogger. From the time she was a young girl, she always felt a connection with pets. She brings her love of every type of pet to you, with information on animal nutrition, medication, toys, beds, and everything else in between. Along with newly-on-board veterinarian DVM editor Elena, she puts pups first while offering other various fun tidbits along the way.