Socializing a dog can be difficult, especially if they did not get to interact with others much when they were a puppy. Just like people, some dogs are naturally social while others are shy. There are a few ways you can help your dog find success when they interact with other dogs or with people they don’t know. Here’s what you can do:
1. Get your dog out and about
Once your dog has learned decent leash behavior, make sure you are getting them out there on a scheduled, hopefully daily basis. Take them on different routes through your neighborhood, to various parks, or even walk them through urban areas. The key is to get them in a variety of situations, being around other animals, people, and sensory experiences. This will not do it on its own, but it is an important step in teaching a dog that the unfamiliar does not have to be a bad thing.
2. Keep treats handy
Socializing a dog is a learned, trainable behavior, and the easiest way to train a dog is through their stomach. Make sure that you have a handy supply of training treats when you are in situations with your pooch where you know they will be interacting with others. Reward your dog after they go through a meet and greet with polite behavior (no jumping, growling, anything other behavior you desire from your dog). Do NOT scold them if they behave the wrong way; this will confuse them and complicate your message. Your dog will pick up quickly what it needs to do to get its reward.
3. Talk to people about how to interact with your dog
Social interaction is a two way street; make sure any new people meeting your dog help reinforce the message you’re trying to enforce. Especially when dealing with kids, make sure they know how to approach properly - palm down, let the dog sniff first, don’t make eye contact, and pet where the dog can see your hands (chest and chin are good bets) - to achieve the best success. I always let people know that my dog is shy when they approach. That way, if she backs off, they tend to leave her be.
4. Keep socialization relatively short, especially at first
When your dog is just starting out, don’t overdo it with socialization. Think about a toddler: when they start to get worn out, practically everything becomes a chore, especially things they aren’t already comfortable with. Many dogs will start in unfamiliar situations just fine, but, if they stay in it too long, they grow increasingly upset that they are stuck in it. Make sure you get the dog out of the unfamiliar situation before they reach that point, and reward them for doing such a good job once you are both on your way.
Even if your canine companion missed out on socialization as a puppy, it’s not too late. With patience and consistent training, they can learn to mix and mingle with the best of them. Stay tuned to our newsletter for more tips on how to make the most out of your relationship with your dog.