Socialization is one of the most important things you can do with your dog when you first bring them home. It helps them become a happy and confident dog in the future, ready to deal with any new experiences, people and pets they come across.
Socialization doesn’t just mean taking them to the dog park and letting them loose, though. Some outgoing dogs may love the opportunity to make 20 BFFs (best furry friends) at once, but for most dogs, socialization needs to be a slow and steady process — especially if they shows signs of antisocial behavior. If you’re wondering “How do I socialize my dog?” this article will provide some tips for you, as well as some general information about dog socialization.
How to Socialize Dogs While They’re Young
The best time to socialize your dog is when they’re a puppy between 3 weeks and 4 months of age. At this age they’re ready to brave the world and conquer anything in their path. It’s important to let them experience as many things as possible during this time so that they’re not afraid when they encounter those things as an adult. If your dog is older than four months (including an adult), you should still socialize them, but they may need to take the introductions a little slower.
In our blog about socializing your puppy, we’ve created a socialization checklist of some of the experiences you can introduce your puppy (or adult dog) to. You can print or download the checklist and mark off each experience as you go.
Aggressive Dog Behavior Needs Professional Training
It’s important to know that if your dog becomes anxious or stressed during a social encounter, it could cause them to become defensive and possibly aggressive. If your dog shows signs of aggression (e.g., growling, snarling, baring teeth or standing at full height with a stiff, tall tail), you shouldn’t try socializing them yourself. Consult your veterinarian, an animal behaviorist or a certified animal trainer so they can advise you on how to socialize an aggressive dog safely.
What Are the Signs of Antisocial Behavior in Dogs?
Dogs who are antisocial are not fans of meeting anyone new — people, dogs or other animals. They are often shy or fearful and will avoid meeting new friends. In severe cases, they can be reactive toward anyone they don’t know. It’s important to know the signs of antisocial behavior and stress in dogs so you can tell when they’re not comfortable in a social setting and remove them from the situation.
When socializing your dog, go slow, at their pace and don’t overwhelm them (avoid the dog park for sure). Provide lots of positive reinforcement when they don’t show fearful behaviors around a new dog or person, but be prepared to cut the session short if it becomes too much for them.
Why Is My Dog Scared of People?
There can be many reasons why your dog is fearful of people. If your dog is a rescue, they may have been abused during their previous life and now have a hard time trusting people. They may have experienced a traumatic event, and when they come across people who remind them of that event, they’re afraid it’s going to happen again. If your dog wasn’t socialized as a puppy, they may not have come across kids before and the mini versions of people scare them.
It is possible to train a dog that is fearful of people and help them to start liking and trusting humans. Lots of positive reinforcement when they don’t show fearful behaviors around people is important, as well as starting at a distance and gradually getting closer. Make sure you don’t force interactions, and ask people to keep their distance until your dog gets used to them.
A severe fear of people can lead to defensive and aggressive behaviors which could mean bites. As we mentioned above, if your dog is showing aggressive behaviors, don’t try to socialize your dog yourself. Consult your veterinarian, an animal behaviorist or a certified professional trainer.
How to Introduce Your Dog to Your Kitten
Introducing your new kitten to your dog can be a little intimidating for everyone, including you. But it doesn’t have to be if you take it slow and give everyone time to get used to each other.
Wait until your kitten is comfortable in their new surroundings before trying to introduce your dog. Then take the process in steps. First, sniffs under the door. Then, nose-to-nose meetings with a see-through barrier in between and then close-up interactions while your dog is on a leash. Hopefully your cat and dog will become friends, but if not, slowly introducing them to each other may prevent them from becoming mortal enemies.
Can Dogs Talk to Each Other?
When humans socialize with each other, it typically involves alternating noises coming from each person (i.e., talking). So when dogs make noises, are they “talking” to each other?
The sounds dogs make, like growls, whines, howls, yelps and low-pitched barks, are a form of communication and do mean something to dogs. So yes, dogs can “talk” to each other, but body language, not vocalizations, is the main method of communication that dogs use. For example, loose and relaxed postures with a slightly raised tail doing big wags means they’re happy and playful. In contrast, standing at full height, leaning forward and a stiff tall tail doing quick wags is projecting dominance or aggression.
Are My Dogs Playing or Fighting?
Playtime for dogs usually involves some sort of roughhousing that can look like they’re fighting. Dogs give each other signals to know what’s play and what’s real, but it might not be obvious to humans. So how can you tell when it’s all fun and games and when a misplaced nip has escalated into a fight?
Some of the signs that dogs are playing happily include relaxed and bouncy bodies, plenty of play bows, role switching, pauses and play bites. It’s important to know what social play looks like, to help you know when play is escalating into something serious so you can step in before a fight ensues.
Socializing your dog isn’t something you can do over a weekend. It’s supposed to be a long process so that your dog can encounter and become comfortable with many different experiences at their own pace. This will help them become confident about exploring new things and meeting new doggy and people friends in the future.
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