Dogs are pack animals and pre-programmed to need other dogs. Early socialization with other dogs is a pivotal step in development. Before you begin socializing your dog, you must be able to recognize their signals.
Dogs will show you their emotions through their actions. Socialization is important, but you must avoid pushing your dog into an uncomfortable situation. If your dog shows any of these signals, please remove them immediately.
When your dog is afraid or stressed, they might:
- Tuck their tail
- Growl or bark
- Avoid eye contact
- Raise their hackles
- Licking lips.
Conversely, your dog can also show signs of happiness and playfulness.
When around people and other dogs, your dog may:
- Calm tail wag
- Open their mouth with a relaxed tongue
- Play bows (front legs stretched out, rear end in the air)
- Bounce or spin
With these behaviors, your dog is happy to be in their current situation. They also feel safe and comfortable. If your dog is playing with dogs of varying sizes, monitor the play to ensure it is manageable. You do not want a smaller dog injured during good play. Generally speaking, puppies enter all new situations with excitement. However, if you see your young dog showing anxiety, introduce them to others more slowly.
Your dog will show these behaviors with humans and other animals. It is essential to learn to recognize your dog’s signals before you start more extensive socialization training.
Choosing the Right Socialization Environment
When faced with a new situation, your dog will feed off other dogs and the environment. It is best to start with calm dogs of a similar size. Additionally, choose an environment with limited outside stimuli.
Organized Play Dates
An organized play date is the best way to introduce your dog to socialization. In this setting, your dog will be in their home (or another dog’s home) with limited outside triggers. This is the best way to control the environment around your dog.
You will need friends with dogs to achieve this socialization training. Before the play date, ensure the environment is safe for dogs. Additionally, all dogs should be up-to-date on their vaccines.
Do not leave the dogs alone, especially in the early days of socialization. Finally, you can introduce the scents of the new dogs before the actual introduction.
Dog parks are a popular place for people to take their dogs. Unfortunately, dog parks can be dangerous for your dog to socialize. Because the specific dogs at the dog park are constantly changing, the environment is different every day. Your dog is entering a new pack and trying to figure out where they stand in the group daily. This can be incredibly stressful for your dog. If your dog is prone to anxiety, dog parks will often exacerbate the issue.
Doggy Day Care
Doggy daycare is an excellent choice if you have a busy life. Not only will your dog get plenty of controlled socialization with dog experts, but they will also get plenty of play and exercise time. Choose a reputable facility that puts your dog's safety above all else. All reputable doggy daycares will make vaccines mandatory.
Introducing Your Dog to Others
Now that we have chosen the environment, you must introduce your dog to other dogs. Dog socialization comes in stages, from the first meeting and beyond. Remember that your dog needs socialization; one bad experience should not stop you from trying again.
When possible, choose a neutral location. Start with one new dog. Always perform the first meeting with both dogs on leash. This will allow you to control the situation if there is an adverse reaction. To start, walk the dogs parallel to each other with plenty of space. If the dogs appear to be neutral, you can gradually reduce the space until you are walking side-by-side.
This might be as far as you get that day. Continue meeting up for side-by-side walks until the dogs are entirely neutral together. Once the dogs are comfortable and you are in a safe, fenced-in environment, you can allow them to interact off-leash.
During all dog socialization, you must monitor your dog’s behaviors. If your dog ever seems stressed or uncomfortable, remove them from the situation. You will also want to protect your dog from aggression. Licking lips, showing the white of their eyes, or excessive panting can all be signs of stress or nervousness.
Correcting Negative Behavior
Sometimes, it will be your dog with the aggression or negative behavior. If you notice the signs early enough, a redirection or a firm “no” will usually end the action. If your dog responds appropriately, provide a reward to reinforce the behavior.
Maintaining Social Skills
The best way to keep good socialization habits is to continue regular socialization. As your dog shows signs of comfort during socialization, you can expand his world to other dogs, people, and environments.
With a well-socialized dog, you can visit stores and restaurants and hike. Even with a well-socialized dog, they may become anxious in a situation. Be aware of his feelings and perform regular check-ins.
If you start your dog’s socialization early, they will become comfortable quickly without an adverse history.
Another way to socialize your dog is to invite friends and family over to interact with your dog. This allows your dog to become comfortable with different people and learn how to interact with them appropriately.
Dealing with Setbacks
Setbacks can happen with socialization, just like any other type of training. Negative experiences, illnesses, or new environments can cause your dog to react poorly.
Taking a break for socialization is okay, but not stepping away for too long. Exhibit calm emotions with your dog. It is always okay to start back at the beginning.
Never punish your dog for showing you that he is afraid. Contact a local trainer or veterinarian if the fear or aggression becomes extreme. There may be an underlying cause.