Socializing your dog is important at any age or stage of their lives. Whether you just rescued an adult dog or brought a new puppy home, you should have a socialization plan in place.
Why is it important? It gives our dogs the skills and confidence they need to get maximum enjoyment out of the world around them, and in turn, they can participate in the things their owners also enjoy.
The most ideal time to start socializing with your dog is between 10-16 weeks of age, but of course, we don’t all have that opportunity depending on what age your dog is when they become a part of your family. The good thing is, it’s never too late! At whatever age you start, you’ll need to consider your specific dog, their needs, and meet them exactly where they are at in the process to keep everyone comfortable and safe.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when socializing your dog at any stage of their life:
- Keep it fun! This isn’t Bootcamp. This should be a positive, enjoyable process for both you and your pet! Reward your dog when they are reacting in positive ways to their surroundings. If you are having a family barbecue, and your dog is quietly sitting at a family member’s feet, reward him! If your dog is out on a walk and does not respond to a dog walking by with barking and pulling, reward her! If your dog has a negative reaction, do not punish it. Use that as a learning experience. Perhaps they were pushed beyond their limit and you can consider it for next time
- Start small. This is especially important when socializing with an adult dog. Consider their limits and triggers, and create a starting point with attainable goals in mind. For example, your dog may be nervous around large groups of people. Start with smaller groups of people who will respect your dog’s boundaries. Save the big family barbecue for when you and your dog have reached a point of readiness, and be prepared to give them a break when needed. Study their cues.
- It can be simple. Socialization does not always mean big dog park outings and huge parties. Socialization can be as simple as a walk around the neighborhood. Anything that your dog can experience counts, even if it’s just a car ride to grab a coffee in the drive-through! These are all learning moments and can be treated as such.
- Include the family. Maybe one person in your home is mostly responsible for executing a socialization plan, but everyone should get involved in some way! The more people who can help your dog to feel confident, the better. Switching up their walk handler, or having different family members expose them to things will broaden their horizons.
- Practice makes progress. Notice we didn’t say perfect? Go into socializing with the mindset that your dog will never be “perfect”, meaning you will always have to respect their limits and adjust accordingly. Socialization is a life-long process. It won’t happen overnight, and you should treat each stride you make as a success!
As always, if you are experiencing difficulties when socializing with your dog, call on an expert for help! It is worth the investment to identify your dog’s specific needs and adjust your plan.