People often compliment owners for their dog’s disposition or behavior. They’ll say the owner is lucky to have such a well-rounded, stable dog who gets along well with everyone and everything. But well-behaved dogs aren’t the result of luck or accident. Training and ongoing socialization are crucial to creating well-behaved, happy dogs.
While it’s true that some breeds are more mellow and easy-going than others, all dogs need early and ongoing socialization.
As dog owners or potential dog owners, we cannot underestimate the value of ongoing socialization.
Important benefits of socialization
Socialization is about more than just allowing your dog to be friendly when at the dog park or around other dogs. It’s about getting them used to seeing new people, places, things, and animals without fear or anxiety.
Here are a few of the many benefits of ongoing socialization:
- Helps Ease Anxiety – Dogs or puppies who are not adequately socialized are often fearful and anxious. A dog that’s been socialized from a young age will feel less anxiety around new things and people.
- Builds Confidence – When a dog is well socialized, she develops good behavior and becomes a well-rounded dog. With each new interaction, the dog goes through, she develops more confidence, which makes her easier to train and more eager to learn.
- Promotes a Healthier Dog – A dog that spends most of her time alone seldom gets enough exercise, playtime, or even outdoor time. And all are necessary for a healthy and happy dog. The saying “a tired dog is a happy dog” is true. The more time spent socializing with other dogs and people; the happier and healthier the dog will be. Well-socialized dogs spend less time stressing out and more time burning energy having fun.
- Makes a Happier Dog – Dogs have excellent memories, and they are creatures of habit. When they make new friends and get to play with them regularly, they’re happy. This happiness follows them home from an outing and has them looking forward to the next one.
Critical periods for socialization
Ongoing socialization is essential for any dog. There are always going to be new experiences, strange situations, and people for the dog to meet. And there are specific periods of their lives when exposing them to these unknowns are much more critical.
The first period usually occurs somewhere from 12 to 16 weeks. During this phase, puppies’ brains are in total absorption mode, and they are just as fearful as they are inquisitive. It’s imperative to take extra care when introducing them to new things at this stage. Too much too soon, or a frightening situation (like a door catching their tail), can affect them for the rest of their lives. A similar period usually happens again when they’re about six months old.
Following a socialization checklist can help guide you along this journey of preparing your puppy for her life ahead.
Promote ongoing socialization
Socialization is so essential for a dog’s well-being, health, and happiness. It’s not something that should start when the dog is an adult.
It needs to start at a young age and continue throughout the dog’s entire life. Dogs are no different from humans in that aspect. We continually make new friends and acquaintances, and each of these interactions is a learning experience.
Here are some ways to promote constant socialization.
Take the dog on regular walks. The more you take your dog for walks, the more exposure he’ll get to new people, animals, smells, sounds, and sights. Regular walks also strengthen the bond between the two of you. If the dog does bark or pulls on the leash, distract him with a treat or something he likes. Don’t scold the dog or call attention to the negative behavior.
Introduce new family members and friends one at a time. Don’t overwhelm the dog by inviting many new people to your home to meet the dog. Let him get used to one new person before introducing another. Allow them to feed the dog treats. Do not force the issue if the dog acts anxious or fearful.
Always act normal and stay calm. Dogs pick up on their owner’s feelings. If the dog thinks you’re frightened or anxious, he will behave the same way.
Make the dog earn a trip to the dog park. Few things make a dog happier than the dog park where he can play with other dogs. Start by walking him around and just letting him watch from the outside. When he acts friendly and happy, give him a treat. If not, move him away and try the next day. Don’t bring him into the park until he’s acted appropriately on the outskirts.
Use a muzzle if necessary. If you, as the owner, are not sure what your dog will do, you can bet strangers are even more uncertain. A muzzle may help make others feel more secure and prevent an unfortunate incident from happening if the dog does become aggressive.
Socializing older dogs
When done at an early age and throughout the dog’s life, socialization helps ensure you’ll not only have a well-balanced dog but a much happier one. When done correctly, socializing your dog will not only be fun but also be the best thing you can do for your dog.
Just be cautious and avoid some common socialization mistakes some dog owners make without realizing it.
With so many people choosing to get their dogs from shelters and rescue groups, many people are getting older dogs. While some dogs may be very well adjusted, others may have anxiety issues due to their circumstances and lack of socialization. The good news is that not all is lost.
Socializing an older dog is more challenging, especially if it’s a large breed. But it’s still possible to socialize older dogs.
Use these tips:
- Introduce the dog to others one at a time.
- Do not leave the dog alone with children.
- Always carry treats with you to reward appropriate behavior.
- Lavish the dog with praise.