Rescuing a dog from a shelter is one of the absolute best ways to truly help an animal in need. Over 3 million dogs end up in shelters across the U.S. each year, and sadly, about 670,000 of them are euthanized.
Adopting or rescuing a dog isn’t always an easy process, but there’s certainly no need to think it can’t be done. While dogs in shelters sometimes come out with socialization problems, there are safe and effective ways to overcome them.
Tread down the path to rehabilitation armed with knowledge, confidence and persistence. A rewarding life for both you and your dog will be waiting on the other end.
The Importance of Socialization in Dogs
By instinct, dogs are social animals. They enjoy being in the company of other dogs, and also they love being with people and exploring the world around them.
When a dog is taken away from their family, whether human or animal, their entire demeanor often changes. They might lose their spunk and perhaps become fearful of other dogs, people and animals.
When dogs experience fear, they might cower in a corner while shaking uncontrollably. They might attack what’s scaring them, out of self-defense or a need to defend their people. They might bark uncontrollably or pee on the floor. Put simply, a scared dog is not a happy dog, and proper socialization plays a huge role in counteracting their fear.
Why? Because a dog who hasn’t been properly exposed to the world around them doesn’t understand the difference between good and bad.
If they’ve never seen another dog, for example, when introduced to one for the first time, they won’t instinctively know whether to run or rejoice. Likewise, if a dog has never been around children, women or men, when faced with the new experience, they won’t know how to interpret the situation.
Socialization isn’t just about making new friends. It’s about understanding the world and knowing the difference between good and bad.
Steps to Socializing
Socialization happens the moment you leave the shelter. Making your dog comfortable and giving them a routine are the very first steps.
1. Prepare Your Home
Be prepared ahead of time: Have food, water, toys, beds and any medications your new dog needs on hand. Once you have everything set up and ready to go, bring your dog home and introduce them to a space that’s already theirs to share. Give them time. Never force anything new on them.
Start following a set routine with bathroom breaks, exercise and meals. Get them acquainted with their new life and comfortable with what to expect throughout the day.
2. Introduce Them to Friends
When you see your dog relax in their new surroundings, start introducing them to other people.
Invite friends over for a pup meet-and-greet, but do some prep work ahead of time:
- Remind your friends to stay calm and refrain from any excited noises or movements.
- Encourage them to let your dog make the first move and only pet when it’s clear your dog is comfortable.
- Provide treats or positive reinforcement when your dog approaches a new person or stays calm during the process. This will remind them that meeting new people is a good thing, and good, social behavior will be rewarded.
- Most importantly, stay patient. Give your dog time to become comfortable with new people in the home.
3. Introduce Them to Other Dogs
It’s equally as important to introduce your dog to other animals. After all, you should be able to take your dog out for a walk without them growling at other 4-legged strangers along the way. Not only that, but also you want him to enjoy a vital part of life, which is being around and playing with other dogs.
Just as you should introduce your dog to humans in a controlled environment, the same holds true for meeting other animals:
- Introduce the dogs to each other in a home, yard or other open space.
- Keep both dogs on a leash, but let the leashes drag on the ground so the dogs don’t automatically feel threatened.
- Be patient and let the dogs get to know each other on their own. Never force it.
- Stay calm and reward both dogs for good behavior with praise or treats.
4. Keep the Socialization Going
Repeat these same steps with children, larger groups of friends and other animals. The more variety you can introduce into your dog’s life, the less likely he’ll be to react to new situations in negative ways.
Check out what this program does to help socialize dogs before they’re adopted:
Socialization Throughout Their Lives
Once you’ve successfully introduced your dog to friends, other pets and children, keep that momentum going. Enroll in group dog training classes, spend time at your local dog park and take your dog with you on trips to new places. Always reward your dog for positive behavior — and never punish them for being afraid of a new situation.
Undoing years of possible poor socialization can be difficult. Depending on the kind of life your dog lived before adoption, these steps might take days, weeks or months.
Stay patient — keep in mind the kind of trauma or neglect your dog has experienced. Socialization takes time, but with the right mindset, you and your dog should be able to enjoy a fruitful, happy life.
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