Socializing your dog is an often-overlooked aspect of training that, when neglected, can have long-term repercussions for you, your dog and others you encounter. In essence, socializing your dog should happen when they are very young and should be an integral part of their training from the start.
With socialization, you teach your dog how to behave around other dogs, people and animals. Dogs who have been properly socialized have few issues with other animals in public, but animals with little to no socialization can have a very difficult time coping with meeting new people and other animals.
“Socializing can help many fearful dogs get past their issues,” says Peggy O. Swager, author of Rescue Your Dog From Fear. “Conversely, the lack of socializing can create a fearful dog and can lead to behavior issues.”
Dogs who have not been socialized (or not socialized enough) often display anxiety when confronted with a new situation, person or animal. Anxiety can manifest in a variety of ways:
This is tough to watch happen, particularly when you’re not sure how to help. The best way to help your dog cope with new environmental factors is to socialize them from a young age.
Unsocialized dogs may display aggressive tendencies, sometimes with disastrous consequences. To a dog, where they live and who they live with are their possessions, and they will defend them should another animal encroach on their territory. This is hardwired into their DNA, and it’s up to us to teach them a better way of handling these encounters.
Unfortunately, aggression can ultimately result in a death — whether to your dog or to another animal — which then may lead to the euthanization of your pet — and hot water for you. “The extent of liability being visited upon negligent and indifferent dog owners is escalating yearly,” says Mary Belle Brazil-Adelman in The German Shepherd Dog Handbook. “There is no longer a ‘first bite’ exemption and both fines and jail time are appearing with greater frequency as a result of the behavior of unsocialized dogs.”
Your dog may not display anxious or aggressive behaviors, but they may be difficult to handle. New places and things cause such stimulation that they cannot be controlled, even on a leash, and they end up walking you. This type of behavior means that they will be hard to handle (if not impossible) at the groomer’s, the vet’s and any other pet-friendly area.
Proper socialization and training your dog how to behave in new places and around new people will greatly alleviate any issues you may face out in public.
Socialization training isn’t as hard as it sounds. When your dog is young (or for older dogs, when you bring them into your home), expose them to new people, places and things at every available opportunity. Let people know that you’re training your dog — many will be more than happy to help out.
Have family and friends stop by the house periodically so your dog can learn how to behave when a new person enters “their” territory. Then, set it up so people approach you while you’re out and about. Gradually work your way up to new places, new animals and new experiences. Each encounter will help your dog learn how to respond to every situation with aplomb.
Watch this jumpy dog find her footing in a social setting:
Please don’t do these things when working on socialization training with your pup:
- Strike, scream or yell at, or otherwise intimidate them. By doing so, you’re simply teaching them not to trust you and to be afraid of you.
- Force them into new situations before they’re ready. Some dogs will take to socialization like a duck to water; others need more time with each experience to feel comfortable. Proceed at your dog’s pace.
- Ignore warning signs: excessive salivation, shivering, submissive posture, etc. They will tell you when they have had enough and you need to take a break.
When it comes to socialization and your dog, Brazil-Adelman says it best: “Present each new learning experience in a positive manner that will be easy for the young dog to learn, and you will have an adult dog that can face each new challenge with strength, determination, and confidence.”