Dogs are known for quite a few unmatched characteristics. Dogs are loyal, loving, and most of all, playful! Having a playful pup can actually reduce stress for an owner, and can be very stimulating for the pup themselves. Early on in their life, dogs need to be introduced to playtime and socialization, with dogs and people alike. Don’t worry; we have some basic tips to share when it comes time to socialize your dog. Whether they are a puppy, an adolescent, or on the older side, the results found when you socialize your dog can bring benefits to both your pup and you, so let’s get to it!
As Sociable as Possible, As Soon as Possible!
The best time to begin to socialize your dog is as soon as possible! Especially if your pupper is new to the world, the time they spend socializing early on will help dictate their social skills and habits later on in life. Just like a newborn baby, sensory development in pups is crucial, so everything from sounds to touch to interaction and speaking to your pup can help stimulate their mind and develop their skills!
The socialization and contact of your pupper will be important throughout their whole life! But there is a time period where it is more crucial than ever. Puppies are considered to be in their “sensitive period” of socialization until they are four to five months old. During this time, planning mindful socialization needs to be part of your puppy parenting duties. Many dog trainers suggest that you should socialize your dog for the whole of their first year, which is why we wanted to share many different ways you can mix it up to make socializing a fun activity with your pup!
Start at Home
Before you even put your pup on their dog leash, their socialization training begins. In those first moments together, you can develop your pup’s social skills mostly by touching and cuddling your pup right away. Touch their paws, face, tail, ears, and mouth often. It might seem strange, but if you think about when you meet a new dog, you are afraid to touch it anywhere except maybe its head. By normalizing touching your dog on its paws, face, tail, back, etc., you are teaching your dog that it’s okay to be pet in those areas, reminding them that they aren’t in danger or threatened. You may have heard fellow pet owners talk about how their dogs freak out at the vet, especially getting their nails trimmed or ears checked. By touching your dog right away, those problems are nonexistent, as you have trained your dog to trust humans when they are touching and cuddling!
Introducing to People
Introducing new people to your pup is a big step, so do it in your own time, but often this is easier than introducing new dogs first. If your pup has shown signs that they trust you, such as exposing their belly to you, sleeping on you, or following you around the house, then they are probably ready for some new human friends! It’s important to remember that puppies explore using their mouth, so when you choose their first human friends, make sure it’s someone that is not afraid of a few puppy nips! Invite over a family member, neighbor, or friend who is familiar with dogs and can understand your pup isn’t one-hundred-percent trained yet! Put your pup on the dog leash at first, and make sure the introduction involves something fun, like treats or a game of fetch.
Touch While Eating
Even the most trained dogs have trouble with interference during mealtime. In order to socialize your dog, we have to teach them that situations they might think are scary, or where they feel they need to be defensive, are actually safe. The best way to make sure your pup feels safe and social at all times is by touching them while they eat. Just be ready for some puppy bites! You can start by standing or sitting near your dog while they eat and see what they do. If your dog shows any signs of unrest over your presence, then have some treats on hand to toss into their dog bowl. They’ll start to associate treats with you being near them during food time! Slowly progress and touch them while they eat, talk to them, and when you’re ready, even grab the dog bowl and pick it up while they are eating. The first few times you do this, make sure there is something extra special in the bowl when you put it back down! All of this interaction helps your dog feel safe and eliminates any looming aggression they have in their social skills.
Ready to introduce your doggo to the neighborhood furry pals?! For the first time, just keep it one-on-one. If you are close with a neighbor or know one of your nearby dogs is super friendly towards people and puppers alike, then start there. We suggest meeting up on neutral ground, like intersecting on a walk, so one dog doesn’t feel threatened by the other. During this initial meeting, it’s really important to have a reliable, sturdy dog leash. Your dog is going to be sniffing and jumping with excitement. Use that dog leash and those new puppy social dog skills to keep your dog tame while they explore their new friend!
As we mentioned, puppies are like babies when it comes to sensory development. You have to introduce new stimulants to make sure they become comfortable with them, which rounds out their socialization skills! Here are a few ways to introduce your pup to new sounds, without overwhelming them:
- Turn the TV up a bit louder than normal
- If you have kids, put your kids and your pup in the same room while the kids are playing loudly
- Have your dog sit in the busiest part of the house
- If your street has a lot of traffic, have your dog sit near a street window
- Turn your phone ringer up when you’re near your pup
- Play music or the radio
Choose one noisy situation and just observe how your dog reacts. By introducing a little more stimulation each time, your dog will start to realize that loud sounds aren’t always associated with danger or bad things. This can prevent the nervous reactions many dogs face. In fact, we recommend purposefully associating positive things with those busy sounds: if it’s in the kitchen during loud meal time, toss them a few treats, if it’s in the kids’ playroom, include some chew toys!
While it might seem counterintuitive, one of the most important exercises, when you socialize your dog, is...leaving them alone! Many dogs suffer from separation anxiety, and it’s vital to prevent those feelings early on in puppy-hood. We are all going to have to leave our dog at some point, whether for a night or a vacation, we want to make sure our pups still feel loved, and not abandoned. The best way to do that is to have them practice being alone, and teach them that you will always come back to them! The first step of this is crate training. By creating a safe, comfortable place for your dog to be alone, you have created the foundation for preventing separation anxiety. Set some time each day for your dog to be alone in their crate. They can have their favorite toy or plaything with them, but remove yourself from the room or house during that time. One of the key elements to this part of training is to not make a big deal when you leave or come back. If you don’t seem emotional about it, then your dog will learn they don’t have to be either!
The Only Time to Overreact
Puppies explore new people and new things with their mouth. It can be cute until those puppy fangs draw blood! When your dog’s biting gets accidentally out of hand, that’s the only time to overreact. No, we don’t mean punish or scorn your pup. When your doggy digs their teeth in, simply yell “Ouch!” or “Ow!” even if the bite didn’t really hurt. When puppies play with each other, they bite and bite until one of them squeals. That’s how one puppy tells the other that they bit a little too hard, and you can do the same thing. If you turn to punishing or grabbing your dog’s snout, they will only be afraid of you, and that will not help you socialize your dog. By teaching your pup that a loud reaction is what they get from biting, you will teach them that biting is not how you socialize with new people or pups.
Not a Puppy, but Not Social
If you adopted a dog that isn’t a pup anymore, no worries, you still have time to socialize your dog! Even if they are older than a year, socializing still needs to be a priority and can still be introduced. Depending on your adopted dog’s background, you will need to decide if it’s better to start by introducing people or dogs first. All the initial interactions with your new furry family member should be with people who are familiar with dogs, or pups that are friendly with new dogs, so you know the situation will be completely under control. With these adolescent dogs, we recommend they remain on a dog leash during all first meetings, so if your dog is afraid of the new person or pup, they can easily be controlled and removed so you can make them feel better!
Whether a pup or an adolescent, dog parks can be a great way to socialize your dog! If you have a nervous pup, start by grabbing the dog leash and taking a walk close to the dog park. Don’t go in and take your pup off their dog leash right away (if the park even allows that, of course!), let your dog observe the other pups playing. On the next visit, work your way into the dog park, but keep your pal on their dog leash and let them meet other dogs one by one. Before you know it, you guys will be regulars at the dog park, your pup off their dog leash while they romp around, playing with new pups every week!
Not Going Well?
All these new people and dogs might be a little too much for your pup when you’re trying to socialize your dog. That’s okay; you’re not doing anything wrong, it’s just time to backtrack and diversify the scenery. Instead of overwhelming your doggo with people and pups, grab your dog leash, and choose new places for your walks. Drive to a new path, take them on a hike, or simply take a long way home. New smells and places are enough to stimulate a dog’s brain if they are not ready for big-time socializing yet. Pretty soon, those new places will lead to new furry friends, and your dog will be socializing without even realizing it!
Teach an Old Dog New Socializing Tricks
Maybe you adopted an older dog with a rough past that leads to bad habits, so they might need some extra love. You can follow all our socializing steps, it just takes some extra practice, time, and patience. As long as care and love remain at the center when you socialize your dog, you can introduce your older pup to new people, dogs, and places, and make their senior years their best ones of their life!
Your Adult Dog and Puppies
It’s normal for adult dogs to be a little too rough with puppies, especially if they are used to socializing with dogs their age. As long as you are extra observant and firm with your dog around a new puppy, everything will be fine! If this is the first time your dog is meeting a pup, then we recommend keeping them on a dog leash until you know they will be okay. Even if you trust and love your dog, sometimes playtime for your adult dog is more roughhousing from the puppy’s perspective! You might have to act as a referee to remind your dog to be careful with the pup, but all it takes is a little extra observation.
Introverted Adult Dogs
If you are a saintly pet owner and brought home an older adult dog from the shelter, your time spent to socialize your dog won’t be as extensive as a puppy. While interacting with neighborhood dogs on your walks are great, that might be enough excitement for your older dog! Many adult dogs are perfectly fine staying at home, being the only dog around, and just spending their time with their owner. Want to make their walks extra special? Grab a LuxeMutt dog collar and a matching dog leash to show off their personality.