Safe and Smart Socialization For Your Dog

When someone gets a dog, especially a puppy, they often hear people saying, “Make sure you socialize them!”. With puppies or younger dogs, there’s the importance of introducing them to the world through socialization, usually with other dogs and other people besides the immediate family. It is true: socialization for puppies and dogs is very important and it is something all owners should try to do. Puppies especially benefit from socialization, as they are basically a clean slate and need to be introduced to the world they are going to be living in, which typically will include other people, animals, car rides, loud sounds (especially if you live in the city), etc. However, socializing a puppy or dog isn’t just taking them to a dog park, or to your crowded neighborhood barbecue. Socialization should be controlled and introductions to more distractions and new things should be gradual, not instant flooding.

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Many times I’ve worked with clients that have dogs dealing with anxiety or aggression problems. Surprisingly, not all, but a lot of these dogs HAD some socialization before. These cases had a socialization period, and it just didn’t work out. People think that there’s an end date on when you can socialize a puppy, but really, just like training, socialization tends to be an ongoing process. Even if some owners socialized their dog at the “right time”, sometimes it still ends up with the dog being nervous or aggressive toward dogs, people, children, and more. 

While it can be fun and playful for the dog, socialization is also something that needs to be monitored and set up where the dogs can succeed, rather than potentially get overwhelmed. I had my second training session with a puppy named Skip. Skip had just gotten all his puppy shots that he needed, and his owner wanted to start socializing him. His owner originally thought about taking him to a local pet expo, which would have almost a hundred dogs present. While that is something Skip can and should be able to eventually do, I suggested instead that for the beginning stages of socialization, to think of some friends they had that also had well-behaved dogs. His owner said her coworker had a dog slightly older than Skip, but was friendly with everyone. It sounded like a match, and Skip soon had a playdate.

img_7649An environment like a festival or farmer’s market isn’t bad, but it could be too daunting for a dog just learning to socialize. Even with best intentions, if the dog is not carefully socialized, things could backfire very easily. Last month I worked with a dog named Sasha who was terrified of dogs that were bigger than her. She had been socialized but one of her earliest experiences with a dog was at a dog park, and a bigger dog attacked her after she was being persistent with her playfulness. Since that incident, Sasha avoided most dogs at all costs, especially the bigger ones. While we cannot control all forces of the universe, if Sasha first started off with controlled playdates (with dogs and people that she could easily familiarize herself with), then the chances of a fight would have been near eliminated, and this fear Sasha had could have been potentially avoided.

With all my behavior dog training, I take the approach of starting off basic — create a foundation of obedience and consistent expectations — and then slowly introduce more distractions and challenging situations. With socialization, it is the same. Of course your dog should be able to go to a dog park if you/they want to. However, to start an unsocialized dog in a dog park or a busy festival could be overwhelming and cause more fear, rather than comfort. For any dog, socialization is very crucial…just be safe and smart about it!

If your dog needs help with socialization and training, reach out to us at 215.607.7508 and we’ll be happy to assist!