Some dogs can be the life of the party, while others may prefer to keep to themselves. Every pooch is unique, and we can give our pets the best possible social life through socialization training. Though it’s important to get your dog to socialize with humans and other pets early on in life, socialization training is highly recommended for dogs of all ages and temperaments. Learning how to socialize a dog is the best way to take care of your furry friend’s mental health.
We’ve gathered some of the best nurturing tips to help your dog tackle new experiences with confidence. You don’t have to be a professional trainer to provide the social stimulation your dog needs. Let’s take a look at the top canine socialization tips!
What is Dog Socialization?
Dog socialization refers to exposing your pooch to a wide variety of sights, sounds, smells, other pets, and people as early as possible, ideally as a puppy. Studies have shown this desensitizes the pup to different situations such as large groups, loud noises, and meetings with other pets or people.
Why Socialize Your Dog?
Social training shows dogs that they don’t need to be afraid of new situations, pets, or people. This increases the animal’s confidence. A confident pooch can play with other canines at the dog park, enjoy unfamiliar strangers and their pets during a walk, and happily greet new people entering your home.
Just like a person, a puppy is likely to be fearful of the unknown. If a loud noise suddenly came from your backyard, you might be afraid until you went outside to see the source. Dogs must also learn that some things that first appear frightening actually mean them no harm.
Socialization is about context as well as exposure. A well-trained dog is not only desensitized to new things, but it is also aware that some sights and sounds mean different things based on the situation. This awareness comes from the experience your pet gains during walks and trips to the dog park.
For example, many dogs are startled by the sound of a skateboard over asphalt or concrete. A dog should learn the noise is not a threat, but it is also a sign that they should move.
The more your dog hears the sound of those skateboard wheels, the less it will fear them. However, it could be unsafe if the dog gets too comfortable or begins to act aggressively around skateboards and chases after every skater they see.
If you gently pull your dog away from oncoming skaters, it will learn two important lessons. First, the sound of a skateboard is not inherently dangerous. The second lesson your dog will learn is that an oncoming skater could potentially harm them if they continue to stand in the way.
What Could Happen If You Don’t Socialize Your Dog?
Without proper socialization, dogs can show nervous or aggressive behavior. This can limit your pet in various areas of its life. A dog that is fearful of anything new may become depressed, lethargic, or confrontational with other animals.
Improper social training could eventually damage your dog’s health. A lack of exercise, decreased appetite, and lethargy are symptoms of depression. Confrontational behavior could lead to injury, especially if a small dog shows aggression toward a larger breed.
When Should You Start Socializing Your Dog?
Puppies should be exposed to new things as early as possible. This means socializing the dog from the time it’s a year old. While it is not impossible to socialize an older dog, it is much easier when they are still a puppy. If you’ve got an elderly pooch, be sure to check out our article, How to Socialize an Older Dog.
“Socializing” may sound like this training is all about mingling, but there’s more to it. Some dogs are not social butterflies, though we still need to involve them in a variety of experiences. In its first year, expose your dog to new terrains and environments as well as new friends.
The best time to begin socializing a canine is when it is a puppy, but this doesn’t mean adult dogs won’t benefit from this training. It’s never too late to socialize an older dog, as they never stop learning. But, they tend to become more “stubborn” with age, meaning they are set in their ways.
By the time it reaches adulthood, a dog has developed deep-rooted behaviors just like any human. This is why it can be more challenging to socialize an older dog.
Respect the ingrained behaviors of adult dogs, even as you try to correct them. Always use positive language and redirect bad behavior rather than punish it. If you’ve just adopted a new pet, start socializing it as soon as you bring the animal home.
One important thing to keep in mind is your pet’s breed. Some dogs are more extroverted than others, and each animal should get behavior training appropriate for their natural personalities. Let’s take a look at some sociable breeds as well as some shy ones.
Are Some Dog Breeds More Sociable?
Dogs have been bred to be well-suited to particular jobs or roles. For example, the Australian Terrier originated as a ratter, living in isolation with its owner in Australia’s remote areas. As a result, these dogs are fiercely loyal toward their owners but distrusting of strangers.
Genetic tendencies can be corrected through dog training, but the more compatible your pet’s personality is with your lifestyle, the less time you will spend training them. An animal with all of its physical and mental needs satisfied is most likely to be calm, confident, and receptive to situations.
Sociable Dog Breeds
These breeds are some of the most outgoing pooches around:
- Golden Retriever
- Boston Terrier
- Labrador Retriever
- Border Collie
- Irish Setter
- Staffordshire Bull Terrier
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
- Cockapoo (Cocker Spaniel and Poodle mix)
- Maltese Dogs
Less Sociable Dog Breeds
These breeds usually keep to themselves or mostly socialize with their owner:
- Shiba Inu
- Basset Hound
- Irish Wolfhound
- Norwegian Lundehund
- Cairn Terrier
Some dog breeds are more comfortable being social than others. It is important to buy a breed with a personality that is in agreement with your lifestyle. If a breed that requires two hours of exercise daily is kept in a small city apartment, a hyper dog could turn to destructive or aggressive behavior.
How To Socialize Your Dog
There are many techniques for socializing your dog. We’ve gathered the best tips, however, no one knows your pet better than you! If you have an introverted breed, make sure you don’t push the animal too far past its comfort zone.
Stay present and vigilant when socializing your dog. Supervise all encounters the dog has, especially when it is a pup. Keep it leashed until you’re confident the dog can keep its cool when meeting new friends.
Reward Positive Social Behavior With Treats
Positive reinforcement is one of the best ways to get your dog to correct its behavior. Try to avoid using force or scolding your pooch. Instead, reward your dog each time it behaves appropriately.
In the skateboarding example we used earlier, it is not advised that you yank on your dog’s leash to get it away from an oncoming skater. Instead, gently tug on the leash, call the dog toward you, or pick the animal up. Pulling hard on the leash will result in a negative experience for the dog.
One of the goals of socialization training is to show the dog that some things are not as frightening as they first seem. If your pet associates yelling and tugging on its leash with the sound of a skateboard, it will continue to feel anxious whenever a skateboard comes near.
An efficient and classic training method is to use treats whenever possible. Offer your pet a snack whenever it responds correctly to new situations. While treats like dog biscuits can reward good behavior, make sure high-calorie snacks aren’t playing too heavy of a role in its diet.
Go On Daily Walks
Daily dog walks are not only great for your pooch, but they’re also good for you too! Walking your furry friend every day can expose your dog to various situations it can’t face while sitting at home.
The world outside of its home can be a potentially stressful environment for a young pup, so make sure you keep the dog leashed for its safety.
Walking through a park or around the block is also a good source of exercise for your pet. Meeting other dog lovers can help desensitize your pup to being near other people. If you know your dog is aggressive, keep them on a short leash and away from other animals for a positive experience.
Dog Park Visits
A great way for a pooch to get comfortable in social settings is to spend time around other dogs. It is also a chance for you to meet other dog owners and swap tips or even arrange play-dates!
Let your dog sniff other pooches and pay attention to both animals’ body language. Wagging or neutral tails are a good indication that the two are enjoying each other’s company. If either dog becomes tense or confrontational, end the interaction immediately.
If your pup has aggressive or nervous tendencies, take them on leashed walks before heading to the dog park. Let your dog run free in a fenced area only when it has proven it can get along with other animals. Use treats to reward your pup after a good trip to the dog park.
Take a Class
A certified dog trainer can help you learn good techniques for socialization. Moreover, a professional trainer can target your dog’s specific needs. Behavioral experts could be necessary when socializing an adult dog.
Sometimes, a trainer will hold behavioral classes with multiple dogs and people. This group experience can further help your dog become desensitized to being around others.
Go to a Pet Store
A pet store is a great place for dog lovers. You can meet plenty of people who work with or care for animals. It will even let your dog experience an array of new smells and sounds.
A pet store can get your dog acclimated to unfamiliar stimuli, but it shouldn’t be the first step when socializing an animal. With bright fluorescent lights, limited space, and other animals, the pet store can be a potentially overwhelming experience for a dog that is not yet adjusted to the outside world.
Instead, work on your dog’s behavioral training at home before moving on to a pet store.
Join a Rescue/Breed Organization
Give your dog the best care possible by registering it with a breed organization. These clubs provide information on health needs, breeding news, and competition events.
Some organizations are specific to certain breeds. Others, like the American Kennel Club (AKC), are broader. If you’re looking for a breed organization, the AKC’s National Clubs are a great place to start your search.
National Clubs (also called Parent Clubs) have been certified by the AKC to look after a dog breed’s needs. You can search the AKC’s database of National Clubs here.
Can CBD Help with Dog Socialization?
One way to make sure your dog is relaxed and well-prepared for socialization training is CBD dog treats. CBD benefits canines by working with their endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is present in nearly all mammals, and it’s responsible for many body functions like digestion, overall mood, pain sensation, skin, and coat health.
CBD promotes the function of all mammals’ endocannabinoid systems. A well-functioning ECS can help ease aggression, nervousness, shyness, fears, and hyper behavior in your dog. CBD dog treats can also give any dog a calm and positive experience while they are encountering new places, people, and things.
FAQ – How to Socialize a Dog
No two dogs are identical, and that’s what makes them so special. Dogs are not simply animals that live in our home. They have rich personalities that are subject to nervousness, frustration, trauma, and age-related decline, just like humans.
Make sure you get all the information you can about your new dog from the previous owner or shelter. One puppy might be genetically prone to light sensitivity, or a former owner may have abused an older dog. Your pet’s past can influence its present needs.
Once you know your dog’s previous situation or genetic predispositions, you can start to work on giving your pooch its best possible life!
How to Socialize a Puppy
Puppies respond well to socialization training because everything is new to them. One of the best places to find loving pups is to browse local shelters/pet centers for adoption opportunities – not only will they bring joy to your life, but you’ll potentially save theirs! Although if you get your pup from a responsible breeder it may come with some perks, especially if they test their stock for illnesses and stimulate the newborns.
Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS) is also called “tactile training.” It is a method of development that involves holding the puppy in various positions. Its body is held horizontally and vertically, its paws are tickled with a Q-tip, and it is placed on a refrigerated towel for thermal stimulation.
The purpose of ENS training is to get dogs used to various conditions as early as possible. A puppy who is not given tactile training is less likely to adapt well to stressful conditions later on. Know your breeder’s practices and try to find one that stimulates new puppies.
How to Socialize an Aggressive Dog
Aggression is usually a sign of possessiveness, fear, or defensiveness. Possessiveness can be combated by continually reminding your dog that you’re in control. Anytime you need to get something away from your pooch, reward them with treats or praise as soon as they release the object.
Fear is typically a sign that the dog has not been properly socialized in its early years. Exposing dogs to new things throughout their lives can let them develop skills for dealing with the unknown. Encourage your furry friend to experience new situations, but don’t push them too much.
How do we know when our pets have had enough? Dogs often look back at their owners when they’re feeling anxious. If your dog’s body is tense, with its teeth bared and its tail tucked between the legs, it may be feeling aggressive.
In this case, gently pull the pooch away from the situation by getting down on their level, using a high-pitched voice, and avoiding direct eye contact. You can also use their favorite snacks to motivate them. CBD is also known to help with aggression. Consider giving them our all-natural CBD calming chews for dogs to help them relax and curb the aggressive behavior.
Dogs will let others know they’re feeling territorial with a deep, low growl. They will usually keep their heads low to the ground and their eyes fixed on the potential intruder.
If you notice this behavior, either move your dog into another room or reward it with treats as soon as they show a more welcoming attitude.
How to Socialize a Dog With Humans
Dogs usually get along well with humans, but this is not always the case. Lashing out at a person is usually a sign of past trauma, over-stimulation, or improper handling of the dog. Supervise all interactions your dog has until you’re confident it can behave itself.
Puppies should be steadily introduced to new people rather than all at once. The right time to bring unfamiliar people into your home is after your new furry friend has gotten used to you and your living space. Keep the dog in a closed-off room and introduce people one or two at a time.
Children who have not been trained to handle a dog properly should never be left unsupervised with dogs. If you notice any aggressive behavior or body language, take your dog away from the source of tension immediately. With a slow pace and plenty of patience, your pooch will be popular in no time!
How to Socialize an Older/Adult Dog
An older dog might develop socialization needs as it ages, or perhaps it was never properly conditioned in the first place. Many of the techniques used to socialize a puppy can also be used on an older dog. However, adult dogs may not be as open to new situations as young canines.
Walks and slow introductions to new dogs and acquaintances are excellent practices for an older dog. Dog parks should be avoided until you’re certain they can play well with others. With many different dogs of different breeds and size running around, an easily agitated older dog might have a negative experience.
If you know your pooch won’t do well in a dog park, try taking it on a walk with a muzzle (this is not as important for small breeds).
Even if your furry friend has never snapped at anyone before, a muzzle can make others feel safer around it.
Dogs can sense when others are at ease, so this could consequently calm them.
Once your older dog is ready for the park, keep your leash close and ready just in case. Also, try to find a park that is appropriate for your breed’s size. A Chihuahua in socialization training should not be released in the same area with a dozen unleashed, energetic, large dogs.
How to Socialize a Rescue Dog
Every year, there are about 3.3 million dogs that enter animal shelters in the United States. Rescuing these animals is an incredible way to give a young dog the home it deserves or provide an older pooch with a fresh start. However, some canines need time to adjust to their new surroundings.
It’s vital to keep in mind that rescued dogs may come from neglectful or abusive situations, so they might have phobias or other behavioral issues stemming from trauma. These are important emotional issues that need to be addressed, and socialization is the number one solution. Another thing to keep in mind is their adjustment to the new environment.
If you live in the city and rescue a dog that was pulled away from the country, you will have to re-socialize the animal. While it may have been adequately exposed to the sights and sounds of its original home, it might be startled by the many new experiences a city has to offer.
For example, a country pup might need some help walking on the cobblestone streets of a city. Similarly, a lapdog living in the city won’t be able to keep up with a farm hound.
Ask the previous caretaker of the dog for as much information about the dog’s past as possible. This will enable you to give the right conditioning to your new best friend.
How to Socialize a Nervous Dog
You can tell a dog is nervous if it keeps its head low, avoids eye-contact except for the occasional side-glance, and tucks its tail between the legs or cowers often. If you notice any of these behaviors, try changing your dog’s environment.
Once you discover the trigger, you can begin conditioning your dog.
You can do this by gradually exposing them to fear-inducing stimuli and rewarding calm or collected behavior until they become comfortable.
Another solution may be to remove the source of nervousness entirely. Some dogs can’t help having a sensitivity to light, so it would not be right to try and acclimate the animal to bright fluorescent lights. The best thing to do in this scenario would be to remove or dim the light around your dog’s environment.
Or, let’s say your pet’s nervousness is due to a child that has not been properly taught how to handle a dog. Instead of removing the kid from the house (this is not advised), you can teach the child the right way to hold, pet, and play with a dog.
As mentioned earlier, a properly functioning ECS can help your dog ease their fears, aggression, nervousness, and more. If your pup is still displaying any of these symptoms, try giving them CBD dog treats for anxiety and stress relief!
Final Thoughts – How to Socialize a Dog
We love our dogs and want to provide them with the best care possible. Proper socialization makes visits to the vet or dog park easier, reduces anxiety, and results in better bonding.
It may be a big and occasionally nerve-racking world out there, but it’s nothing your brave buddy can’t handle. All they need is the proper love, care, and introduction!