How to Socialize Your Dog, According to Expert Trainers

How to Socialize Your Dog, According to Expert Trainers
A dog is never too old to learn new tricks, and that includes social skills. (Oriana Zhang/The Epoch Times)
February 18, 2024
February 27, 2024

Everyone loves a friendly dog; although some dogs are born that way, others need a little bit of assistance opening up and being comfortable around people and other dogs.

“One of the most important things you can do to ensure a happy, well-adjusted dog is to work on its social skills,” Steve Smith of Otter Tail Kennels told The Epoch Times. He explained that a well-socialized dog is easier to housebreak and crate-train and is a more confident, adaptable, and teachable pet.
Mr. Smith’s statement is backed up by findings from the Dog Aging Project, which collected data from more than 21,000 dogs and discovered that sociability is linked to a longer and healthier lifespan. It can definitely be said that the dog—and the owner—will be much happier if every interaction with another dog or a stranger is a pleasant, friendly, and polite encounter that everyone involved can feel good about. To get your socialization training off on the right foot, here are seven tips for fostering cordiality in your favorite canine.

1. Start Them Young

Puppies brought home at about 8 weeks old and raised without other dogs around may not develop the interpersonal skills that come from playing with other dogs. This can happen when the dog’s owners are overprotective and don’t take it out until the pup is fully vaccinated. Although this is prudent, there are workarounds to successfully expose your pup to new situations without risk. For example, the pup can be kept in a stroller or even carried to dog parks or pet stores to see other dogs without coming into physical contact with them until it is fully vaccinated. These outings allow the dog to be around new people, teaching it how to react without fear.
Start training them young: you can start socializing them when they’re puppies. (Jametlene Reskp/Unsplash)
Start training them young: you can start socializing them when they’re puppies. (Jametlene Reskp/Unsplash)

2. It’s Never Too Late

If you’re not starting with a puppy, don’t let that discourage you. Adult dogs benefit from socialization training, too. The previous history of dogs that are adopted from rescue organizations isn’t always known, making the cause of the dog’s timidity around people and other pets a mystery. Another scenario involves adult dogs that are rehomed after their owners pass away or are too old to continue providing care.
As Cathy Madson, a certified dog trainer whose advice can be found on the PreventiveVet website, wrote: “If you have a dog who missed early socialization, you do have your work cut out for you. But helping your dog become more confident is an incredibly rewarding journey.” Dogs that suddenly find themselves in an entirely new environment, surrounded by strange people and other dogs, require a lot of patience, attention, and affection.

3. Mix It Up

For dogs of any age, the key to effective socialization is exposure. “Seemingly little things like exposure to different types of ground, such as rocks, sand, pavement, grass, carpeting, and more, helps the dog learn about the world and adjust to changes and different circumstances,” Mr. Smith said.

“Socialize your dog to people—young people, old people, people in wheelchairs or with walkers, babies, and people on bikes. The more varied the exposure, the better your dog will react to new people and situations. Dogs that are not properly socialized will want to avoid or run away from anything new that they find scary or intimidating.”

Allow your dog to socialize in different environments and expose them to new people. (SKT Studio, iofoto/Shutterstock)

4. Make It Fun

“The best way to develop a well-adjusted, well-behaved dog is to take him or her along as you go about your day,” Mr. Smith said. “In each new circumstance, let them explore and learn, and don’t make a big deal if the dog gets frightened. Just ignore its reaction. Don’t coddle them, and don’t make a big deal out of it.”
Most dogs are eager to please and want to find their place in the pack. They will choose a person to be the pack leader, looking to them for guidance on what is good behavior. “If you seem scared or frightened, your dog will feed off that fear. If you act like everything is fine, your dog will quickly start feeling like everything is OK. When they see their owner is relaxed, they know they are safe.”

5. It’s OK to Say No

Although socialization is critical, you don’t need to go overboard. “Don’t feel like your dog has to say hi to all the people that want to see it; feel free to say no,” Ali Smith, CEO and founder of online training website Rebarkable, told The Epoch Times in an email interview.

“Boundaries are really healthy,“ she wrote. ”Having a dog that is comfortable around people and other animals is great, but there needs to be an assessment of other dogs and humans.”

Keep a watchful eye on your dog’s interactions with children. “While small children usually love every dog they see, they can inadvertently scare the dog with overly quick movements or loud voices. Similarly, not all dogs are well-behaved; some might be aggressive, nipping and barking at people and dogs, which could lead to fights,” she wrote.

“On a related note, think twice before going to a dog park. It can be risky because there is no way to know if the other dogs are aggressive. Small dogs may need to be protected from both aggressive and overly friendly dogs.”

Observe how your dog interacts with children to see if they are comfortable with them. (Freepik)
Observe how your dog interacts with children to see if they are comfortable with them. (Freepik)

6. Go Slow

When first socializing dogs with other dogs, it is important to pair your dog with calm and friendly dogs. If possible, seek out dogs of a similar size to the new dog that play well with one another and will create a welcoming atmosphere. If possible, introduce the dog to new people and other dogs at home, where the dog feels safe and secure. Let the guests give the dog treats as an incentive to approach and realize they are not a threat. If the dog is a puppy or a small breed, ask the guests to resist the urge to pick up the dog, which could frighten it.
By introducing your dog to a calm pup, they will feel more at ease making friends. (Barnabas Davoti/Pexels)
By introducing your dog to a calm pup, they will feel more at ease making friends. (Barnabas Davoti/Pexels)

7. Create a Safe Zone

The most important factor in raising a well-behaved, sociable dog is to be a patient, loving owner and to recognize that a poorly socialized dog may be anxious anywhere outside of its comfort zone of home. Dogs that lack early socialization might be reactive or fearful around unfamiliar dogs and people. They might be uncomfortable being handled by groomers or at the veterinarian’s office. The solution requires the owner to spend time with the dog, making it feel safe as they build a strong bond of trust and affection.

One way to do that, Ms. Smith suggested, is by using your body language to make it feel more comfortable. “If your dog is nervous, make eye contact as you talk to them. This creates a feeling of safety. I define this as where they look at you, listen to you, and aren’t hyperfocusing on another dog or a person. When you have their complete attention, they relax, so it’s easier for them to understand what you want them to do.”

Incorporating treats and incentives keeps them focused on you. “Rewards-based training is highly effective, so finding a great reward for your dog is a huge thing, something your dog truly loves and is willing to work for.”

Create a strong bond with your dog so that you can be their safety net. (Meruyert Gonullu/Pexels)
Create a strong bond with your dog so that you can be their safety net. (Meruyert Gonullu/Pexels)

Today Is a Good Day to Begin

Although dog socialization training takes consistent and deliberate effort, the rewards it will bring both you and your dog are immeasurable. By patiently exposing your dog to various environments, people, and situations, you contribute to its overall well-being and happiness. Not only will you foster improved behavior and greater confidence in your pet, but also, you’ll strengthen your bond with them and give them the socialization skills they need to be a good-natured companion outside and inside the home.
When your beloved pet is confident and happy, it’ll be ready to spend time with you wherever you go. (KlingSup, SUDARAT89/Shutterstock)

Helpful Suggestions

Mr. Smith offers these tips:
  • “Take the dog to a busy park and walk them around on a leash. Walk them past different situations at the park, such as people playing catch or children running and playing.”
  • “Take the dog to the store (where allowed) and walk them around. Walk them near shopping carts.”
  • “While at home, make some unexpected movements and create situations. Slam cupboard doors, drop a pan, change directions when walking to a room. Each new noise and unexpected situation will be a learning opportunity for your dog.”
  • “If the dog’s temperament is gentle, consider taking him or her to nursing homes or other places where they will experience new situations and see people eager to meet them.”