Socializing Your Dog
Socializing your dog is about introducing new things to him in order to normalize those things. It helps dogs develop psychologically well and to be comfortable with things they are socialized to. When we talk about socializing your dog in this manner we are usually talking about puppies, taking them to places where they can interact with other dogs and people, letting them hear different noises, being in a car, etc. We want to introduce many new things to them in order to help them be comfortable with different things in the future.
Socializing your dog is also about helping your dog get more comfortable with something they are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with. Some common reactions your dog may have to unfamiliar or uncomfortable things may include: Fear (hiding, cowering, growling, trying to get away, etc.), Reactivity (barking, lunging, growling, defense of self, etc.).
It is vital that we as dog owners understand our dogs and are ready to help them with new challenges. If you understand the steps to socializing your dog, when to encourage them to try something and when to let them take breaks, you will build a strong bond with your dog and they will trust you to lead them.
Steps in Socializing Your Dog
- Always use treats. Use your dog’s favorite treat, you want something really valuable to them. If your dog is not very treat motivated, it is up to you to find what will motivate them. In the case of socializing, treats are the best way to show them that positive things come from new experiences. Try out new treats like freeze dried beef liver, dehydrated chicken, or even boiled chicken breast. Even if they will take a regular treat most of the time, when socializing them to a new thing some dogs will shut down and refuse treats. This is why it’s important to have the highest valuable treat ready. Sometimes you have to get a little creative.
- Distance. When socializing start at a good distance away. If you are introducing your dog to a crowd and you start by taking them right in it, it can overwhelm, shock or scare them. Start off at a distance where you both can observe and see the new thing, and just watch for a little while together. If your dog shows fear or reactivity but they are able to be redirected to look at you with a treat, then you are at a good distance for them to learn. However, if your dog shows fear or reactivity and because they are overwhelmed and are unable to take a treat or be redirected to look at you, get a little further away to where they can be successful.
- Time. Socialization is not something that works like clockwork, every dog is different and will need to go at their own pace. Some dogs will be able to make huge strides in their comfortability with these new experiences and will be able to get closer in distance and spend more time at the activity. Other dogs will need your patience as they slowly work towards their comfortability. Time also refers to how long you spend socializing with your dog. Giving your dog multiple breaks during this experience can be very helpful. This can look like spending 10 minutes introducing them to the smells and sight of a new kitten in the home, then taking them outside to play and get water when they get overly excited or overwhelmed. Once they’ve calmed down you can do it all over again.
- Interacting with new Items. In the case of socializing your dog to an item such as nail clippers, leash, or maybe even a new floor texture, the last step is asking the dog to touch/be touched and to interact with the item. When you get to this step just like the last, keep in mind step three, going slow. Present the item/bring the dog to where the item is and see what they choose to do. If they touch it with their paw or nose, treat them immediately. Continue this until the dog is excited and willing to engage with the item on their own. After doing this for a little while, when the dog is comfortable you can then try to use the item as intended (brush their fur, clip nails, attach the leash, etc). Treat after touching your dog with the item and reward them throughout the experience.
As stated above, socialization starts with letting your dog observe and watch. Let them get used to being around the new thing before you move to have them interact with the item.
Treats I Use While Socializing My Own Dogs:
Helpful Tips While Socializing Your Dog
- Never punish your dog for their reaction when socializing. Never yell, hit, or pull hard on the dog when trying to get them comfortable with a new thing. This will give them a negative feeling and most likely the effort will backfire. Go at your dog’s pace, don’t push or force them to interact with something they are uncomfortable with.
- If your dog is having an extreme reaction to being socialized, they are probably overwhelmed. It’s time to stop to give them a break.
- Break each step down and go slowly, it’s better to be overly cautious than to try to hurry through everything.
- If your dog comes from a shelter, sometimes they come with trauma from past experiences, like some dogs are afraid of men. You should go slowly in these cases so that the dog doesn’t feel scared which may cause them to bite. Have the man sit down (so they are not so tall), the man should not make direct eye contact and offer the treat himself to the dog.
- If you need help, reach out to a certified dog trainer for specific advice on your situation. There are some things a dog may be fearful of because of trauma they may not be able to overcome, however a trainer can help you find other solutions to ensure it’s not impeding quality of life for either of you.
Dog Training in Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, Corrales, Placitas
The mission of Good Buddy Dog Training is to help build the bond between dogs and their owners through positive training methods. We teach dogs to accomplish new behaviors and humans to bring out the best in their furry friends. For the most effective training, we work with people directly in their homes, where dogs and their humans feel most comfortable. And the training we do is based on the science of how dogs learn by using a positive and fun curriculum to build confidence in both dog and owner.