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How to Socialize Your Dog

Dog socialization refers to the process of exposing your dog to different people, animals, environments, and experiences. The key window of socialization for puppies ends at 12 weeks.  However, this doesn’t mean you can’t socialize your dog after that.

The goal is to help your dog develop appropriate social skills and behavior, reducing the likelihood of fear, anxiety, and aggression in different situations. If done before 12 weeks, it greatly lessens these chances.

Many people believe dog socialization is going to dog parks, day cares, or playing with other dogs. On the contrary, doing these things can actually create reactivity and anxiety in a dog. Dog parks are not regulated in regards to disease or structure. Imagine getting thrown into a small room with 20 people who all want to say hi at the same time. That’s a little much, isn’t it?

There are many ways you can socialize your dog in a structured environment, while safely doing so prior to the full set of vaccinations.

Observation in Controlled Environments

You can still go to the dog park. However, sit outside of the play area  and observe. Reward your dog whenever they look at the trigger. This will create a positive association. Doing this with puppies is crucial, as it teaches them how to be calm around high states of arousal. If you have an older dog, or a rescue, this is still a beneficial way to socialize without putting too much stress on the dog.

Sitting in your yard and watching the traffic go by is also an excellent form of observation and exposure. Hand feed your dog’s meal when cars, dogs, or people pass by. This helps build the relationship between you and your dog while also creating a positive association to distractions in the environment. Level it up by only rewarding when your dog looks at you and is giving you focus, you can build the duration as well if they seem to be excelling at this!

Structured Play Dates

When introducing your dog to another dog, the first thing you should do is go for a walk. Do not let them greet each other until both dogs have been acclimated with each other without play. After the walk, continue to keep leashes on both dogs, even during play time at first. Use this time to let them co-exist without having contact with each other. Once you feel the dogs and handlers are comfortable you can introduce play. Always supervise the play and use breaks. If this is your dogs first interaction with another dog, make sure the dog is a safe introduction and you know his play style to ensure a safe and comfortable synergy.

People, Places and Things

It is important to expose your dog to different people, places and things so they can grow into an adult with the ability to adapt to new experiences.

The park is a great place for exposure to children, babies, and different people. You can hand feed your dog’s meal and work on focusing on you through distractions. Bring a blanket and have a picnic together!

When the park isn’t as busy, playing with your dog on the playground is fun and great for confidence building. The playground has many unfamiliar textures to get used to as well! If your dog seems fearful of going up the playground steps, show them how exciting it is and use rewards for encouragement. You’ll see how proud your dog becomes for accomplishing something they once thought was scary.

It's important to make socialization experiences positive by using rewards such as treats, praise, and play. This helps dogs associate new experiences with good feelings. Begin with familiar people, and introduce them gradually and always let your dog approach on its own. This is key for building trust and confidence.

Two dogs going for a walk
Calvin and Kaya walking together before play time.

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