Thursday, December 8, 2011

How to Socialize Puppies and Adult Dogs

By Linda Cole

All puppies need to be socialized, and if you've adopted a dog from a shelter or bought an older dog, you may need to spend time socializing him, too. Sometimes a dog gets into a fight with another dog at a dog park or at a friend's house, and it leaves him wary of other dogs. A new person or pet in the home can cause a dog to need socializing again also. It's important to make sure your dog or puppy is well socialized with people, new things in his environment, and other pets in the home.

Socializing a Puppy

Just like kids, a puppy's early life can set the stage for how he behaves and his ability to accept new things in his life. The first 8 - 20 weeks are extremely important for your pup's development, and that's the best age to begin socializing a puppy. It's up to his owner to make sure he's exposed to new things on a regular basis so he has an opportunity to learn what's expected from him and how to act when confronted with something new.

He needs to be exposed to people, other pets in the home, other dogs and new places, sounds, sights and smells. He needs to experience things he'll have to deal with in his life. And he needs to be able to learn in a positive way so he's not apprehensive when something new comes his way later on in his life. Because a puppy hasn't received all of his vaccinations yet, check with your vet for advice on when you can expose your pup to other dogs and people outside the home. Your pup is also capable of learning basic commands at an early age, which helps him learn who's in charge.

Introduce your pup to new people and situations during this period. You will want him to meet men, women, older people, children and other pets. Expose him to people riding bikes, skateboards, men with beards, people in uniforms, and women/men with short and long hair. Dogs do notice the differences in people, and the more your pup has a chance to meet different people, the more confident and calm he'll be.

Handle your pup a lot and allow others to handle him. He needs to be comfortable having someone he doesn't know touch him. Grooming your puppy is a good way for him to learn that touching is comforting. Hold his feet in your hand and touch his toenails and paw pads. You want him comfortable when his nails need trimmed or if you need to check his feet for injuries or trimming the hair around his pads. Let him get used to you touching his ears, inside and out. Open his mouth and touch his teeth. This helps when you begin brushing his teeth or if you need to inspect his mouth.

Don't force your pup into new situations. Step back and let him discover experiences on his terms when he's ready. You can encourage him with some CANIDAE TidNips treats and lots of praise, but if he's not ready or appears to be uncomfortable, don't push it. You could end up making him fearful of an object, situation or certain people. Enrolling him in puppy training class can also help with socialization.

Socializing an Adult Dog

You can tell if an older dog is socialized by watching how he reacts when meeting people and other dogs. Take it one step at a time and go slowly when socializing an older dog. If you're walking and he reacts in a negative way to another dog or person, don't jerk his leash or yell at him. Use a treat to distract him and teach him the command “watch me” so you can get and hold his attention. This teaches him in a positive way that meeting other dogs or people is a good thing.

Introduce him to new situations in a positive and fun way so he learns that something new is enjoyable. Slowly introduce new people, and allow your dog to meet them when he's ready. If he runs and hides to avoid a new experience, let him go. Dogs are curious and when you stay positive and give him his space, he'll eventually come out to see what's going on. Encourage him to join you with treats or his favorite toy, and keep things calm so he doesn't become excited.

It's not difficult to socialize a new puppy or an older dog, but you do have to stay calm and positive. Dogs will take their cues from their owner and when your dog trusts you, he's more apt to follow your lead when he's unsure about a situation. When you don't overreact, neither will he.

Photo by Nick Kidd

Read more articles by Linda Cole


  1. I totally agree, socialization is so important for the young dog. I did all that with a puppy that I had and it made such a difference. I also helped to train a puppy that was on the road to becoming a blind person's dog and that was really interesting. Great post.

  2. Socialization is definitely important. We always feel that we didn't do much for Eva so she is always a bit stranger shy!

  3. Thank you for talk about this topic, because I know a lot of people that don't socialize their dogs and as a result of that they bite someone or a dog

  4. I recently rescued a 6 year old 45lb German Shorthaired Pointer. She gets along great with my other dog, which is a chow/rott mix, about 85 lbs. Twice when people have brought their small dogs to visit, the GSP has gone into a stalk/hunt/attack mode. She's very social at the dog park, where the other dogs are larger as well, but it seems as tho she's seeing the little dogs as prey or rodents or? Any idea as to how to break her of this habit? I would hate for her to hurt someone else's dogs.

  5. Thank you for posting this, in our area still dealing with veterinarians who are advising people to keep their puppies away from all other dogs and on their property until they are completely vaccinated.

  6. Hi wellsdave,

    First of all, two thumbs up on rescuing her!

    It's possible she's never been around small dogs when she was socialized with other dogs before you got her and she doesn't understand how to respond to them and she's trying to figure out what they are. If she is going into a stalk/hunt/attack mode, that's not good.

    When you have someone come over that has a small dog, I would suggest you take your GSP and the small dog on a walk together. That gives her a chance to be around the smaller dog where she has other more interesting things to sniff out besides the dog. When your friends visit with their little dogs, have them pick their dogs up to remove the chance of your dog starting to go into stalk mode. Let her sniff them and be around them so she can satisfy her curiousity.

    Dogs need to be socialized with all sizes of dogs.


  7. Hi

    We have a 3 year old Irish Setter (Sam) and to us he is the perfect dog, easy going, balanced, well-mannered and very loving. At the moment he is very ill, and he is on medications that make him very tired, and he doesn't ever want to play any more.

    Just 2 weeks ago we brought home an 8-week old Irish setter puppy (Cole) (which we had ordered before our 3 year old became ill), and Sam isn't taking well to him - he just ignores Cole, and when the puppy comes near him, some of the time he gets up and moves away. Cole is also starting to try to take things that belong to Sam, such as his bones, toys, bowl, bed, etc. where Sam doesn't seem to have the energy to correct him. We know that Sam needs his rest, but what advice would you give to us to (a) get Sam to like Cole better, and (b) to ensure that Cole doesn't become dominant over Sam.

    Your help would be greatly appreciated



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