Article By Angela Petteys
Dog Socialisation 101
When you think about bringing home a new dog, how do you imagine yourself spending time with it? Having fun at the local dog park?
Spending weekends exploring places close to home? Organising playdates with friends who have dogs? There’s one thing all of these things have in common: socialisation will help the dog learn how to appropriately behave in those kinds of situations.
It’s very easy for dogs to get overwhelmed in new situations and sometimes, an overwhelmed dog can express that emotion by lashing out at other people or other animals. The last thing you want is to have all these fun experiences end with somebody getting hurt.
Why Socialisation is So Important for Dogs
Socialising a dog is about more than being able to go out and have fun with your pet, it’s also about supporting good health, both physically and emotionally. As is the case for humans, dogs often feel nervous or afraid when faced with unfamiliar situations. For example, if a dog is used to calm, quiet environments, a community event with lots of people around might be too much for them.
Or if a dog is used to being around quiet adults, suddenly being around young, excitable children could make them nervous. Socialisation helps expose dogs to a variety of different situations so that they’ll feel more confident and know how to respond appropriately instead of attacking.
Not only do stressful situations for dogs put the safety of others in jeopardy, but they’re also bad for the dog’s wellbeing. The stress of frequently being in “fight or flight” mode can take a toll on the dog’s body. Just like when people are frequently in stressful situations, that stress can increase a dog’s heart rate and raise its blood pressure. Inadequate socialisation can also impact the quality of healthcare they receive.
If a dog doesn’t handle vet visits well, their owners are often reluctant to take them in for routine checkups or are more likely to put off bringing them in if they see signs of a health issue. And if dogs resist veterinarians or their assistants, it’s more difficult for them to accurately examine the dog and provide the necessary care.
It’s also important to remember that opportunities for socialisation are also often opportunities for exercise. Two of the most common ways dogs socialize is by going out on walks or visiting parks where they can run around, both effective at helping control a dog’s weight.
Socializing a Puppy vs. Socialising an Adult Dog
The sooner you’re able to start socializing your dog, the better. It’s generally accepted that dogs are most receptive to socialisation between the ages of 3 weeks and 16-20 weeks. But the old adage that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks isn’t necessarily true.
Young puppies are the most receptive to socialisation, but if you adopt an older dog that needs to learn some social skills, you may still be able to help them. Socialising an older dog will take some extra patience, but it can be done.
The Best Ways to Socialise a Dog
No matter how old a dog is, one of the best ways to start socializing is to start out small and work your way up. Learn what types of situations make them uncomfortable and work from there to help them overcome their apprehensions. When you bring home a new pet, the idea of heading straight to the local dog park can seem exciting, but this could end up being too much, too soon. Places like dog parks and crowded events should be end goals, not starting points.
Socialising a dog isn’t just about introducing them to different people and other dogs, it gives them a chance to adjust to different environments and the things within them. Things like motor vehicles (particularly ones with sirens), bicycles, skateboards, and strollers are all things dogs will need to get used to. This is what makes going on walks one of the most effective methods of dog socialisation. Simply going on walks throughout the neighborhood is a great way to introduce them to all of these kinds of things and more.
In addition to going on walks, inviting people over to your house not only helps them get used to being around different people, but it also helps them get used to other people entering their space. Dogs can get territorial, so it’s important for them to learn that it’s not necessarily a bad thing if people come over. If a puppy is too young to go out on walks, inviting people over can help them get prepared to head outside when they’re ready. Stick to having just one or two people over at a time until they get used to friendly visitors.
When you’re dealing with a puppy, meeting new people is important, but it’s also important to let them get used to being handled by different people in different ways. Starting out by gently petting the dog in different areas of their body with positive reinforcement to good reactions is a big stepping stone to them having positive experiences around others. Progressing to hugs and being held still is going to help make things like trips to the vet and the groomer a lot easier.
Whether your dog needs some extra assistance with their training or you just want to give them more opportunities to socialise, there are lots of great training classes out there. Not only will they get to meet other dogs, other people, and get to explore places outside their home and immediate neighborhood, they can learn some important skills at the same time. If you’re working with an adolescent or adult dog who missed out on that early window for socialisation, working with a professional trainer could be particularly beneficial, particularly if they show signs of being particularly fearful of certain situations.
The benefits of dog socialization can make an immense difference in your pet’s life, ensuring that you can have a very happy life together. Best wishes to you in your dog’s socialisation journey!
Author Bio: Angela is a Michigan-based writer who spends her time working with a wide range of companies in the Metro Detroit area, such as The Law Offices of Goodwin & Scieszka. When not writing, she enjoys antiquing and being a very amateur gardener.
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