Socializing Your Dog: From Puppyhood Through Adulthood

Socializing your dog is a time of great expansion and growth for you as a pet owner and for your animal companion.  This is a very important step in the relationship you create with your dog and can be the difference between a happy, well mannered, content dog and a timid, frightened and uncontrollable dog.  

Socialization means that your dog is comfortable in public situations, is well-mannered (i.e. doesn’t jump up on people or knock things over, etc.), and knows how to behave in his environment, around people, and around other animals.  Many people wonder, how do you socialize a dog?  While there are numerous methods for specific dog breeds and trainer types, there are a few basic rules-of-thumb that can be applied by almost anyone to achieve great results.

When to start

It is extremely important to start socializing your puppy as early as you can.  In the very early weeks (between three and six weeks of age), puppies have not yet learned fear or anxiety.  This is a critical time to teach your puppy trust and love.  The first six months of life have the most dramatic effect on how a dog turns out later in life.  Therefore, if it is possible, this is the best time to start socializing your dog.  

There are three main socialization time frames.  

  1. Puppyhood – This is the ideal time to start socializing your dog.  Puppies are usually trusting and open to new things.  This is a critical time frame for getting your puppy comfortable with the unknown.
  2. Adolescence – If you started with socializing in puppyhood, then continue on into the adolescent period to keep your dog comfortable in public situations.  In this part of a dog’s life, their hormones develop and there can be significant changes in their behavior and feelings towards everyday things.  If you adopted a dog at an adolescent age, then start slowly, keep an eye on his body language and begin introducing new situations for short periods of time.  Allow time for a break or keep new situations brief so the dog has a chance to process what has occurred.
  3. Adulthood – An adult dog is going to have set feelings about various people and situations.  While you may be unable to change these feelings, with time, patience and persistence, you can change his behavior towards them.

There are many ways to socialize your dog.  Take your dog on short walks.  This gives your dog a chance to explore his immediate area and learn about the world around him.  It also gives you a chance to introduce him to new elements, like people, other animals, people in uniform, vehicles, machinery, and noises.  Having your dog on a leash will let him explore, but still be in a safe, comfortable boundary, and he will be close enough to you that you can start giving light corrections and teaching how to behave around these new elements.  Take your dog to the park.  Parks are home to many different social gatherings of both people and animals.  Not only will your dog have an opportunity to learn how to act around strangers, but he will also come into contact with small animals and other dogs.  Once again, having your dog on a leash gives him a feeling of security and a safe boundary from these new elements.  You can even bring a pocketful of dog-friendly treats to reward good behaviors.  Continue training at home daily.  This will ensure your dog is well mannered and knows what behaviors are acceptable and expected of him.

Socializing your dog can be a very fun and rewarding experience.  With patience and persistence, your dog can truly become mans best friend.

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