Puppies are easy to socialize. You take them to some puppy obedience classes, and they get to interact with other people and puppies. But adult dogs can be a real challenge, mainly if they are rescues or rehomed dogs that are already coming into a new situation, but may also have an unknown background such as being chained continuously up, kenneled or yarded with little or no positive interaction with people or other dogs.
They could have had a terrible interaction, such as people teasing them through a fence, or the worst of all, a dog fight.
Before you start socializing a dog that has been neglected or abused, you need to have a good understanding of pack leadership and have completed at least one month of the basic training lessons.
When you feel that you have good control over your dog and that he is respecting your position as pack leader you are ready to move up to reintroducing the dog into society.
Reintroducing a Poorly Socialized Dog to Society
Dogs love to play, but what we sometimes don’t understand is that they NEED to play. Any dog that is kept isolated from canine or human companionship, which never enjoys a game of toss the ball or tugs the bone, or experiences the joy of a playful relationship with its owners, will be an unhappy dog.
This unhappiness will manifest itself in behavioral problems. For instance, excessive barking or aggression is a sign of boredom and discontent. Therefore, interaction with others is crucial.
So you, without even realizing it, are part of a centuries-old wolf pack social structure. In these deceptively ordinary moments – when for example, you play hide and seek with your dog – you accommodate your dog’s innate drive to socialize. It is through such games that you and your dog genuinely bond.
If you never intended to ever introduce your dog to another person or dog, then just making sure that you gave your dog lots of one on one play time every day would be enough to keep him healthy and happy for the rest of his life.
Most people, however, want a companion animal that they can introduce to family and friends, as well as take jogging, out to the park, or other social environments. If the dog isn’t socialized correctly, however, these kinds of interactions with the rest of the world may not go as smoothly as the dog owner thought they should.
Taking a poorly socialized or aggressive dog out into society may quickly become a nightmare of barking, lunging, growling and just general bad behavior. It might be directed towards other dogs, or it might be directed towards strange people, either way, it will eventually become such a nightmare that the dog’s owner no longer wants to try anymore.
Start socializing and training your dog early and you can avoid the difficult challenge of re-training an aggressive dog later!
Tips Before You Start Socializing Training of Your Dog
Before you start working on training your dog in a social environment, you need to make sure that you have control of your dog in your own home. Start working on your Basic Training lessons and be very consistent in it.
When you feel that your dog is no longer challenging your leadership, then you may be ready to start working away from home.
Using your training collar, and a good leash, load your dog into the car and head to a park or other place where you know for a fact that you are very unlikely to meet dogs that are not leashed. You absolutely must have control over the situation, and you can’t control it if the other dog is not leashed.
Just as you did in Basic Training, put your dog in the ‘heel’ position and start for your walk in plain view of the other dogs.
Read my article on Pack Leadership for help in finding the right state of mind. You want to feel confident and yet relaxed, entirely in control of the situation, and radiating your confidence to your dog.
Do not allow your dog to be distracted by the other dogs or people, the same as if you were walking down the street by your home.
If his head and tail abruptly jerk upwards towards another dog or other distraction, immediately correct him and snap him back into position. He should be paying attention to you and watching you for cues, not watching other dogs.
If someone tries to walk their dog up to you or tries to pet your dog, ask them to please stay away from him, he’s training right now. Most people will understand and respect your wishes.
Walk around the park or area once the first time you’re out, or until the dog is walking past other dogs and distractions without taking a second look. You want to try to end the training session on a positive note.
Reward Your Dogs
Reward him when you load him back in the car with a special treat you brought from home, maybe a favorite snack or toy.
Practice walking in a public place at least ten or twelve more times before you move up to the next level. When you can easily walk around the public area, and your dog never jerks on the leash, tries to follow another dog or person, and appears to be relaxed and comfortable following you then you are probably ready to move up to the next step.
If you’re working towards human socializing, start having family meet you at the park. If it’s canine socializing, have them bring their dog.
You are the pack leader, so you must be the one to decide if a strange human or dog will be accepted by the pack. This means your dog is not allowed to growl, bark, or in any way act aggressive towards anyone or any other dog.
It’s the Time.. Go to The Park
When you’re ready, leash both dogs and start your walk around the park. Start with some distance between the dogs by walking together in the same direction and keeping one of the humans between them at all times.
At first, they’ll both keep looking at each other and trying to cross around the humans to reach the other dog. Just continue walking firmly forward and snapping them back into position until they remember their training and start paying more attention to you than the other dog.
The reason it helps to have the person as a friend is that dialog between the two humans helps the dogs understand that you are both pack leaders with a more significant status level then they have, so they must relax and only be good companions as you instruct them to.
Walk your dogs this way for half a dozen times, talking, laughing and making lots of noise communicating with each other while maintaining a relaxed control over the dogs. They must remain calm and obedient even if you are belly laughing, crying or in a loud debate. Try to end each walk on a good note with both dogs feeling relaxed and happy.
It really helps if you know several friends that can rotate walking different dogs with your dog. You don’t want your dog to become accustomed to just one dog, you want him to be relaxed around all dogs.
After you’ve practiced walking together half a dozen times, meet up at the park again, but this time after you’ve walked for a minute or two and the dogs are walking without distraction, abruptly stop and step close enough together that the dogs can sniff noses.
A well-socialized dog will sniff another dog’s nose and then turn to look at his master as if to ask why the walk ended so soon. A dog with lesser social skills will be more focused, trying to sniff the other dog all over as if trying to determine by scent and stature who’s going to be the boss. A dog with very poor skills will raise his tail up, stiffen his legs and may growl or even snap at the other dog.
If the aggressive dog’s tail comes up above the level of his spine then pull him sharply back with a firm “BAH” and continue your walk without reintroducing the dogs again that day. If both dogs appear to be maintaining their calm and relaxed demeanor then it’s okay to stand and talk while they interact for a few minutes, then continue the walk on that good note.
Keep practicing the introductions once or twice each day until the aggressive dog learns that he is not in control of the situation, you are. You don’t want to overwhelm the dog, especially if it’s an older rescue that has potentially had bad experiences with other dogs. You need to take it slow so he doesn’t feel pressured.
When you have introduced your dog to half a dozen other dogs and he has responded well to all of them, then you can move up to meeting multiple dogs at a time and eventually to off-leash parks.
Puppies will obviously go through these steps very easily, but it’s very important for older dogs that have not been socialized properly to take these steps at a pace that benefits them. Particularly rescue dogs that have spent years chained or kenneled without good human or canine interaction.
The important thing is to always maintain control of the situation and be a good pack leader for your dog.
In this article I referred to a couple of other lessons that I’d written previously; Understanding Pack Leadership and Basic Dog Training Lessons, it’s important that you start at the right level for your dog and go from there. If you try to shove him into a social situation and he isn’t respecting you as a pack leader you could have tragic results.
For older dogs, rescues, or poorly socialized dogs I highly recommend you start with pack leadership and then move to the basic lessons before advancing to public socializing.
For puppies, you can sometimes combine all of them together so long as you don’t overstress the puppy. Many people will take their puppies to beginner obedience classes, and that gives them a good solid base for social skills and their training basics so long as they are protected from any aggressive dogs at that class.