At home, your dog may be the perfect companion — but out in public, they may struggle around other pups or people. Veterinarian and pet health advocate Dr. Aliya McCullough explains how socializing your pup from a young age can benefit them.
The benefits of socializing a dog
The best time to start socializing your dog with other animals is after they’re fully vaccinated (around 16 to 20 weeks old). Socializing your pup while they’re young can make them more adaptable and comfortable around new objects, sounds, people, animals and locations.
How to socialize a dog with humans
When you start socializing your dog with new people, be sure to follow these best practices:
- Introduce them to unfamiliar people (different ethnicities, genders and sizes).
- Socialize them with children so they’re always gentle (it’s important to take this introduction slow and with caution so no one gets hurt) — and ask children to be gentle with them, too.
- Food bowl exercises are a great way to avoid food aggression as they grow up. While they’re eating, place a special treat into their bowl to show them they’ll be rewarded for positive, calm behavior during mealtimes.
- Teaching your pup the benefits of alone time is important, too. Crate train your pup from an early age so they’re comfortable in their personal space.
- Make sure all contact is light, gentle and friendly.
- Hold your puppy in different positions.
- Touch their feet and muzzle, and look into their ears to prepare them for being examined at the vet.
- Have them walk on different surfaces, like metal (exam tables), wet grass, stairs and noisy streets.
- If a puppy is biting while playing, redirect that energy by showing them a toy or ending the play session.
- Expose your dog to different sounds around the house, like the phone ringing, television and children playing.
- Alternatively, expose them to outdoor sounds like cars or other vehicles moving.
How to socialize a dog with other animals
- Familiarize them with other animals at the dog park (keep a close eye on your pup to make sure no one gets hurt).
- Take it slow when introducing your dog to other animals and always keep an eye on them.
- Use caution when you’re unsure of their interaction with another animal.
- Consider muzzle training when you’re introducing your dog to new animals.
Is it ever too late to socialize a dog?
It’s never too late to socialize a dog, but the approach could be different and require more patience for older pups. Start by asking your vet, trainer or veterinary behaviorist to develop a game plan. Set realistic goals and expectations for your pup, too.
What if my dog doesn’t socialize well?
Continue to work with a veterinary behaviorist and limit interactions with other animals. Your dog can still live a healthy, happy and fulfilled life away from others if they prefer to play on their own.
Socializing your pup from a young age will make the process much easier on you and on them. We know you want to do just about everything with your dog. By making sure they’re comfortable in public and unfamiliar places, you’ll have so many more opportunities for adventures in the future.