No one wants to be the person with “that dog”. You know the one I’m talking about. The dog who barks berserkly at every single other dog on walks. The one who gets tense and nervous, or maybe even shows it’s teeth and growls if another dog tries to say, “Hello.” But how do you avoid that? The answer is simple, with safe socialization.
When to Start Socializing
The best time to start socializing your dog with other dogs is before they reach six months old and as soon as they’ve had at least the first two rounds of vaccinations, though some vets prefer you wait until your dog is fully vaccinated. If you’re going to start before you’ve fully vaccinated, make sure the dog your socializing with has been fully vaccinated, is healthy and is up-to-date on preventative medication for fleas, tics and heartworm. Socializing an adult dog requires a much more careful approach. It’s best to contact a certified dog trainer in your area for assistance socializing adult dogs.
Tips for Successful Puppy Play Dates
- Find the right space. Dogs will be more comfortable if they’re in a neutral place, away from their food and toys with plenty of room to run around. If there is anything nearby they feel they need to protect, they could get territorial. If the space is not big enough, or if they have to be leashed, they may feel trapped. If possible, find a nice big, fenced yard where they can be free to butt sniff, play and run to their heart’s content.
- Size matters. At first, while your puppy is growing and developing motor skills, it’s important to schedule play dates with dogs who are similar in size and weight to avoid accidental injury. No one wants to get clobbered by a clumsy canine! As she becomes more coordinated and has shown she can play nicely with other dogs, you may consider allowing her to play with dogs of different sizes, but use caution with dogs who are 50 percent bigger or smaller.
- Age isn’t just a number. When it comes to socialization, it’s important for your puppy to be exposed to dogs of all ages. Puppies learn a great deal about appropriate play when they are socializing freely with other puppies. They learn valuable motor skills and communication tactics. Plus, they tend to wear each other out just by rolling around and chasing one another. On the other hand, older dogs tend to have a limited amount, if any, patience for puppies. Can you blame them? Puppies are often highly energetic, uncoordinated, and have extremely sharp teeth and nails. This can be very annoying to an adult dog, who may react aggressively toward your puppy. While a single low growl may be enough to teach your puppy a valuable lesson about backing off, many puppies will interpret even slight signs of aggression as a challenge to play. If you plan to introduce your puppy to an adult dog, make sure you or owner of the adult dog are fluent in the adult’s warning signs and know when he’s had enough before he acts out violently.
When to Stop Socializing
Socialization is not a “one and done” activity. It should continue throughout your dog’s life. Dogs who are continually exposed to a lot of dogs of different sizes, breeds and ages, in a positive way tend to be friendlier than dogs who rarely meet new dogs. If your dog gets injured or has a bad experience with another dog, she may become fearful. If this happens, be sure to reach out to a positive reinforcement trainer to talk about ways to desensitize and counter-condition your dog.