Many people understand the importance of socializing a puppy. They make sure puppies get to experience a wide variety of people, places, and situations. What many people don't realize, however, is that it's just as important to continue socializing dogs well into adulthood.
What is Dog Socialization?
Dog socialization involves making your dog comfortable with a variety of people and circumstances. It has long been pointed out by dog trainers and animal behaviorists that puppies under 4 months of age benefit from having positive interactions with a variety of people and encountering as many new objects and situations as possible.
This includes things such as meeting men in uniform, encountering people carrying umbrellas, being pet by a child, having their feet handled, and as many other things you think of that your dog might encounter in his life.
More recently, it has been realized that dog socialization should not end with puppyhood. Rather it is a process that should continue throughout the life of a dog.
Importance of Socializing Adult Dogs
Molly is a good example of the importance of socializing adult dogs. A couple adopted Molly, a German Shepherd mix when she was a young puppy. At the time, they were living in a suburban neighborhood where Molly got lots of walks and met many new people. Her owners had done a fairly good job of socializing Molly.
Shortly after Molly was 6-months-old, the family moved to a more rural area. Instead of walks, Molly got to run in an extra-large yard. On the occasions Molly did get walked, it was rare to run into many neighbors.
When Molly was almost 2-years-old, some family came to visit. Her owners were shocked to find that Molly, always a fairly even-tempered dog, was suddenly growling at the new people coming into their home.
While not every dog is going to have such an extreme reaction as Molly, her case highlights what can happen if you don't continue to socialize an adult dog.
How to Socialize an Adult Dog
The good news is that it is fairly easy to socialize an adult dog. Here are some ideas for making sure your dog gets plenty of socialization throughout his life:
- Take regular walks in places your dog will get to meet other people and animals.
- Visit the dog park.
- Invite over friends and their dogs for play dates.
- Enroll your dog in a dog daycare once or twice a week.
It's important that all of your dog's interactions with other people and animals be kept as positive as possible. Use praise and treats to tell your dog that having other people and animals around is a good thing.
If your dog suddenly begins to show fear or aggression when he is around new people or in a new environment, lack of socialization may be a factor. The best way to handle it is to find a dog trainer or animal behaviorist experienced working with fearful or aggressive dogs. She will be able to help identify the exact cause of your dog's behavior and create a behavior modification program to help manage or end the problem.
Edited by Jenna Stregowski, RVT