It’s in the public domain that the best time to train or socialize a dog is in its first year of development. No wonder the phrase “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks (this couldn’t be further from the truth).”
Indeed, this is the period during which the puppy is most sensitive and receptive to new promptings. But what about the dogs that missed this important stage for one reason or the other? You know illnesses, an unfriendly environment etc.
In today’s segment, we look at how to socialize a dog that missed early socialization.
Can You Socialize An Adult Dog?
Adult dogs that missed early socialization have a chance to be shaped into awesome social dogs. So, to socialize an older dog, ensure that you set realistic expectations, figure out what you want to achieve, and work your way up using the best dog socialization techniques like having people visit your home and taking him to a public dog park.
Before we get to the real nitty gritty, let’s start with the basics.
What is dog socialization?
Simply put, socialization involves training your dog in the ideal social behaviours necessary for productive interaction with different environments, humans and other dogs.
Let’s now take a quick dive into the specific benefits of this process.
Advantages of socializing dogs
i. Happy and stress-free
A prominent characteristic of unsocialized dogs is that they tend to keep to themselves. This lack of interaction with others makes the dog susceptible to depression since it’s ever lonely.
On the other hand, a properly socialized dog is fun to be around. It’s happier and approachable.
ii. Lover of peace
When you have a chaotic dog, life can prove to be rather unbearable. Always getting into nasty fights with others, always having to worry about the safety of your toddlers and even strangers.
But a dog that is well-mannered is the exact opposite. Most of the time they’ll be calm and collected; well, unless they’re provoked. They’ll even watch over toddlers and other young dogs.
You’ll love taking them out for the morning and evening walks.
iii. Trading anxiety for a healthy jovial dog
Unsocialized dogs are known to be anxious and shy. Also, such a dog tends to react with aggression especially when presented with challenging situations. However, training your dog equips it the necessary social skills and coping mechanisms for varied situations and circumstances.
How to socialize an adult dog
Even before we get into the meat of it, the most important thing to remember is that dog socialization is a process. As such, consistency and persistence is the key here.
And now to the meat of this piece.
1. Set realistic expectations
One thing many people get wrong here is setting lofty and unrealistic goals. When you’re thinking of how to socialize a dog, it’s always wise to start with a reasonable end goal in mind. Most often, the end goal you set is heavily dependent on the current state of the dog.
For instance, if they’re shy, is it with just those that are nearby or even distant ones? Are they scared of sizes; huge to be precise? Do they freak out when in the presence of adult humans?
Such are the questions that you should first determine the answers to before drawing out a plan of action.
Using the above questions here is a typical plan you could pursue. The end goal should be to help your furry friend overcome the fear of big sizes and large objects.
2. Write down what you hope to achieve
It’s not just enough to have a plan of socializing older/adult dogs. Write them down so that you don’t forget. Your plan should answer the following key aspects.
- The specific goal you hope to achieve
- The state of your dog in relation to the end goal
- The time you’re available for the socialization activities
- The specific socialization activities in their order of execution
As you’ll realize, writing down your expectations helps you to stay focused, organized and motivated.
3. Start taking your dog for frequent walks
If you can manage to take your dog on daily walks, the better. You could even do it twice a day if your schedule allows it.
Why is this important?
Besides the many health benefits, the process helps in habit formation, where it starts developing specific responses to certain stimuli. The daily walks are also good for helping the dog make use of pent-up energy. Again, you’ll remember how these walks are significant to progressive exposure to varying stimuli.
The first step would be for you to identify isolated places in your neighbourhood where you could start walking your dog. The trick here is to acquaint your pet with the practice of daily walks before exposing it to other environments like humans and traffic.
Do this until you’re convinced that your dog companion is at home with this activity. Next, identify a location, say a parking lot, where you could observe human activity without being approached.
You could also go where kids are playing with other dogs and also observe from a distance. Again, don’t move on to the next until you sense relative calm in your dog. The next step is to now expose it to slow human and vehicle traffic and then graduate things up in bits.
4. Start introducing your adult dog to new dogs and puppies
Start off by introducing your dog to one dog at a time. You can visit or invite over a neighbour or a friend with a dog. Increase the number and size of dogs as time goes by.
During this time, observe your dog’s behaviour. Is it feeling inferior or it’s the one that wants to take charge? Also, observe the various reactions depending on the size of the dog.
Is your dog hostile while in its territory? Maybe you’ve realized that it tends to be extremely shy when in strange environments? For instance, if you realize that your pet is too shy when it’s in a new environment, take it more often. If you do this consistently, you’ll notice that the pet is becoming more eager to meet other pets.
5. Take your dog to a doggy care
If you want to speed up things a little bit, consider enrolling your pet in daycare once a week. The dog will develop it’s social skills faster as opposed to when you decide to go it alone.
6. Have people visit your home
This can be done concurrently with the above step. The goal here is to help your pet get used to seeing many new strange faces and familiarizing with them. With time, your pet will get in the habit of forming relationships as opposed to being hostile, territorial, and barking at everyone they see. Start off by one visitor then two, vary the gender, ages, noise intensity. All these should be implemented in small but continuous steps.
7. Work your way up to a dog park
After your furry friend has gotten well acquainted with people and dogs as guided in the above steps, you need to take things a notch higher.
Put your dog on a leash and start by walking around the fence of the dog park. Observe its reaction. Is it anxious? Excited? Is it eager to join the dogs inside the park?
When you’re sure it’s safe, allow the dog to join the rest in the park. All this while, the leash should be on so that you’re ready to pull it out in case there’s a need.
8. Introduce your dog to different social activities
Apart from what’s already mentioned, include games and other fun activities in the process. It’s easier to achieve your goals when you make things interesting. Play games with your dog and bring along other pets and kids when you’re sure to do so.
9. Turn to professionals
There are two reasons why you would want the input of professionals. One, you want to be sure that you’re doing the right thing which corresponds to the unique needs of your dog.
Secondly, you could have realized that you’re not just getting the desired results no matter how hard you try. Either, you don’t have to and shouldn’t go this journey alone.
A professional dog trainer will put at your disposal their experience and show you what you need to do in order to achieve your goals. They know what works and what doesn’t so they’ll save you time of having to second guess.
Important things to note when socializing adult dogs
While socializing an adult dog, there are things that you can do to help fasten the process. Follow these tips to minimize many false starts in your training and socialization.
- Make the activity super rewarding: Find out what your pet loves the most. Anytime it responds favorably to your prompts, reinforce that behavior by rewarding with what it likes.
- Keep an eye on the prize: It won’t be a walk in the park. So when things look as though they aren’t working, keep going. One way is to celebrate every small win, that’s how you get to the top.
- Choose the best time to socialize them: don’t do it when the weather is not too encouraging. When the dog is tired, let it be.
Dos and Don’ts of adult dog socialization
- DO plan – it’s not an accident
- DO start with distance
- One step at a time as you celebrate the small wins.
- DO make experiences positive. …
- DO take breaks. …
- DO choose your moments.
- DON’T force interaction – doing so only turns your dog off
- DON’T be afraid to speak up if you need to protect your dog when they need space
- DON’T see it as a duty that must be fulfilled – or you’ll fail.
- DON’T be tempted to move too quickly
Frequently Asked Questions
What happens if a dog isn’t socialized?
You’ll have to keep it away from the rest because that’s the only way it will not get into trouble. Unsocialized dogs can easily become depressed. Also, it’s likely to become overweight which in turn will invite a host of medical issues.
How do I make my dog more social?
Expose it to motivating situations and environments. Isolation is the number one killer of dog socialization; so don’t allow this to happen to your dog. If you’re feeling helpless, turn to professionals.
How long does it take to socialize a dog?
It depends. The biggest determinants are the amounts of time and resources you invest in it. It could be 3 months or even 1 year.
That’s how to socialize an adult dog. Remember, nothing is ever impossible. All you need to do is have the right attitude, set your goal and do whatever it takes to get there.
As earlier pointed out, the best way to avoid distractions is to draw up a plan right from the start. Be objective and realistic in what you want to achieve with your pet bearing in mind it’s current state. And when you feel that it’s time, bring in a professional perspective to help guide you on this journey.