Just like humans, dogs have a personality. Some dogs like humans more than their four-legged friends, some are social butterflies, and some prefer to just stick to themselves all together. Whether your dog is the definition of an extrovert or would much prefer spending most of his time at home, there are going to be situations where he has to interact with other dogs and other humans—and if he doesn’t know the right ways to behave, it’s going to be stressful for everyone involved, whether they have four or two legs.
Which is why socialization training is so important. When your dog knows the proper way to interact with other dogs and other humans, you can bring him anywhere and trust he’ll be on his best behavior. But if he doesn’t? Well, let’s just say the likelihood of complete disaster? Yeah, it’s up there.
Now, obviously, you want your dog to be well socialized so you don’t have to cross your fingers and hope he won’t act like a complete lunatic every time you walk out your front time.
But socialization is more than that; it’s a safety issue. If your dog doesn’t know the proper way to behave around other people or dogs, it can be a dangerous situation. He might jump on someone and knock them over. He might get overly excited with an aggressive dog and end up getting bitten. Or he might get completely overwhelmed when confronted with too many dogs or people and run away.
If you want to protect your dog, yourself, and anyone else you come in contact with, it’s important to take the time to school your pup on proper social etiquette.
How to Safely Socialize Your Dog
- Encourage positive interactions with other dogs
- Introduce your pup to plenty of people
- Watch and listen to your pup + remove if necessary
The first key to socializing your dog is making sure he has plenty of interactions with other pups. The more your dog interacts with other dogs, the more comfortable he’ll get with the interactions—and the better he’ll behave.
Take your dog on plenty of walks around your neighborhood or to the dog park. When he sees another dog, let him stop and interact. If he barks or acts inappropriately, don’t yank on his leash or yell; that will only get him more excited. Instead, either redirect his attention with a command (like telling him to “sit”) or calmly walk away. If he has a positive, appropriate interaction, make sure to lay on the praise. In fact, if you want to encourage that behavior, you can do more than just lay on the praise…
Use treats to encourage positive interactions
For most pups, there’s nothing more exciting than a treat; they’ll do just about anything to get you to hand over the good stuff. And that includes socializing with other dogs.
Keep your pup’s favorite treats in your pocket. Whenever your dog has a positive interaction with another pup, make sure to give him a treat. It won’t take long for him to connect his positive behavior with the treat—and once that happens (and he knows a treat is on its way), he’ll be on his best behavior anytime he sees another pup.
Don’t force him to interact for too long
Have you ever had someone in your life that you could only handle in small doses (like that nosy coworker a few cubicles over)? Well, for dogs that are just learning how to socialize, that’s the way it is for pretty much every dog.
When it comes to interactions with other pups, less is more. Give your dog enough time to say hello and show off his behavior skills but not enough time to get bored or anxious (which will cause him to throw his good behavior out the window and start acting out).
Socializing with humans
Now let’s move on to socializing with humans.
Introduce your pup to plenty of people
Just like you want to introduce your dog to plenty of pups, you also want to make sure they’re getting time to interact with lots of different people.
The more people your dog interacts with—and, more importantly, the more types of people your dog interacts with—the better he’ll behave. Invite friends, both male and female, over to hang with you and your pup. If possible, take your dog to public places where he is likely to run into other humans, like on a walking path or to the store (just make sure it’s pet-friendly!). The point is, you want to get him comfortable around humans that aren’t you. When he has a positive interaction with another person, make sure to give him plenty of praise (and a treat!).
Just to cover your bases, make sure to let people know that your pup is still learning how to behave around humans.
Just like any other type of training, if you’re trying to teach your pup how to behave around other humans, consistency is key. If you let him jump all over you every time you walk in the door, he’s going to think it’s okay to jump on anyone else that might walk through the door, too.
Your dog learns how to interact with humans by interacting with you, so make sure his interactions with you are in line with how you want him to behave before you unleash him into the world.
Finally, Listen to your pup above all else.
One last thing to keep in mind: always, always, ALWAYS listen to your pup. If your dog seems uncomfortable, nervous, or overwhelmed in a social situation, remove him. It’s better to take things slow and ease your pup into things than forcing him to socialize before he’s ready.
Socializing your pup is one of the best things you can do for you, him, and any other dog or person he might cross paths with in the future. And now that you know the way to properly socialize your dog, your pup will transform from wallflower to social butterfly in no time.