How to Socialize Your Dog

Let me start off embarrassing myself a little bit. As a teenager, I used to binge watch the show, “The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan” and sincerely thought that I was a certified dog trainer after a couple of episodes. This was before I had even owned my own dog, and I still, for whatever reason, thought I was a professional. As silly as this assumption was at the time, it is what fueled my ambition towards learning about K9 behavior and manners.

Photo of a black lab puppy smiling and lying in grass

Why Socialize? 

Oftentimes, a well-socialized dog is not always important to pet owners. I have many friends who don’t put much emphasis on teaching their pets how to behave in social situations because their pets spend most of their time with just their human, and I fully understand and support that! If you want your dog to be a stay-at-home pup and you want to spend all of your quality time snuggled up together or tossing a ball around in your own yard, more power to you! Everyone wants something different out of their pets and has a different “life plan” for how they want to live with their furry companion. 

However, if you’re like me, you would like to engage in as many social activities as you can with your dog. I thoroughly enjoy being able to bring my dog to the local dog parks or on hikes with other pet owners. Therefore, I need to be confident that my dog will behave properly around other people and animals in order to create a positive experience. This is where properly learning how to socialize dogs is a necessity.

A golden retriever puppy sitting outside

Young Dogs and Puppies

Starting off by socializing your puppy at a young age and exposing them to all different kinds of people and other animals is, in my opinion, one of the best moves you can make towards having a confident and friendly adult dog. 

Allowing your young pet to spend time playing, napping, walking and eating with other dogs will help them become comfortable when meeting other dogs in the future. 

You should encourage your puppy to share their toys with other dogs to avoid forming a possessive attitude towards toys and food. Teaching your pup to eat from their own food bowl and using your own hand to touch their food while they are having a meal will teach them to not act aggressively should another dog approach them while they are eating a treat or their kibble. I did this very often with my own dog while he was growing up and I still practice it on occasion. When he is eating, I will touch the sides of his food bowl and will pick up a few pieces of kibble to reinforce his non-possessive understanding of food. 

We also have housed about 10 foster puppies in the past few years and I have encouraged the puppies to eat out of their own bowls and not share each other’s kibble. When a puppy wanders towards another dog’s food bowl, you should quickly redirect them to their own and separate them to avoid this behavior. 

Because of their happy-go-lucky attitude and youthful, eager-to-learn disposition, it can be pretty easy to socialize puppies the correct way and create a path towards having a social, outgoing and friendly adult dog.

A black french bulldog and a golden retriever sit next to each other on a white couch wearing matching blue bandanas

Adult Dogs

We don’t always have the luxury of training or socializing our pets when they are young. Many people end up adopting senior dogs or adult dogs who, unfortunately, have been through tough experiences and were never awarded the opportunity to socialize properly. 

When taking on the responsibility of an adult dog, the first step in socialization is incredibly important–I cannot stress that enough! If you do not take the time and precautions to begin this process with care and consideration, it might have a long-lasting negative effect on your dog’s personality. 

You should begin by finding a friend or neighbor who has a well-behaved dog who walks respectfully on a leash and meet them in a neutral location, whether that be a park, a quiet back road, or a large empty field. It is important that this area is not your dog’s or the other dog’s “territory” and that it is a mostly calm environment with limited distractions. 

You should walk your dog normally for about ten minutes before bringing the other dog and owner around, making sure that your dog is comfortable on the leash, is not pulling excessively and is not worrisome or nervous. If your dog is showing any of these signs, you should continue to walk around, in circles or back and forth, while rewarding them for good behavior and speaking in a tone of encouragement while also remaining calm and confident yourself. 

Once your dog is showing signs that they are content, you can introduce the new dog, but not directly. Have your friend walk their dog calmly past you a few times, far enough away so that they can acknowledge each other but not reach each other. Do this enough times to where the dogs are both focused back on their owners and walking, then you can move closer together with the other pair. 

If you remain calm and collected, your dog will sense your energy and will eventually mimic your attitude. This is why it is important that the other dog is calm, relaxed, and not reactive. The more time you spend slowly introducing your dog to other dogs and encouraging a relaxed, non-threatening, non-abrasive behavior, the easier it will be to allow your dog to socialize with others.

Two golden retrievers sit outside in the snow

Basic Tips

Although socializing adult dogs can sometimes prove to be more difficult than socializing puppies, there are a few tactics that you should carry with you while training a dog of any age. 

Always make sure that you are introducing two dogs to each other on neutral territory.  Find somewhere that isn’t claimed by either dog so that they can get comfortable with each other before allowing them into their own territories together. 

You should also focus on desensitizing them to toys, food, and other items that may be played with in a group setting. It is important to teach your pup that even their favorite squeaky toy or tennis ball should be shareable and that they are not allowed to become territorial over these items. For example, when I am fostering other dogs in my home, when they are eating at the same time as my dog, they sometimes wander over to my dog’s food bowl. Although I quickly redirect them to their own bowl, my dog has been taught to not act aggressively, even if they do steal a bite of his delicious Earthborn kibble.

Most importantly, you should always congratulate your pup for good behavior. If they are calm and relaxed when meeting new people or new dogs, reward them. If they let another dog take their toy away, reward them with another toy and remember to speak to them in a pleasing voice to let them know that they are doing a good job! Patience, confident energy, and positive encouragement are keys to developing a well-behaved and happy K9 companion!  

A female in a red coat sits next to her golden retriever dog in the snow with a view of mountains