Ideally, dogs are socialised when they are pups, usually within their first year by exposing them to as many new experiences as possible. Our canine friends are much more sensitive and receptive at this age so the earlier you begin this endeavour, the easier and more successful you are likely to be!
Unfortunately, not all pups are properly socialized within this time frame for many different reasons; maybe their pet parent is struggling to commit to this socialisation phase, or maybe the dog wasn’t fortunate enough to have a loving pet parent as a pup to help teach these things.
There’s an age old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” We’re here to tell you that that’s just simply not true! Whilst it may be more difficult and take more effort, by investing some time and commitment to you older dog, anything is possible!
Here are some tips for socialising an adult dog:
TAKE YOUR DOG FOR FREQUENT WALKS
Daily walks are great opportunities to expose your dog to new sights, sounds, smells, humans and other animals. It is the perfect chance for your pooch to encounter a range of social situations, enabling them to become familiar with these encounters and how you, as their pet parent, expect them to react! Patience is key here, you can’t expect miracles overnight. Practice makes perfect!
If your dog barks or responds in a disruptive or undesirable manner, refrain from scolding or tugging on their lead. This will increase their excitement and create a negative experience for them. Instead, simply walk in another direction and remove them from the situation so they can calm down.
HAVE PEOPLE OVER
Invite one or two friends over and host them in a space where your dog can feel comfortable, such as your living room or backyard. It’s important to remember that this is your dog’s space, their safe place, their home and that your visitors are simply that, visitors!
Make sure your friends do not approach, crowd or overwhelm your dog. You want your dog to make the first move and approach your guests when they are ready, so leave them to it and observe.
If your pup does not make their way over to your visitors themselves, try a little encouragement but arming your guest with a treat or two, which will let your pooch know that they mean no harm and are not to be feared. Keep the environment very positive and laid-back to keep your dog relaxed and help them associate new people with good experiences.
SLOWLY WORK YOUR WAY UP TO A DOG PARK
A dog park is the epitome of socialisation but for an unsocialised or anxious dog, it can very quickly become a frightening and negative experience, so it’s important to know and understand your dog’s boundaries so that you can accurately ascertain whether your dog is ready for this step!
Start off by walking your dog around the perimeter of the park and let him watch the other dogs from a distance. Gradually work your way up to entering by approaching the fence and allowing your dog to sniff and interact with other dogs. Make it a positive experience by taking it slow and giving a treat when they react in a friendly manner. As we’ve mentioned before, creating positive associations is key and by taking these baby steps and pacing the socialisation, the situations are likely to be more relaxed and positive for your furry friend.
If your dog responds aggressively or nervously, move away and start over when they feel calm again. Don’t be discouraged if your pup doesn’t have a good first visit; frequent and controlled practice will make perfect. It’s all about PATIENCE!
MONITOR YOUR ATTITUDE
Being a pet parent can often be stressful and it’s very easy for your mood to impact your interactions with your dog. If you seem stressed out or nervous about an experience, they will too! Through body language and tone, you should remain calm and confident. Don’t play into your dog’s fearful or nervous reactions. If you comfort them when they are frightened, you will teach them that there is a reason to be fearful. Your dog feeds off your reactions and attitude, so be calm, collected and act as though the situation is not a big deal.
TURN TO PROFESSIONALS
If your dog is not responding to your methods, it’s time to contact a professional trainer or consider taking them to a doggie daycare setting! Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for this help; if it helps to improve both your dog’s and your own quality of life and indeed your relationship with each other, what could be more positive than that?!
The key to success is repetition and consistency. Be patient and don’t get discouraged if they don’t catch on right away as it can take a much longer time for older dogs to adapt to new situations and environments!