Are you worried about socializing an adult dog? The ideal time to do it, of course, is when he is a puppy. Dogs are most receptive to learning new lessons and tricks when they are between the age of 3 to 20 weeks. This is the golden window period of opportunity – but unfortunately it is not always available for every dog-owner. If you’ve just adopted an older dog with a golden heart, you’re a very fortunate person for all the newfound love and companionship you are getting, but yes, there may well be a steep learning curve for the animal to settle and socialize within her new environment.
All is not lost, however. There is still a lot you can do to try and make sure your pet acts and behaves like a community member – and not a lone ranger – when he is in the company of strange dogs or people. Here’s how to do it:
WALKS ARE A PERFECT PLACE TO START SOCIALIZING AN ADULT DOG
• • Take the older dog outside the home. Going for a walk is a perfect opportunity to introduce him to the great big world outside.
KNOW WHEN TO CALL THE WALK OFF
• • Well-meaning dog owners do not always realize that a walk may be causing the unsocialized dog to feel overwhelmed with no escape route. Taking it slow is crucial to this exercise, as well as reading body language cues for discomfort. If you’re not sure how your dog will enjoy the outdoor walk, take it incrementally. For example, stroll around the perimeters of a dog park without entering the first few times until you’re quite sure your dog is looking forward to going in.
QUIET THE DOG WITH EXERCISE
• • The more exercise a dog gets, the less likely he is to react with full-on, high-energy negative behavior when meeting other dogs or people. Allowing him to expend some energy first is a great way to keep the animal more calm and less confrontational in temperament.
DO NOT AGITATE THE DOG
• • Raising your voice or pulling hard on the leash can seriously agitate the dog when he’s trying to assimilate to his new, social environment. Give him a chance to make mistakes, and correct him gently with a particular sound or action that he will learn to associate with a particular behavior as the days go on. If you rile the dog up by shouting or jerking her leash, he will learn nothing positive from that. He will only realize that you are angry, and that knowledge will make him more prone to take bad, anti-social decisions.
USE A MUZZLE IN THE PRESENCE OF OTHER DOGS
• • Until you are very certain that your dog is socialized enough not to react unpredictably, keep a muzzle on him when other dogs are about. Besides the most obvious reason — to prevent him from biting – the muzzle also assures the other dogs that he is a benign force, and therefore they’re more ready to engage and mingle safely with him.
EXPOSE THE DOG TO DIFFERENT SOCIAL ACTIVITIES – GRADUALLY
• • Extend the dog’s ambit and mix up his social experiences is a slow and gradual way. Not rushing through the socialization process gives the animal plenty of time to get used to one set of activities before being exposed to another.
IT’S OKAY TO NOT WANT TO PLAY IN LARGE GROUPS
• • Unlike puppies, who are pretty much up for anything, an adult dog can be more set in his ways. Interacting or playing off-leash with a large group of other dogs may not be something he would like to do, and this is a limitation you have to accept. He doesn’t have to run over and say `hi’ to every strange dog she meets. As long as he is calm and collected in his social interactions, it is perfectly okay. There is a lot of other rewarding stuff your adult boy can do.
RESPECT THE DOG’S WISH NOT TO BE TOUCHED BY STRANGERS
• • Encourage the dog to move away if he does not like being petted. Tell people not to put their hand out and get into his comfort space either. What you can do instead is pass on a nice treat when there are strange people in the group. This way, the dog will learn to associate people with good things.
KEEP HIGH-VALUE TREATS WITH YOU DURING SOCIAL TIMES
• • Pair a positive, social experience with a high-value treat. The connection between the two will encourage the dog to look forward to going out and interacting more.
DOES YOUR DOG SEEM TO HAVE A SPECIAL FRIEND?
• • A lot of unsocialized dogs somehow find comfort in the company of a particular dog. If you see that happening, then think about arranging short play dates, when the two can run around in the yard etc., under supervision of course. The more this friendship blooms, the easier it will be for your dog to embrace others in his social circle.