It’s no secret that socializing your puppies and dogs is one of the most beneficial things you can do for them. However, there is a lot of confusion about the most effective ways to do it. A big misconception is that in order to properly socialize your dogs (regardless of their age), you must put them around as many new dogs as possible. This has actually proven to be less effective and has often lead to dogs developing micro-aggressive behaviors. To better understand why this plan often backfires in the long run, consider yourselves and your own feelings. While it may seem like a bit of a stretch just imagine yourself at a party by yourself with a bunch of strangers. It’d be uncomfortable if not a little stressful, and when you take your dogs to a random daycare or dog park that’s essentially the position you’re inadvertently putting them in.
Instead, try to start on a smaller scale. If you’re dealing with puppies, simply holding your pup around other dogs (preferably smaller dogs at first) will do the trick. This tactic allows your puppies to become familiar with the scent, sound, and looks of other dogs while having the reassurance of you holding them.
With that being said, this method isn’t the best if you have adolescent to older dogs, especially if they’re on the bigger side. In this situation be sure to introduce your dogs to other dogs in larger areas. A larger area simply ensures that the dogs don’t feel confined and there is less pressure for them to interact. As mentioned earlier, if dogs are uncomfortable in a situation they may become tense and start to act out, which, in turn, will trigger the others. An effective and easy way to socialize your dogs in an open area can even be done on walks. It could be really fun tp invite a friend and their dog to meet up with you. Or, if your friend isn’t available another option might be to walk in an area where other people walk their dogs.
In this scenario the leash plays a very large role. Ensure that the leash is dragging with no tension. When there is tension in the leash it reflects in the body language of your dogs. In other words, if the leash is tight then the dog probably has tense posture which can look threatening to the other dogs on the walk.
Don’t limit socialization to playtime.
For example, when training your dogs use a more controlled form of introduction, like a walk. Walking your dog with a friend and their dog allows your pets to be close but more controlled. This allows your dog to focus on you and the other dog(s) around them. At the end of the day, the end goal in training and socializing your dogs is discipline; you want your dogs to listen to you— sometimes using playtime as their first form of socialization is counterintuitive and may train your dogs to have more hedonistic habits.
Play socialization is a great form of reward, though. For example, if your dogs and your friends’ dogs do well on a walk together, reward them with some unleashed free-play. With that being said good recall is key. Train your dogs to respond to you calling their names by being clear, consistent, and fair. Put simply this means use simple phrase to call them back (i.e. just their names). Dogs won’t understand full sentences. Instead of saying “Koda, it’s time to go home,” just call “Koda.” Consistency and fairness are also important; it’s often more effective to call the dogs’ name until they respond and then reward them with a small treat when they do so they have incentive to come next time you call their name. If you’re clear, consistent, and fair, ideally your dogs will come running to you when you call their names, even if they are around other animals.
Your dogs should be more bonded to you, the owner, rather than other dogs. And, by using a more disciplined form of socialization you reinforce this notion.