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Through no fault of my own, I learned the hard way what happens if your dog isn’t properly socialized and found myself wondering, is it too late to socialize my dog?
We adopted a 6-month-old shepherd/pit mix from a local rescue organization and we could not have been happier. This was my first experience having a big dog and I can’t say that any dog I ever had made me laugh as Frisbee did.
Everything was great for two years until one day something in Frisbee snapped.
Frisbee stretched out in front of the door every day waiting to hop in the car with my husband, Peter. He went everywhere with him for almost two years and seemed to love his adventures but what we didn’t realize is he was also stressed out and struggling to process all of the noise, smells and people touching him.
Little did we know Frisbee had never been socialized, nor did we know the importance of socializing a dog. We had no idea we were tossing him right into the fire and what the consequences of doing that would be.
We were told by a behavior specialist after sitting in his office with Frisbee for 6 hours and $900 later, that a switch was flipped and we probably would never know what caused the switch to flip or be able to completely flip that switch back.
We did learn more about his early months when I contacted the rescue which I will share in a bit but first let’s take a look at what it even means to socialize your dog.
What is Dog Socialization and Why Does It Matter?
Dog socialization is exposing your dog to other animals, people, places, sounds, smells and activities as soon as possible so your dog is comfortable and confident in any situation.
Ideally, socialization should be done as a puppy but this may not always be possible depending on when your pooch became part of your family. At whatever age you start socializing your dog consider their needs and meet them where they are in the process.
Socialized dogs tend to be more relaxed, happier, more approachable, and able to handle stressful situations better.
Signs of poorly socialized dogs include anxiety, shyness, fear aggression, and reactivity due to a lack of social skills and confidence in dealing with new people and unfamiliar situations.
Being uncomfortable at the vet or with a groomer or anywhere outside of their comfort zone is also what happens if you don’t socialize your dog
5 Easy Tips to Socialize Your Dog or Puppy
The benefits of dog socialization are not only for your dog but are for you too. It’s an amazing feeling knowing your dog is “bomb proof” and will be comfortable in almost any situation.
If you’re asking yourself, is it too late to socialize my dog, the answer is no but you should start as soon as you can.
Let’s take a look at how to socialize your dog with other dogs and how to socialize your dog with humans.
Take Your Dog to New Places- Exposing your dog to different environments is a must during the socialization process. The dog that never gets out of its own home or backyard is going to be a fearful dog somewhere between 12 and 24 months old. (This is about the time Frisbee flipped the switch)
When I talk about taking your dog to different environments one example would be to stand in front of the grocery store as if you’re waiting for somebody.
You can do the same thing at any strip center that has retail stores. This gives your dog an opportunity to experience all kinds of sensations including new sites, sounds, and smells.
The park is another excellent place to take your new dog but I’m talking about a park, not a dog park. Make sure your dog is ALWAYS on a leash, even if and especially if other dogs are not.
Take Your Dog Around A Lot Of Different People – One key to socialization is to have your dog interact with a wide variety of people. Dogs need exposure to keep them from being fearful of new people in the future.
You can do this in many ways including taking your dog to different parks or going on a walk where you know you will come across people.
Be mindful of the surroundings when you are introducing your dog to new people. Also, avoid large crowds or tight spaces.
Your dog will only be able to handle so much stimulation at once so you don’t want to combine new people with loud noises or too many moving parts all at once. This could be counterproductive to your goals of proper socialization.
Expose Your Dog To Kids – A dog perceives a child as different than an adult and we want to teach them that kids are okay.
You can combine this exercise with taking your dog to different locations or to your local park. You might want to bring some treats and offer to have kids give your dog a treat. Your dog will start to associate kids with yummy treats and will begin anxiously looking for kids.
Take Your Dog Around Other Dogs – Be sure the dogs you expose your dog to are dog friendly. The last thing you want to experience while socializing your dog is an aggressive dog.
A great way to start introducing your dog to other dogs is to host a doggie playdate at your house. This allows you to control the environment and by choosing the dog you invite for the play date you will know if the dog is dog friendly.
Keep It Simple – Socialization doesn’t always mean big dog park outings and huge parties. Socialization can be as simple as a walk around the neighborhood. Any new experience counts even if it’s just a car ride to grab something from a drive-through.
These are all learning moments and fun adventures for your dog. The goal of socialization is to make all of these unique experiences positive.
While the dog park is a popular place to meet other dogs it’s not necessarily the best place to socialize your new dog. It can be overwhelming for them, and you have no control over what other people’s dogs are going to do.
I would avoid dog parks entirely until you feel your dog has been properly socialize and are confident he can handle surprises.
Bonus Tip – Keep it fun and start small. This should be a positive, enjoyable process for you and your dog.
This is especially important when socializing an adult dog. Every dog has different tolerance levels so be sure to consider their limits and triggers and create a starting point that’s suitable for your dog.
If your dog seems to be nervous around large groups of people, start with smaller groups. Pay close attention to your dogs’ behavior to make sure they aren’t crossing the threshold of their ability to adapt to their current situation.
And remember to reward your dog when they are reacting in positive ways to their surroundings.
A Note About Socializing Your Puppy
Socializing your unvaccinated puppy can be a challenge but is still very necessary so your puppy can have a more enjoyable life as an adult dog.
Puppies aren’t fully vaccinated during their first 14 – 16 weeks, leaving them susceptible to various diseases and infections. Because of the increased risks, there are some precautions to keep in mind but there are still ways to socialize a puppy.
The main consideration is to not have your unvaccinated puppy anywhere they might come in contact with a disease from another dog.
One way to socialize your unvaccinated puppy is to invite vaccinated doggie friends over for a playdate or take your puppy to a friend’s house if you know their dog is fully vaccinated. The more you can do this with different friends, different locations, and different doggie friends the better.
You can also take your puppy with you on some short errand runs to get him used to different sights, noises, smells and experiences.
I would be careful where you let your puppy walk if you take him out of the car because you don’t know what other dogs might have crossed that path.
Socializing isn’t just about introducing your puppy to other dogs, it’s also about introducing them to other people. During your puppies unvaccinated stage make sure you are allowing them to be around many different people of all ages.
I would NEVER take an unvaccinated puppy to a pet store or dog park and advise even being careful at your vet appointments. I took my newest puppy to the vet for her vaccinations in a dog carrier and told them I did not want her touching the ground.
Over the top? Maybe, but I only wanted to protect my sweet pup.
Final Thoughts for Proper Dog Socialization
With all of these socialization activities, you need to make 100% sure you are completely focused on your dog and the environment. That means, no cell phones, no chit-chatting, and no distractions at all. You are training your dog and that requires you to be engaged fully paying attention. I can’t stress this enough.
One more thing…make sure your dog is secured on a leash every time you are out in public with a dog park being an exception.
Is It Too Late To Socialize My Dog
For almost two years, Frisbee seemed like a well-adjusted happy dog who enjoyed all of his adventures away from home.
Then one day, without warning, everything changed.
I remember that day like it was yesterday because that’s the day our lives were turned upside down and life as we knew it as dog owners would forever be changed.
Peter had Frisbee at Home Depot which was a place he visited often. All was good until a little girl tried to hug Frisbee. His response was to try to bite her. Lucky for us (and the little girl) it was an air bite but he sure sent a message.
I am sure it’s not fun for a dog to have a total stranger wrap their arms around their neck but most dogs would have found a way to back out of the headlock instead of attempting to bite.
I immediately called a trainer but the trick, treat reward training wasn’t really what Frisbee needed and as a result we had other bite situations.
You can click here to read Frisbee’s whole story and let me say, it’s a doozy.
After going back to the rescue over and over again for more information we were FINALLY told his story.
Frisbee and his brother and sister were turned over to animal control as young pups which I am certain resulted in zero socialization.
At a couple months old, a rescue organization tried to pull them from animal control but Frisbee and one of his siblings tested positive for parvo. Not only did he not get to leave, but now he was quarantined.
I believe for at least the first 4 months of his life, Frisbee had no socialization and probably very little interaction with people at all.
And, we didn’t know this.
After he was taken from Animal Control, based on my conversations with the foster mom, I doubt he had much, if any, socialization during the next two months of his life.
So, is it too late to socialize my dog?
For me, maybe because I didn’t know what I didn’t know and by the time I learned the truth about Frisbee, we may have actually oversocialized him or at the very least, didn’t do it right.
Looking back at when Frisbee had his first episode at Home Depot, I believe that even though Frisbee seemed to enjoy the outings with Peter, it was just too much stimulation for his brain to process. The end result was a dog with lifelong fear aggression and an extensive bite history.
This is why this topic is so important to me. If I can help one person avoid the nightmare we’ve been through, not to mention what Frisbee goes through, I would be very happy.
Please, take the necessary time to properly socialize your puppy or dog. Waiting too long could cause your dog to snap and once that switch flips it’s pretty difficult to flip it back.
I hope you got value from this post. Feel free to leave a comment below and if you have any other socializing tips or stories, we’d love to hear them.
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