Introduce your dog to different ages, sizes, colors, and genders of people, so that he's comfortable with everyone.
Socializing means teaching your dog to get along with the big wide world....introducing him to strangers, children, other dogs, cats, and other animals.
Introducing him in all the right ways so he behaves appropriately.
You want your dog to greet people politely. Think about how YOU feel when you visit friends and you can hardly get in the door because their dog is going crazy, jumping all over you, or barking maniacally. Or perhaps you can't even touch him because he's so nervous. These dogs have not been properly socialized or taught how to behave.
You want your dog to be non-prejudiced. Some dogs are fine with women, but wary of men. To prevent this, be sure you introduce your dog to both women and men.
Some dogs are suspicious of certain physical features – a beard, a floppy hat, dark sunglasses, a walking cane – look for people with such features and introduce your dog.
Some dogs react aggressively to uniforms (police officers, mail carriers). A few dogs are so observant they notice skin color and if it's not what they're used to, they react with suspicion. Again, it's up to you to introduce your dog to ALL kinds of people.
You want your dog to be safe with children
Introduce your dog to well-behaved
children of all ages.
You might think, "That's no problem, my puppy loves kids!"
But often this doesn't last, you see. Puppies change as they grow up, and many puppies grow into adult dogs who are wary of children.
The odds that a dog bite victim will be a child are 3 to 1. That's because dogs do not view children as miniature adults, but rather as unpredictable creatures with loud voices, herky-jerky movements, and melodramatic emotions. Many dogs don't know what to make of children, so they're wary.
Here's another statistic: 76% of dog bite injuries to children under age 10 are bites to the face. That's just awful. To keep your dog from becoming one of those statistics, you have to socialize him with children, not only as a puppy, but as he grows through his adolescent months, and on into adulthood.
You want your dog to be peaceful with other animals
Dogs need to be taught how to get along with each other.
You want your dog to get along with other dogs. Many owners are distressed to discover that as he grows up, their puppy no longer tolerates other dogs of the same sex. Or dogs that are larger (or smaller) than himself.
Or perhaps your dog isn't aggressive at all – perhaps he's shy or fearful, or perhaps he is overly enthusiastic so that he overwhelms other dogs who may not want to play.
All of these behaviors require that you work on socialization with other dogs, from puppyhood through adulthood.
You want your dog to get along with your own cat – and leave other cats alone. By teaching your dog to respect cats, you're keeping him safe. A cat's claws carry lots of bacteria, which means cat scratches can become seriously infected. And dogs who become obsessed cat chasers will dash through open doors, leap from car windows, climb over fences, and rush heedlessly into the street when a cat suddenly appears from the shadows. Also, your cat-owning friends will be very unhappy if you show up for a visit with a cat-intolerant dog. Socialization with cats is imperative if you want a truly well-behaved dog.
You want your dog to be calm and confident
Stressed body language: wide eyes, furrowed brow, base of the ears pulled down low, pursed lips.
You want your dog to react calmly to sights and sounds in the world. Unsocialized dogs often develop fears and fetishes. I knew a Beagle who freaked out whenever his owner opened an umbrella. A Doberman who refused to walk across a tile floor. Dogs who won't go up or down stairs....or who will go up but not down....or down but not up. Dogs who pitch a fit when the vacuum cleaner turns on. Fear of thunder, fear of fireworks, fear of emergency sirens, fear of mailboxes. Mailboxes?
Fears and stresses are bad for your dog's health. Socialization takes away those fears and stresses. You can socialize your dog to be calm about what is happening in the world around him.
Finally – and this is so important – you want your dog to trust people. Otherwise, he's going to get really stressed when a veterinarian or groomer or petsitter has to handle him. Or imagine if your dog was suddenly separated from you. An open door, an open gate, a car crash from which your dog escapes and finds himself loose on the road....will he go to strangers who are trying to help him?
We never know what our dogs might have to cope with in life. So we need to prepare them by socializing them with everyone and everything. Just as you spend time and effort training your dog to be well-behaved, you need to spend time and effort socializing him to deal calmly with the world.
Socialize from puppyhood through adulthood
Start socializing your puppy at 7 weeks old.
PUPPY socialization (first six months) has the most dramatic effect on how a dog turns out.
And here's something interesting....the most critical period in a dog's life, psychologically, is the period from 7 weeks old to 16 weeks old. Now, you wouldn't think those 9 weeks could be so important, but they are. Puppies should be introduced to strangers and other animals during this critical period....but there's a right way and a wrong way to do it.
You have to pay attention to how Puppy reacts. If he reacts properly, good.... just give him more socialization opportunities.
But if Puppy doesn't react properly, you have to know how to handle that.
For example, if Puppy is afraid or overly rambunctious when someone comes for a visit, it will only make matters worse to invite other people over while Puppy repeatedly cowers behind your leg or jumps all over them.
Remember, this critical early learning period comes only once in a dog's life, so it's important to get it right.
We'll talk more about this in a minute, but first....
Socialization doesn't END with puppyhood.
ADOLESCENT socialization is next in importance. Adolescence begins somewhere between 6 and 9 months old, and ends somewhere between 14 months old and 3 years old. (Larger breeds have the longest adolescent periods.)
Adolescence is an awkward time of change. A young dog's attitude toward the world may change from week to week – even from day to day! This is also a difficult time for owners, because up until then their puppy may have been getting along famously with the world. But during adolescence, when the hormones kick in, that sweet puppy may change – a LOT. He may suddenly become suspicious or skittish, or alternate between brashness and fearfulness.
Most owners respond to these fluctuations in ways that are well-meaning, but actually counter-productive with dogs and simply reinforce the spooky behavior. To help your dog through this challenging period in his life, it's important that you respond in specific ways that match how dogs learn.
I can help you with that....
Finally, there is ADULT socialization. If you have an adult dog who is acting inappropriately toward people or other animals, you obviously can't go back in time to socialize him during the all-important puppyhood and adolescent stages.
But you can start now and work forward. It may be too late to change his FEELINGS about other people or other animals – but socialization can still change his BEHAVIOR toward them. In other words, you can teach your dog to remain calm and quiet, tolerating and accepting people and other animals even if he doesn't particularly like them. And that is a very worthy goal.
Start socializing today
Dogs feel most secure when they know how to interact positively with strangers and other dogs, and when they're comfortable with the sights and sounds of the world.
So take your dog out into the world and teach him how to interact.
As long as your dog shows appropriate reactions, all you have to do is continue giving him a variety of new socialization experiences.
That's the easy part. But if your dog shows fear or aggression, becomes suspicious or skittish, or even if he shows excessive enthusiasm, you must take charge of teaching him proper reactions. And you must do it immediately, or the inappropriate behavior will only get more rooted.
Consider this example.
You take your dog Jake out for a walk. Jake sees another dog and starts barking wildly and pulling on the leash. Jake's behavior is inappropriate, whether it comes from aggression or friendliness. You hold tight to the leash and scold him, "No, Jake. Quiet! Stop it!" But Jake ignores you and keeps right on barking and pulling wildly to run toward the other dog.
Why is Jake acting like this? Why isn't he listening to you? That's an interesting question. The answer goes to the heart of all socialization issues – indeed, all dog training issues.
The truth is that Jake doesn't trust you enough and respect you enough to let YOU make the decisions about what's acceptable and what isn't. Plain and simple, it's a respect issue. Dogs instinctively know that someone has to make decisions for the whole family. Respect issues come up when a dog doesn't recognize that YOU are that someone.
Jake needs respect training, as does every other dog with behavior problems or socialization issues.
We need to socialize our dogs because the human world doesn't naturally make sense to dogs. They have to be taught that in our world, it's OK for other dogs to be out for walks with their owners, for squirrels to run free, for your sister to come for a visit, for thunderstorms to exist, for vacuum cleaners to move, for humans to eat off tables while dogs have to eat off the floor, etc, etc.
You dog needs to learn to look to YOU to find out what's okay in the world and what's okay with his behavior.
Your dog must be taught to respect you enough to relax and let you make all such decisions about what's OK and what isn't.
Ask yourself this simple question. Does your dog look to you to find out what's OK in the world and what's OK with his behavior?
If not, he needs respect training as well as socialization experiences.
I can show you how to do this effectively. The Sociable Dog (Getting Along With The World) is one of the most popular chapters in my respect-based dog training book. I explain the details of socializing your dog with strangers, children, and other animals, and most importantly, how to respond if he acts inappropriately. My respect-based training book that includes this valuable chapter is called Teach Your Dog 100 English Words and it's available for instant download or as a printed book. You can read all about it here.