Socializing Your New Dog

 

With the influx of “pandemic puppies” this past year, many people are now presented with the task of socializing their new dog. This is an important process to have a balanced dog who is comfortable around people, other animals and in different environments.

 

What Is Socialization?

Though “socializing your dog” has become a common term among the pet community, many people don’t understand what it truly means. Though socialization in a human context typically means spending time with friends and learning how to get along with others in group settings, for dogs “socializing” means something slightly different. 

Though learning to get along with other dogs is an important part of socializing your new puppy, that’s a small part of the process. Socialization for your dog also means that they get used to and meet many different types of people, as well as novel sights, sounds, smells, surfaces and environments. Additionally, learning to keep focus and attention on their person in many different settings as the foundation of good training is part of socialization. 

Gnocchi playing with baby Cookie, Photo courtesy of @cookie_monsterpup

 

Other Dogs

This is usually what people think about when they hear “dog socialization”. When your puppy is young, it’s important to introduce them to some puppy-friendly, vaccinated adult dogs and other friendly puppies. It’s best to introduce your puppy to a known adult dog who is tolerant of or enjoys playing with (and teaching manners to!) puppies. Avoid unknown dogs, those who are grumpy by nature, or who are elderly or have health conditions puppies may aggravate. To meet other puppies, it’s best to attend puppy classes or puppy playgroups where it’s assured all puppies are vaccinated and free of parasites.

Puppy playgroup at Hudson Barks, Photo courtesy of Hudson Barks

 

People

Your new puppy needs to meet as many people as possible in their early months. This is the time when a puppy learns “what” a human is and looks like. Introduce them to people of all ages, genders, races, and abilities. Many times, when people say their dog doesn’t like people of a certain “group” it’s because the dog wasn’t exposed to people like that as a pup, so they don’t fit into the dog’s schema of what a person is, looks, or acts like. People around the dog should also wear all manner of different clothing like hats and sunglasses, as well as accessories like canes and umbrellas so the dog understands those are not threatening objects. Make it a meeting new people a positive experience by making sure they are being gentle, respectful, and occasionally giving treats or toys. This part of socialization can be challenging during covid, but with mask wearing, allowing your pup to say hello to new human friends in positive ways can still be safe. 

 

Environments and Novel Stimuli

Nothing is more stressful than having a dog who becomes terrified on walks and refuses to move or tries to run away. Exposure to different sights, smells and sounds is especially important in a city. Your pup needs to get used to and understand sounds of traffic, bikes, trains, construction and the hustle and bustle the city is nothing to be afraid of. The best way to prevent this is slowly expose your pup to as many different places and things that you can. Take your puppy on sidewalks, to restaurants, public parks, dog-friendly stores, and more. If you’re worried about walking a puppy too young for all their vaccinations around town, you can carry them in your arms, a sling, or a carrier/stroller or play recordings of city noises while indoors. 

Soju exploring JC, Photo courtesy of @kimchiandsoju

 

Focus on You!

While exposing your pup to the new, exciting world you should also work on your dog paying attention to you among distractions. Practicing “heel” and “watch me” commands can help your dog focus on you and learn that you are the most important person wherever they are. It’s also necessary that your dog learns YOU decide when they get to make new friends (of any species!), and they can’t rush up to everyone and do whatever they want. This not only builds a strong foundation of manners in your puppy, but builds their trust in you as a handler. 

Penny and her human Mike

 

Considerations for Adult Dogs

If instead of a new puppy you adopted an adult dog, socialization will be a different process. For dogs over the age of six months, their “prime socialization period” has ended. While they are still open to new experiences, they may not take to them as easily as new puppies. It’s important to be more patient with older dogs as they may struggle to acclimate to new things and/or may have had previously frightening experiences. Additionally, plenty of adult dogs have set personalities where they prefer not to have doggy friends, or are more reserved when it comes to new people—and that’s ok! However, if your newly adopted adult dog is struggling with fear or aggression when meeting new people, animals or environments, you should contact a trainer to help you work with your job to make you and the dog more comfortable. 

 

Have Fun, But Don’t Overdo It!

While socializing is a vital part of developing your puppy into a well-balanced dog, you must not go overboard. If your dog ever seems overwhelmed by trying to flee, avoiding situations, and tucking their tail, give them a break. Forcing your dog to do things they’re afraid of won’t make them more comfortable, but rather create fears and aversions. Remember to do things gradually. Avoid dog parks for the first few months, as they can be a free for all of strange dogs and you don’t want your new pup having a bad experience. On that same note, don’t force your dog to be accosted by large groups of people (especially children) before they are ready. In general, listen to your dog’s stress signals. If you pay attention to what your dog is telling you, work on training, and project a happy confident attitude, you’ve already gotten off to a great start socializing your dog. 

Lanny Stress yawning on his walk, Photo courtesy of @ggwalks

 

Nearby Trainers & Care

If you’re looking for doggy daycare, training services, or walkers there are a ton of small, local business in the Jersey City area that do just that.

Be sure to check them out and others in our Dog Walking+Dog Training section!