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Socialising Puppies and Socializing Adult Dogs Successfully

socialising puppies and older dogs

Happy, well-mannered, sociable dogs are a sheer delight. Of course in order to become well-mannered and sociable, dogs do need to get out and about with their owners. They need opportunities from an early to age to meet and mix with different people, and other dogs, in a wide variety of settings and life-situations. This enables them build up confidence and to learn what is, and more importantly what is not, acceptable, polite canine behaviour.

Good socialization provides a positive experience for the dog.

Puppies need to play with other puppies to develop reliable bite inhibition, big dogs need to learn to be around little dogs, and little dogs need to learn not to fear big dogs. Walking a young dog with a well trained older dog can speed up recall training, and controlled off-lead play time with others is both a fun and rewarding experience. Unfortunately it's not always easy to find a big breed puppy to play with your fast growing big breed pup, nor to find a calm and reliable big dog that your little dog can develop confidence around. 

Remember: Socializing puppies is very different to socialising adult dogs !

Socialization is vital for proper mental and social development but it needs to be undertaken properly. Any time that a puppy is not actively enjoying a socialization experience there is a danger of doing more harm than good. 

Puppies under 4 to 5 months of age are generally accepting of new people, places and dogs, so teaching them to feel comfortable in new situations or with unfamiliar people is relatively simple.  Exposing the puppy to new people and new experiences every day, feeding wonderful treats at the same time, and making sure that each interaction a happy one in which the puppy feels he has been successful and safe.  

With adult or older dogs, dog-to-dog socialization is frequently misunderstood. The goal should be teaching the adult dog to behave calmly in public and on walks, rewarding him for sitting quietly and responding to his name while other dogs pass by. Socialization only benefits dogs if they find the experience enjoyable. Teaching your adult dog appropriate behavior and protecting him from unwanted contact with unfamiliar dogs will go a long way in building a trusting relationship.

Of course, it is also important to consider the natural tendencies of your dog's genetics, his life-stage and his personality. Whilst all puppies need proper socialisation, there are some breeds, developed over many years to hunt and kill, or to protect against predators, for which early and ongoing socialisation is of absolutely critical importance. The difficult adolescent period, when hormones are surging and boundaries are tested, is another critical time to maintain positive and controlled social encounters.

Avoid putting reactive older dogs in overwhelming, unfair or stressful situations.

Always introduce new experiences and teach new behaviours gradually, in small incremental steps, in a controlled environment, keeping your dog under his reactive threshold. Be willing to retreat from situations and give your dog the space he needs to feel at ease. Take things slowly, allowing your dog the time he needs. If you are inpatient or in a hurry it's the wrong time to be training or socialising your dog and you risk doing more harm than good. Your dog will make much faster progress with a series of small successful baby steps than he will by being thrown in at the deep end of an overwhelming new experience. Give your dog every opportunity for a series of small successes in every new situation rather than setting him a challenge he's likely to fail.

Sociable, friendly dogs enjoy the company of people, can be taken anywhere and live life to the full

Of course socializing both puppies and older dogs is easier with the support of understanding, sensible, like-minded owners and their reliable, well-socialised dogs.

Finding safe places to walk and train your four-legged friend, where there are facilities to make the outing more enjoyable for both of you, is not always easy or straight-forward; and when it comes to day-trips, holidays and attending events, there is a world of difference between those places which allow dogs and those which positively cater for and welcome them.  

Outbound Hound aims to help dogs and their owners connect with one another, locate and recommend dog-friendly destinations, discover dog clubs, events and activities, share information, advice and experience, and make new friends.