Socializing my dog

Two dog-training factors most important to me include socializing my dog and exercising my dog. Basic commands such as sit, stay, down, come and heel are necessary, but so is socializing my dog.

Too many people buy dogs and then refuse to spend any money on training. There are two reasons for this. Either the person truly can’t afford the $50 for a basic obedience class, or the person already spent hundreds on the dog so another $50 on training is “not worth it.” Both are huge mistakes and show a misunderstanding about dogs. Anyone unwilling to train a dog is lazy, unmotivated and should re-think why he has a dog.

Of course, some people are totally capable and willing to train their dogs. They train their dogs on their own or find help if they need it. This group understands the importance of commands in addition to exercise and socialization. Taking a group obedience class or working with a trainer is an option, but so is training your dog yourself. The information is out there.

Whether you intend to train your dog on your own, attend obedience classes, read books or read a dog training blog, remember the importance of socializing your dog.

Elsie the golden retriever standing in the grass

Socializing my dog

Socializing a dog is very simple. Just take your dog to as many places as you possibly can. A dog that experiences as much as possible will be comfortable in most environments. Children will not be a big deal, other dogs will not be a big deal. Your dog will be less likely to act aggressive, hyper or fearful. Your dog will not freak out when she sees bikes, Rollerblades, cats or squirrels.

A socialized dog can be trusted and easy to control in almost any situation.

Here are some tips for socializing a dog:

1. Start socializing your puppy immediately.

Your dog should experience something new every day, especially if you have a new dog or a puppy. Be careful not to scare your dog by throwing her into a new situation too quickly. At the same time, don’t shower an unsure dog with treats. This only rewards her for acting shy. The most important thing for you to do is act like the new experience is no big deal. Your dog will pick up on that. Cars, other dogs, bikes, kids and water are nothing to get excited about.

Last month I brought my mutt Ace through a car wash for the first time. Ace was not concerned when we drove through that dark tunnel and our car was mauled by noisy scrub brushes and sprayers. I knew it was because Josh and I showed no response. We did not talk to Ace or get him excited by saying things like “Are we in a car wash? Huh? Huh?” And we did not reassure him by saying, “It’s OK.” We simply did nothing.

2. Walk your dog every day.

There is no excuse not to do this. This is the easiest way to get your dog used to the world around her. On walks, she will experience different sounds and smells. She will meet people and other dogs. She will see bikes, Rollerbladers and children. She will be used to cars, sirens, horns, buses and trucks.

3. Visit as many new areas as possible.

About a year ago I did a 30-day challenge where I took my dog somewhere new every day for 30 days. Good places to visit include the dog park, the vet’s lobby (even if you don’t have an appointment), grooming shops and pet stores. Even if you don’t have an exact location to visit, just walking on a different street, visiting a new park or a new neighborhood is beneficial to your dog. The best dog training collar for controlling your dog in new situations is the pinch collar or the dog Halti.

4. Meet as many dogs, other animals and people as possible.

This can be done on walks, by visiting new places and by inviting people over. Set up play dates with all your friends’ and family members’ dogs. Introduce your dog to cats and children, maybe even small animals. Make sure to do it safely of course.

5. Desensitize your dog to loud noises.

Examples of noises that can scare dogs include the vacuum, traffic, motorcycles, children playing, sirens, whistles, thunder and gunshots. Sometimes a dog is terrified of fireworks. The more noises your dog experiences, the better. Remember not to make a big deal out of these noises. It’s important to be calm and act like you don’t hear anything. If your dog is unsure, then don’t push it. Try again another day.

6. Enroll in an obedience class.

I took Ace to a basic obedience class to get him used to walking close to other dogs. I knew how to teach him commands, but walking in a small area with 10 other dogs was something I couldn’t create on my own easily. Obedience classes are not necessary, but they are very valuable for socializing your dog. Don’t overlook them.

7. Take your dog to dog daycare.

If you can afford to send your dog to dog daycare, it’s a great way for your dog to interact with other dogs. Just make sure you tour the daycare first so you know it is a clean, safe place. Watch how the workers interact with the dogs. You don’t want your dog to be in a place where it’s pure chaos or he will be learning bad behavior.

8. Get your dog used to bikes and Rollerblades.

It’s no fun if your dog is aggressive around bikes. To prevent this, ask friends to bike, Rollerblade or push strollers by you while you’re out with your dog. You can even walk your dog on one side while wheeling your bike on the other and eventually maybe even run her with a bike leash for dogs.

9. Invite people and dogs to your house.

You don’t always have to go somewhere to socialize your dog. Invite people over, and ask them to bring their pets.

10. Work to obtain the Canine Good Citizen Test.

Dogs that pass the Canine Good Citizen Test must prove they can be calm in various situations. Dogs are tested on how they respond to strangers, other dogs, walking through a crowd, sudden noises and more. Passing this test is a good goal for dog owners.

What are some ways you socialize your dog?

If you recently got a puppy, you may be interested in my post on puppy training tips.

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19 thoughts on “Socializing my dog”

  1. When we got our new puppy, Stewie, six years ago, I took him for a ride in the car every day, even it was only a mile up to the corner store and back. I always have him enter and exit the car from the passenger side rear door, and I do not let him exit the car until I give him a release word. This is a great goal to have, since you do not have to constantly worry that your dog will try to escape from the car.
    Playgrounds are another great place to do to see kids and lots of activity and noise.
    Good luck socializing your dog and have fun while you do it.

  2. I’ve done most of these but my dogs still get into trash sacks. 🙂 I got admonished by a reader that I should train them better.

  3. Lindsay Stordahl

    That is a great idea, Nancy. I’ve done something similar with Ace, and he knows to wait in the car until I release him.

    Jan, if only that reader knew your dogs are better behaved than 90 percent of America’s dogs.

  4. I think I’ve said this before Lindsay, but it bears repeating. If I do ever get a dog – I will reference your blog for tips on training and raising a dog the right way!

    I appreciate the info you share a lot – even though I don’t have a dog currently, I feel like I will be more prepared for one because of reading your writings! 🙂 Thanks!!

  5. You’re lucky that dog training classes are so cheap where you live. Where I live, classes are 3-4 times more expensive. Take a look at my trainer’s rates:

    I wish I could afford to have Mollie and Keira in training non-stop, but I’ve only been able to afford one class for each of them in the last year. I do walk them every day (they get two walks a day) and take them new places, but it’s a lot harder to socialize adult rescue dogs than puppies.

  6. Lindsay Stordahl

    Thanks so much, Tammy! That means a lot!

    Apryl, you probably do have the most social dog in the world! 🙂

  7. Great advice, but a note to all that this list is easier said than done. To those of us with reactive, fearful or aggressive dogs, socialization in the form of “just exposure,” with the idea that our dogs will get over their issues through habituation, with a calm handler, can backfire. If you’ve got one of those dogs, don’t jump into a socialization plan without the help of a behaviorist-you may do more harm than good. To all with more sane pooches: get out there and explore!

  8. Lindsay Stordahl

    Good point, Ber. It’s always best to consult with an experienced trainer if you have a dog with any kind of issues such as aggression. Aggressive dogs need to be around more dogs and people, to experience more and not be isolated. But with the wrong handler, this can lead to a bite or worse. When it doubt, there’s nothing wrong with a muzzle.

  9. Lindsay Stordahl

    Wow, Lisa. $150 is a lot more expensive than the training classes I’ve gone too. That is probably the case in a lot of areas.

  10. Amanda Steiner

    Frequently when I’m walking my dog, random people stop to ask if they can pet him. I like the fact that he’s getting socialized with differnt people, but the problem is that if they make eye contact and talk very exitedly he jumps up, even with corrections to try keep him calm. If he is approached in a calm way and ignored for a minute, he immediately goes into good dog behavior and sits nicely. Is it rude for me to tell people how to approach my dog so that he doesn’t jump? Or should I just see it as an opportunity for him to learn not to jump no matter how excited the person gets?

  11. Lindsay Stordahl

    The same thing happens with me and my dog. He doesn’t jump, but he won’t stay sitting if someone is excited and talking to him. Sometimes I tell people to ignore my dog unless he is sitting, which works pretty well. You can say your dog is “in training.” People like being a part of training. Really though, our dogs should learn to sit whenever we tell them, no matter how excited another person or dog is. I see it as a challenge and know I still have some work to do with my dog.

  12. Dog training is definitely more here too. I just paid $105 for 6 weeks of basics and another $60 to learn how to walk my Setter. I would love to go on to obedience 2 but will have to wait until I can afford it. As for the jumping up on people, our trainer suggested using the tools available, namely the leash. If your dog is a jumper, step on the leash before they even have a chance to think of jumping. We worked on ‘sit for greeting’ but stepping on the leash takes the ability to jump out of the equation and hopefully your dog will ‘forget’ the behavior.

  13. Lindsay Stordahl

    That works if you can step on the leash fast enough. I also step on the leash (close to the collar) if I want to keep my dog in a down position. If he tries to pop up, the leash gives him a reminder to stay lying down. This works very well with beginning dogs that don’t understand they should stay put.

  14. When I got my dog from the shelter, she was in desperate need of training and socialization. Who ever owned her prior to me must have never potty trained her or any other training or socialization. I take her for daily walks to meet other dogs and people and I also take her to doggie play group. She loves it!. Shes getting better in the socialization dept., but still has a ways to go. I think she is an example of what happens to a dog when people that shouldn’t get a dog get one. They end up in a shelter or sometimes worse.

  15. I used to underestimate the importance of socializing your dog. I used to have a dog who was never socialized by its previous owner. Took a lot of work, but was never able to get to the point of being able to go to dog parks for example with much success. Good post.

  16. Lindsay Stordahl

    Ross, so many of the dogs I see in shelters have little socialization. It’s obviously a big part of why they ended up in a shelter in the first place. Your dog is lucky to have you!

    Thanks Chris! Sometimes it’s a very, very long process. That’s why it’s better if owners begin socializing puppies right away.

    Thanks, Ty!

  17. aww, look at the cute lltite old girly dog with her old lady beard!! Poor lltite Fable. We’ll have to find an old pic of Trouser and see if we can decide whose tongue is the longest Trouser’s or Figbert’s. Of course, Figgy would win the Thanksgiving Cleanup Award over Trouser but who would win between him and Fable? The stuff of deep philosophical discussions. . .

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