Dogs are by design very social animals, which live in the wild in cooperative packs to give the group as a whole the best possible chances of survival, and to provide support, companionship and reassurance. The same is true for our domestic pet dogs, and dogs want and need to spend time with others of their own kind, and this is an essential part of ensuring that your dog has all of their needs met, and is able to behave and communicate properly with others.
However, not all adult dogs learned proper social skills as puppies, or were given enough opportunities to socialise and learn from other dogs – which can create a whole host of problems, such as reactiveness around other dogs, poor behaviour in the dog park, and a poor understanding of responses to social cues from other canines.
It is really important to work with your dog to bring them up to standard when it comes to socialising, so that they can benefit from all of the advantages socialisation brings and so that they can be trusted to behave properly when they come into contact with other dogs – but knowing how to do this can be a real challenge.
In this article, we will share some tips and guidance on how to socialise a dog that isn’t used to the company of their own kind and that may not know how to behave with other dogs to get you started. Read on to learn more.
It isn’t always possible to get a full outline of your dog’s history before you owned them, but finding out as much as you can about their life before you owned them can help to give you a head start. Find out whether they simply aren’t used to spending time with other dogs, had an issue with an aggressive dog in the past that has made them wary and defensive, or if they were a working dog that is only used to spending time with a familiar pack.
If your dog is new to you, it is a good idea to ask your vet to give them a quick check-up before you begin socialising them and introducing them to other dogs, just to make sure that they are fit and healthy and there isn’t an underlying issue that may be contributing to their reactiveness.
It is also important to ensure that your dog is in good health and has all of their vaccinations before socialising with others, so this provides a good opportunity to take care of this too.
Identifying and tackling socialisation issues with your dog relies upon pinpointing the specific problems that they exhibit, so learn as much as you can about your dog’s behaviour and how they react to certain situations. Is your dog ok with one other dog but quickly finds themselves out of their depth in a group setting, or are they more reactive on the lead than running loose?
Learning about your dog’s responses and the areas that are the greatest issue will all help you to socialise your dog properly, and manage their behaviour.
Group dog training classes aren’t just for puppies – most areas of the country are also well served with classes aimed at adult dogs too, both to teach the basics from scratch and to help to tackle problems and hone higher-level skills.
Training classes provide a great opportunity for your dog to meet and interact with others in a controlled setting under the direction of a professional, so find out what is on offer in your local area, and talk to the trainer or group leader about how suitable the class will be for your own dog.
Even if your dog doesn’t handle close proximity to other dogs and free socialisation very well, getting them used to the presence of other dogs gradually and at their own pace all helps. Take your dog out walking on the lead regularly to areas where they will be able to see other dogs from a safe distance, and work up to greeting other dogs on the lead and watching play sessions.
If you’re not sure how your dog is going to react around other dogs – even if they have good intentions and really want to make friends but don’t read cues from other dogs well enough to enable this – it is important to supervise and manage meetings and interactions with other dogs.
You might want to try visiting a friend with a dog at their home (this is a less highly-loaded situation than inviting a strange dog to your own home if they aren’t well socialised) or going out walking with a friend and their dog, or roping in others with well socialised dogs to help to give your own dog some experience.
There is a lot of merit to asking a professional canine behavioural expert to observe your dog’s behaviour and interactions and responses with other dogs, and to give their opinions on the issues at hand and what can be done to resolve them.
Many canine behaviourists will also work with their own dogs as part of training others, which can provide invaluable assistance in improving your dog’s social skills.
Finally, until your dog is all ready to make their dog park debut and you can rely upon their ability to handle off the lead play with others and communicate effectively with other dogs, steer clear of the dog park. A bad experience or problem with another dog early on can undo all of your hard work and make it harder to resolve the original issue, so if you’re not sure or if your dog is not quite ready, err on the side of caution.