The Social Animal
Socializing an adult, or even adolescent dog that's new to your family can be a task, but
it is a fundamental step to help your new canine family member live a well-rounded life
-- and to build some safeguards into his behavior to give him the best chance to not end
up being a bite statistic.
Bringing home a dog that is past the puppy stage can have some great advantages; it
can also have some built in hurdles, but with common sense and perseverance you
may find that the adult dog who came into your home will bond more closely to you than
any companion you have ever had.
Starting out with the older dog, you dont, of course, have to wait until those last
vaccinations are over with before you take your new dog out to meet the public. You do,
however, need to be hyper aware of signs that the experience is over-stressing your
animal. Little things like holding the head so that it is facing forward and looking
sideways out of the eyes, a low rumble in the chest, nervous licking of the lips, some
dogs will suddenly shed fur when they are under stress. Take the time to get to know
your dog and you should pick up on any stress that is beyond what your dog is ready to
Confidence is key to a dog. Socialisation is one of the keys to having a dog that is
confident enough to be able to mingle with guests in the home as well as moving about
out in the world, going on walks, riding in the car, doing the one thing your dog wants to
do more than anything else -- be with you.
In the beginning, take it slow. Your vet's office is a good place to start and most vet's are
happy to accommodate you bringing your dog in three or four times a month to do a"meet and greet" with the staff, get weighed, have a few treats and get used to being
handled, especially if your dog is a large sort that might be prone to distrusting someone
unfamiliar poking and prodding around in personal places. This will also give you a
chance to gauge your dog's reactivity level to meeting new people in a controlled
environment with (presumably) staff that has some collective knowledge of dog
behavior under stress and can help you put your dog at ease.
Once you've got some idea of your dog's level of tolerance for other people it's time to
start branching out to other environments. Pet supply stores are good outings and once
your dog gets the idea that going to this place means getting to pick out a new toy or
treat, the association that being out around strange people in strange places equals
good things happening you have begun to build on the foundation you laid with your vet
office visits. Some outdoor cafes don't mind if you bring your well-behaved companion
to sit by you. Plant nurseries and home improvement stores are also places that, as a
general rule, don't have any prohibitions against dogs and can be great opportunities for
When your dog meets a new person properly, without any overt show of fear,
apprehension or active dislike, be sure to reward that behavior to reinforce the idea in
your dog's mind that he made the right decision. As important as it is for your dog to
want to please you, learning to be confident in his ability to make good decisions about
interacting with new people is equally significant.
Remember, a fearful dog is much more likely to bite than a confident dog.
You may or may not choose for your dog to learn to take food from someone unknown.
That's a decision each dog owner has to make on their own. If you decide you're
comfortable with your dog taking food from a stranger, keep a special packet of"stranger food" with you when you think the two of you will be meeting new people and
let them give that to your dog.
Social confidence is a skill that will build with every positive experience you can give
your dog. And it will pay dividends every single day of your dog's life.
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