We all know that dogs are naturally social animals -- they feel secure when they’re in a pack, they love playing with both humans and their own kind, they prefer sleeping together with their owners or siblings. When they’re left alone, they feel lonely and weak, and in some serious situations, they may develop separation anxiety.
Why is socialization important for them?
Socialization can help dogs feel more relaxed towards new things. Compared to unsocialized dogs, socialized dogs are less fearful towards new people, new dogs, and new environments. That’s why when we walk on the street, we see some dogs can’t stop barking at people, while others seem calm.
Socialization is key to a happy and healthy life. Unsocialized dogs are more likely to feel anxious. They’re like humans! When they have a lot of stress, they might experience hair loss, indigestion, anxiety, and all sorts of potential long-term health problems. Getting dogs socialized will help them feel relaxed around people and other dogs, which is good for both their mental and physical health.
Socialization helps dogs acknowledge their boundaries and social rules. When dogs are socializing with people or other dogs, they start learning what is a nice gesture and what is not welcomed by others. When my dog Kirby first hung out with another dog friend, he liked to sniff the dog’s butt really closely, and bite his rear legs. The dog got annoyed with Kirby, growled at him and showed him his teeth as a warning. Kirby slowly learned that what he did was not okay to other dogs.
What does socialization really mean for dogs?
A typical misunderstanding people have is -- they think socialization means they have to get their dogs to play with other dogs, for example, chasing each other at the dog park, sharing toys, or rolling on the grass together.
Surprisingly, socialization is more about helping dogs adjust to new situations. Some dogs are well socialized, they’re relaxed about new people, new dogs and new environments. They just don’t like playing with other dogs. As long as they’re not fearful or aggressive toward other dogs, that’s perfectly normal.
How do we socialize our dogs?
We can socialize our dogs by walking them on a daily basis, and changing up the route to help them get exposed to new stuff on the walks. Pedestrians, bikers, plants, birds, baby carts, vehicles, gardeners...everything they see or hear on their walks help them to learn and get used to new scenarios.
If they bark too much, try letting them sit down BEFORE other people pass by. Pet or massage them to help them relax, and give a treat immediately if they don't bark. After a while they will associate staying calm with getting treats, they will also learn that others are not a threat so they can sit down instead of being alert. This works really well for my scaredy-cat dog who used to bark at everything.
Meet new people
A lot of dogs are not socialized because they were born during the pandemic, when everyone had to keep socially distanced from their family and friends. Since the situation is finally getting better now, people can get their dogs socialized by simply inviting their family members or friends over to visit.
Dogs might bark a lot when they first meet new people, especially when they see people “intruding their territory”. It may help if you let your family or friends sit down without moving around or making big hand gestures. It’s even better if they don’t show too much emotion like screaming how cute your dogs are or trying to play with your dogs immediately -- unsocialized dogs are more scared towards things that are moving or making loud sounds.
My dog Kirby was really fearful when new people came. He barked non stop and growled at them as well. But he got really relaxed when they were laying on the couch, almost sleeping. Kirby got curious and jumped on them. Towards the end, he even licked their faces to give them kisses.
Meet other dogs
Keep your dogs on leash -- A lot of people bring their dogs to a dog park, let them run leash free to socialize them. However, we once learned from some dog experts that dogs feel more confident when they’re on leashes. It works better to keep both dogs on leashes when they first meet.
Let your dogs be, don’t force -- Some people like to pull their dogs closer when they introduce them to new dogs. Dogs know what is the most comfortable distance for them. So if they stay apart, that means they don’t want to get closer yet. It’s okay to let them stand far away from each other, they’re still trying to learn. Pulling dogs together can cause them to be more fearful in the future.
Walk dogs together instead of forcing them to play together -- Dogs might not feel comfortable to play with friends they just met, but they are usually happy to walk together. You can walk your dogs with their new friend for 20 mins. They tend to feel more relaxed when their extra energy is burned out by the walk. My dog Kirby wouldn’t stop barking when he met his new friend. But after their walk, he sat closer to them, and seemed more relaxed.
Give them treats right by other dogs -- If they don’t bark anymore, or if they get closer or start sniffing at other dogs, give them treats immediately and make sure to put the treat really close to their new friends. They will eventually associate treats with new dogs and feel more comfortable hanging out with other dogs.
It’s never too late to socialize a dog. Hope all the dogs can get socialized, make new friends and have lots of fun!