Socialisation: Taking on the world one paw at a time

Socialisation: Taking on the world one paw at a time

You’ve probably heard that it’s best for dogs to be socialised when they’re puppies. So if you’ve adopted an adult dog who has never been taught these skills, it’s natural to feel a bit nervous. However, the good news is it’s never too late to polish your pooch’s manners.

Three qualities of a well-adjusted dog

Often people assume that socialisation is just about how well your four-legged friend interacts with humans and other dogs or animals. However, a well-socialised dog is also comfortable in a wide range of environments. A dog who has never lived in a domestic home might need to learn not to get freaked out by the washing machine hitting the spin cycle, for example, and a dog who isn’t used to the city might need help adjusting to the sound of motorcycles or noisy construction work.

Whether your dog struggles around new dogs, new humans or in new places, the approach towards socialisation is the same,

How to talk dog

As our pooches can’t talk to us, it’s useful to learn to read their body language. A dog who tucks in their tail, hunches their body or flattens their ears isn’t comfortable with the situation they’re in. Other signs your dog isn’t happy are lip licking or yawning. 

If you observe any of these behaviours, don’t approach your dog head-on, make direct eye contact or lean over their body, all of which will make them feel more threatened. Allow your dog to move towards you if they want to (but only if they want to) and offer a pat on the chest rather than on the top of their head.

Depending on what’s upsetting your dog, it might be a good idea to remove them from the situation altogether. Successfully socialising a rescue dog depends on letting them set the pace, and being an advocate for them and intervening if they’re uncomfortable in a situation. This may mean asking people to give your dog space. Your canine pal will appreciate you looking out for them and learn they can trust you to keep them safe.

The power of walkies

Daily walks are a great way to get your dog used to new sights, sounds, smells, people and other dogs. Plus, of course you’re doing something your furry friend enjoys which is always a good start.

Keep encounters brief and positive and don’t forget to dish out lots of praise. Treats are worth considering too – just make sure they’re healthy ones. PEDIGREE treats are low in fat and contain Omega 3, Vitamin E and calcium.

Think about your dog’s “stress threshold”

Just like humans, dogs learn best when they’re relaxed and once their stress levels go up, everything is much more difficult. So if your goal is to get your dog to comfortably walk down a busy street, start first with a quiet back street. If you’re aiming to get them comfortable around new people, introduce one or two calm ones at a time (that will be no excitable toddlers for now then!). 

On the subject of people…

As well as teaching dogs to socialise with humans, we really ought to teach humans to socialise with dogs! Encourage your family and friends not to crowd or overwhelm your dog. If possible, it’s a good idea to let the dog come to them when they’re ready. A few treats can help make this a more enticing prospect.

Dealing with aggressive behaviour

If a dog has had negative experiences in the past, they may act aggressively in the face of what they perceive as a threat. This could mean barking, lunging, growling or baring their teeth. It’s important to try not to let your dog get this overwhelmed. Be on the lookout for the subtle signs of stress and fear such as the ones listed above, and work on pairing these scary situations with something pleasant like yummy treats!

Aggressive behaviour can feel harder for a new pet parent to deal with than a dog who is hesitant and nervous. A muzzle can be useful if you’re worried about how your dog might behave and it’s always worth seeking advice from the shelter you adopted from. Not only are they experts in all things dog but they know your furry friend well.

The bigger picture

When socialising an older dog, and particularly one that may have had a difficult past, the key to success is repetition and consistency of positive experiences. Don’t feel downhearted if your little student doesn’t seem to catch on straightaway. It’s also important to remember that the more loved and secure your dog feels, the easier they’re likely to find it to learn. The recipe is straightforward then: keeping offering up fun interactions, patience, repetition and consistency and you’ll soon have a happy, confident and well-balanced dog.

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