Tips for Proper Dog Socialization
If your older dog is acting grumpy, don’t chalk up his antisocial behavior to his age. Old dogs can learn new tricks, and with a well-thought-out plan for dog socialization, even the most nervous dog can learn to love meeting new people or other dogs.
When socializing an older dog, it’s important to do it thoughtfully and slowly, regardless of whether you just adopted him or he’s been with your family for years. The key to dog socialization is to help your pup feel comfortable in the situations that he finds scary.
Steps for Senior Dog Socialization
“First, with any newly adopted dog, give the dog time to settle in and get comfortable with you before you push other things,” says Dr. Coger. “This process could take 1-2 months. During that time, you are doing things like riding in the car, or going on solo or family-only walks.” The goal is to build your connection with your dog to help him feel confidence in your relationship. Only then should you start adding another dog into the mix.
If your senior dog is nervous in unfamiliar situations or around other dogs, Dr. Coger says it’s important to choose neutral settings—like open outdoor spaces—when introducing dogs to each other. It will also help to have your dog interact with easygoing dogs who won’t intimidate your pup. As the behavior of dogs at dog parks can be unpredictable, “I generally recommend that people avoid dog parks entirely, but especially with anxious dogs,” she adds.
Senior dogs may be easily overwhelmed and extra cautious, so remember that socializing an older dog will take time. Sudden immersion into situations that he finds frightening is not a good idea, as your dog may stop trusting you as a result. “Remember that the initial dog socialization events should be short,” says Dr. Coger. “Your senior dog may only be able to handle 5 minutes in a busy place or with other dogs, and that is fine. You can build on that and work towards longer times as you go.”
Signs of a Nervous Dog
Your dog can’t say, “I’m really nervous!” but his body language is often a clue that he doesn’t feel emotionally settled. If your dog is anxious, there will be behavioral signs like panting, pacing, hiding, whining and yawning. Other signs of nervousness include submissive body posture such as lack of eye contact, low crouching and uncontrollable urination. He may try to break free from his dog leash or become aggressive as you approach these triggers.
“Watch your dog for body language clues that he is stressed, such as yawning, avoiding eye contact, licking lips or ducking away,” explains Dr. Laurie Coger, DVM, CVCP and owner of HealthyDogWorkshop.com. “If your dog has become highly stressed by a situation, you must put distance between him and the dog or human he is reacting to.”
Your senior dog may be afraid of crowds, busy streets, loud noises or other dogs. He could be afraid of men in hats or black cars. These fears can be overcome—or at least lessened—with exposure.
Your Attitude Matters
A strong and confident leader is an important part of senior dog socialization. If you seem stressed out and nervous about the experience, your dog will mimic your emotions. Convey a sense of controlled calm to your pet through your body language, tone and word choice.
It’s important that you reinforce your pup’s good behavior with a tasty treat. PureBites Lamb Freeze-Dried Dog Treats only have one ingredient—100% pure New Zealand lamb—and are a wholesome, delicious option for rewarding good behavior.
Caitlin Boyle is a writer from Charlotte, North Carolina. Her hobbies including trail running and planning fantasy vacations. She has two dogs, Maggie and James, and a cat that believes he’s a dog, Ferguson.