Ever met a dog that seems really timid, or really aggressive, or maybe even both? You walk up to him and he backs away like he’s terrified of you, or he suddenly jumps at you and starts barking and growling?
Odds are the dog was never socialized. Socializing a dog when it’s a puppy is absolutely crucial to its well-being later (and yours, too!). Dogs that haven’t been properly socialized might be afraid of anything, from swimming pools to people.
Being a personal injury firm, we take clients all the time who have been mauled and injured, sometimes permanently, by dogs in and around Memphis. Some people take in dogs and raise them to be aggressive, which is a terrible and dangerous practice. But sometimes all it takes is not properly socializing the dog when it is young. As it struggles to adjust later, it becomes aggressive in order to deal with its many fears.
Here’s what you can do to properly socialize your dog; and we’ve included some tips for Memphians looking for help with the process:
- Shop wisely
Before even getting a dog, be careful to shop through a respectable breeder or shelter. Pet stores are not only overpriced: the dogs sometimes come from puppy mills that mistreat them at a young age, making it very difficult for the dogs to adjust to the outside world later. Before making a purchase or adoption, spend a lot of time with the dog and pay attention to any fearful behavior or prior mistreatment. Also make sure to know as much as you can about the breed you are thinking about adopting. Certain breeds need to be socialized differently than others. If you don’t know for sure, take a breed book with you and ask a lot of questions.
- Start Early
The best time to start socializing a dog is when it’s a puppy. 8 weeks is the best age to bring a puppy home, because by then it will be weaned and ready to leave its mother. After that you have until 16 weeks to fully socialize the puppy at its peak learning time. The more it experiences during that time, the better it will adjust to the world as it grows up. If you’re adopting an adult dog or are just learning now but already have an older dog, don’t fret! Keep reading!
- Be Affectionate
Make sure that your puppy receives plenty of attention. If you can’t spend time with the puppy throughout the day, and you can’t find or afford someone to help you out every couple of hours, maybe you should wait to get the puppy, or you could adopt an older dog that has already been socialized. Puppies need constant stimulation and attention, including games and physical touch. Reward generously by giving the dog treats when it experiences something new. Treats help the dog relate each experience
- Get Out, Give Treats
Take the puppy and a bunch of treats out with you in ever-increasing amounts. For each new thing the puppy encounters, introduce it gradually and with lots of treats and affection. For example, don’t just put the dog in the car and go. Lead it into the car with treats and let it sit there for a while and get comfortable. Then turn the car on and give more treats. Finally, as you start to drive, give more treats (okay maybe get some help with that last part!). If it gets tiring to do this, keep the sessions short. It is important you stay in a good mood through this process.Make sure your dog gets plenty of interaction with people and other friendly dogs. Let the new people give your dog treats. Reward it for playing nicely with other dogs. Meet the vet, just for fun, and remember those treats! Having a good experience with the vet at an early age will make life much easier later. If your vet is too busy or doesn’t make appointments like this, find a new vet.
Take the puppy everywhere you can think of. Some suggestions: The grocery store parking lot to see the cars and automatic doors. Downtown Memphis, to see traffic and meet people walking down the street. Walks at night. Other people’s homes and yards, as they feel comfortable. Parks. Obedience classes. Around the house: play loud music. Vacuum. Cook. Brew tea. Slam doors. All while giving the dog treats to remind it that the situation is okay and you’re in control.
- Old Dogs CAN Learn New Tricks
If you have an older dog that wasn’t properly socialized, you probably have noticed some bad behavior already. Sometimes the problem is so slight you can fix it on your own with training like the kind described above. This can include improper housetraining behavior, timidity around people, and fear of loud noises or other unfamiliar things. Get a good dog training book and a friend and work to help your dog overcome its past. But if the dog is aggressive or threatening, you should seek the help of a professional. And, sadly, some dogs have been treated so badly at a young age that they can never fully adjust and are a danger to humans.
Things NOT to Do When Socializing Your Dog
DON’T get frustrated and angry at the dog. Try to remember it only responds in the way it’s been trained, and if it is reacting badly, that means it needs your help, not your anger. If you find yourself getting angry, call it quits for now and try again later.
DON’T take your dog to dog parks or other places where dogs wander off-leash until it is older and completely socialized. Dog parks can be threatening places, and puppies can feel cornered and in danger if they are on a leash while other, bigger dogs run at them off-leash.
DON’T ever tie up your dog or leave it unfenced while you’re away. Crate-training is one of the best ways to make sure your dog, and everyone else, stays safe while you’re out. But if you absolutely have to leave your dog outside, make sure any place you leave it is comfortable and well-fenced. Check with neighbors and the mailman to make sure your dog behaves well during the day. If it has been bothering them by barking and howling, keep it inside.
This sounds like too much work! How do I socialize my dog the easy way?
One of the best things about socializing your dog is that it bonds the dog to you and is a fun way to get time with your new puppy. If it’s just too much of a time investment, don’t be afraid to get some help. Classes at centers for obedience and agility training keep you accountable and give your dog a chance to socialize with other people and dogs. Memphis has a number of training facilities, including Hideaway Farm, Dog Woods, the Shelby Co. Obedience Club (a low-cost option), and more.
What to Do with Dangerous Dogs
Remember, we care about dog socialization because we’ve seen what happens when dogs are not raised properly. With so many resources in the Memphis area, make sure to do right by your dog and give it proper social training, and encourage your friends to do the same.
If there’s a dog in your neighborhood that is vicious, you can call the police. Try if possible to get photos or video footage to help your case. But sadly we often see dog attacks from owners who are simply non-compliant, and who don’t change their habits or get rid of their dog even after multiple complaints. If, God forbid, you or a loved one ever become victims of a dog attack, let us know and we’ll try to help you any way we can.