Does your dog bark every time he sees another pooch?
Does he or she get anxious, scared, or even aggressive when you pass by another dog during a walk?
If so, your four-legged friend probably needs a little bit of extra help learning how to socialize.
Teaching your dog how to be friendly with other dogs isn't always easy. But if you're patient and follow these five steps carefully, there's a good chance you (and your dog) will be able to actually enjoy your daily walks, without being afraid of seeing other dogs.
1. Start slowly
The first thing you need to do to socialize your dog is to get them used to seeing other dogs.
This is a slow process and begins by taking daily walks to the dog park.
Or to be more precise, to the area right outside the dog park.
Stand outside the park with your four-legged friend, and allow them to watch the other pups and observe their behavior.
If your dog reacts aggressively, move back from the fence, and slowly move forward until they are comfortable and quiet. You might have to do this a few times until they can get close enough.
Once you're able to get close enough without having your dog bark, it's time to start with positive reinforcement.
2. Bribe them with treats
Most dogs will do anything for a treat.
That's why you should always have a stash of treats at your disposal to reinforce good behaviour.
When it comes to socializing your dog, this means giving them a treat whenever they have a successful interaction with another dog.
What does this look like?
Basically, whenever another dog comes near the fence of the dog park, you should give your dog a treat. This creates a positive association in your dog's mind that they will connect with being around other dogs. This will encourage positive social behavior in the long run.
3. Avoid any sort of negative reinforcement
One of the biggest mistakes that dog owners who have antisocial dogs make, is to tug on their leash whenever they see another dog during a walk.
If you're out walking and another dog comes into view, resist jerking on the leash and yelling at your dog. This reinforces the idea that seeing other dogs is a negative experience.
Instead, if your dog is getting anxious or even a bit aggressive distract them. Use a toy or a treat, and praise them for paying attention to you rather than the other dog.
While this won't help socialize them per se, it will help avoid any type of negative association related to seeing other dogs.
4. Stay on a schedule
When your dog is comfortable enough to begin socializing with others, it's important to make sure that you're still going slow. Timing interactions with other dogs is a great way to do this.
Make sure that these first interactions are long enough so that the dogs can get acquainted, but not so long as to tire your dog out. Once the pooches have established a relationship (this can take a few weeks), then you can let them spend a bit more time together.
5. Choose friends wisely
Not all dogs are meant to be friends.
That's why, when your dog is starting to become a little bit more social, it's important to be smart about the friends you choose to introduce them to.
Introducing a Shih Tzu to a St. Bernard (while adorable) may not be a great idea. Making sure that the dogs are about the same size, will facilitate socialization.
On a similar note, it's important to remember that if your dog has trouble socializing, you may not want to introduce them to extremely social dogs, nor to super shy dogs. Always make sure that the dogs you are introducing to your pooch are friendly before your facilitate a meet and sniff.
Practice Makes Perfect
Going slow and allowing your dog to become increasingly comfortable around other dogs is the key to success. Once that occurs, the more successful interactions your dog has with his furry cousins, the easier it will get!