How to Socialize an Adult Dog | Pupford
April 28th, 2023
Filed under Training
If you’ve seen any of our other posts or videos about socializing dogs, you’ve probably heard us say that it’s best to socialize your dog as young as possible, with the .
Does that mean that it’s not important or possible to socialize an older dog? ABSOLUTELY NOT.
There are many reasons dogs may have to be socialized at an older age – for example, when they’ve been rescued from a situation that made them fearful, have drastically changed lifestyles, or just weren’t given the right opportunities when they were younger.
Just a note – if you’re reading this because you’ve rescued an adult dog who needs socialization work, we just want to say thank you for giving that dog a better life!
You may hear the old saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” or in this case, you can’t socialize an older dog. That’s just not true. You just may need to approach socialization a little differently with an older dog, which is what we’re here to help with today.
PS- If you're looking for more info specifically about
WHAT NOT TO DO WHEN SOCIALIZING AN OLDER DOG
While it’s never fun to focus on the negatives, we do want to open with a word of caution. When socializing an older dog, take it slow and never force your dog to interact with all people, animals, or things it sees (having your dog feel okay and comfortable around other people and dogs is more important than having them interact with them).
This is especially true in the case of rescue dogs – we may not always know their backgrounds and what could trigger anxiety or even aggression. We also want socialization to be a completely positive experience for your dog, not overwhelming or forceful.
GETTING STARTED SOCIALIZING AN OLDER DOG
Before you start your first socialization session, make sure you have all the tools you could need so you’re ready for anything. Here are some training essentials we recommend:
These tools help set you – and your dog – up for effective and enjoyable training sessions.
TIPS FOR SOCIALIZING AN ADULT DOG
Once you have everything you need, you can get started on your socialization journey. Here are some tips for making it a success.
1. KEEP THINGS POSITIVE
The goal of our socialization approach is to keep it a positive, enjoyable experience from start to finish.
This starts with your environment. Besides ensuring that it’s dog-friendly, you’ll want to scope it out ahead of time to make sure it’s right for your dog’s current level of socialization. For example, if they have no socialization experience, taking them to a with dozens of other dogs and people might not be the best choice. Instead, start with a quieter trail or open field.
Positivity also comes from how you approach the session. Use treats, play, and positive body language/tone of voice to help your dog form positive associations with what they’re experiencing.
2. HAVE A PLAN… AND A PLAN B, C, AND D
Since our goal is to keep the experience positive, we’ll need to have backup plans in place just in case something doesn’t work like we thought it would.
For example, if you had plans to introduce your dog to another dog during a session, and you’re noticing your dog is stressed, anxious, or even showing signs of aggression during the meeting, you’ll want to change course.
Rather than ending the session on that “failure,” you can pivot to something else. For example, revisit some sound that went well last week, or practice having your dog around other people instead of dogs. This will build their confidence and ensure that all sessions have a positive outcome.
3. TAKE IT SLOW
Your dog has spent months, even years in some cases, building habits and experiences in one way. You can’t expect them to unlearn that and relearn socialization skills in just a few days.
It will take weeks and months of consistent work to fully introduce your dog to sights, sounds, people, and animals – and it’s okay if it goes slower than planned. Some rescued dogs come from really rough backgrounds and need patience and grace to come into their own.
But the time you put into socializing your dog will pay off with a happier, healthier dog for the rest of its life!
4. END TRAINING SESSIONS ON WINS
Confidence is the name of the socialization game. Make sure to end training sessions on a high note, when your dog has really connected with you and is happy.
That way, you don’t run the risk of your , overwhelmed, or overstimulated by doing too much at once. Your dog will walk away from the situation confident and relaxed, which will carry over into the next session.
5. BE PATIENT WITH YOUR DOG AND WITH YOURSELF
We already talked about moving slowly and being patient with your dog – but treat yourself the same way!
As long as you are supporting your dog along the way, you are doing a great job no matter how slow progress is. Be patient with yourself and try your best not to get frustrated if you don’t meet milestones as quickly as you’d like.
Not only should you be patient because you deserve it, but because your dog will sense your energy – and match it. A calmer you means a calmer dog, and a calmer dog is more receptive to training!
6. USE SOCIALIZATION TRAINING AS A TIME TO BOND WITH YOUR DOG AND HAVE FUN!
Socialization training is an opportunity to explore new things with your dog. Mixing in plenty of positive reinforcement (treats!) and playtime to these exciting new experiences will surely strengthen your bond.
This is actually beneficial for training, too. The more your dog trusts you, the more they will be willing to venture into new settings and situations with you, associating you with fun and happiness.
EXTRA TIPS FOR SOCIALIZING ADULT DOGS AND RESCUES
- When beginning to get your dog more comfortable around new people, animals, or environments start far away! Figure out what your dog’s trigger threshold is and don’t push them past that. Maybe start 100 ft away or more! Whatever is needed! The can help here.
- When you’re out with your dog and they notice something new, praise and reward!
- Stick to just one new thing at a time - don’t overwhelm your dog with a lot of new things at once.
- Let others know when your dog needs space - maybe that means asking someone not to approach you and your dog. You can also look at getting a harness with a sign that reads,
Remember, it’s never too late to socialize your dog. You just may need a little help along the way, and that’s okay.
The Pupford Academy is filled with resources for training socialization, with a bonus video specifically on . It features Amber Aquart, CPDT-KA, CDTI, who specializes in socialization training.
She provides a breakdown of socialization training specifically geared towards adult dogs and dogs with all different temperaments. View the video through the Pupford Academy .