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Pet Column: Socializing your pup isn’t just about meeting new dogs

Olive experiences new things during her first trip to the mall. Photo by Elle Williams.

By Elle Williams  
Pet Columnist, Canyon Lake Insider  

Socializing your puppy is crucial to having a confident, friendly, and well-rounded dog. If you have an adult dog or have recently adopted a more mature dog, this article is very much for you as well.

Although puppies tend to be more open to new situations, exposing your dog to new places is beneficial during all stages of your dog’s life. Socializing happens whenever your dog is out of the house, whether there are people and/or dogs around or not. All the new sights, sounds, and smells are all forms of socializing. The more places your dog can build positive associations with, the more ready your dog will be when faced with new people, pets, locations, and situations. 

Did you know that when your dog smells other dogs’ markings while on walks it’s socializing your dog with other dogs? Your dog is learning all about the dog just by smelling its markings. They learn about the dog’s age, size, health, what food they are eating, their sexual availability, and more.

Use that time to your advantage and praise your pup for smelling by saying “good dog, yes that’s another puppy, that’s good” to build positive associations between your dog and unfamiliar dogs. It also comes in handy for dogs that are fearful of meeting new dogs. It’s the first step to counter conditioning their emotional response. 

I can’t stress enough how important it is to create positive associations with anything new. Keep a bag of treats with you to reward interest in anything new, or for good behavior, and a favorite play toy to redirect their attention away from something they might be scared of. If your dog finds a situation scary, let’s say a loud truck is driving by, use that play toy to redirect their attention to some fun playtime. Then that scary loud truck won’t seem so scary the next time it hears one coming.

Give your dog positive reinforcement when it shows interest in anything new and encourage it to explore that new thing so long as it’s safe. Make sure to go at your dog’s speed, never force your dog to interact if they aren’t ready to. It’s okay to walk away if your dog shows signs of stress, such as lip licking, yawning, a tucked tail, whining, and pulling away.

If you have a puppy that hasn’t had all of its vaccinations, I still urge you to bring it places as long as the places aren’t where unvaccinated dogs frequent. This may seem contradictory since you want to keep your new puppy safe from unvaccinated dogs at all costs. The reason why it’s so important to socialize dogs early is because the number one cause of death in dogs 0 to 3 years old is behavior problems. More often than not, those problem behaviors occurred because a dog was not properly socialized, according to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.

You are your dog’s teacher throughout its entire life so give them a lot of field trips to learn all they can about the big beautiful world it lives in. Your dog will be thankful for all the new things they get to experience and will be a better dog because of it.

Elle Williams is a local in-home dog trainer and the owner of Give a Sit Dog Training. She is certified in dog psychology, nutrition, and grooming, and specializes in basic and advanced obedience, puppy prep, and behavior adjustment training.

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