Dog Socialization

Lab Pups (123rf)


Socialization is important.

It’s easy when you have a puppy.

But even older dogs can be socialized…

Here are a few things to remember…

Understanding body language is a very useful skill to have.

Dogs have complex body language but learning just the basics can make a difference.

Body signals should not be looked at in isolation. But the overall rule for me is that I watch a dog much more closely when his whole body tenses up. This is especially true when the owner is tense himself and is holding the lead very tautly. Because I have two dogs, that’s when I usually say bye bye.

There is a lot going on even before a dog tenses up completely, especially when he wasn’t initially meeting other dogs.

Ears pinning back/flat, hair on the back standing up on its ends, tail high up and vibrating stiffly….maybe even trying to leave the meeting.

Why is this important to know? Puppies should be exposed to friendly and confident dogs. They are in a very impressionable part of their formative years and for some puppies, meeting unfriendly dogs could be a huge and not easily reversible setback on their confidence- and socialization skill set building. This isn’t to say that meeting one or two unfriendly or dismissive adult dogs would deter these puppies from meeting others. But I hear how many shy and reactive dogs were attacked as puppies.

It’s important for you to gauge a meeting because not every dog is walked by someone who knows him. Some dogs may not be used to meeting new dogs and while the dog is friendly and affectionate in general, or to people, they may not be with other dogs and puppies.

Not all dogs like puppies. For some, it may just be they have arthritis and a puppy’s rambunctiousness is simply too much for them. Most dogs do tend to tolerate a puppy’s rough play because they know puppies are not threatening. When a puppy is growing up, he will push and test his boundaries more and more and that’s when the other dog’s tolerance may be decreased. Adult dogs instinctively teach puppies manners when they go too far.

And some dogs who at first appear unfriendly may become the best playmates for your dog. Some dogs need a longer “courtship”.

I usually ask if the dogs are friendly. I then explain that my Creamy is very barky. Friendly but barky. I have to explain (even to dog owners) that barking is one form of communication. Even though it may be loud to us, it’s not aggression or scary. You can definitely tell when a bark is aggressive. There are other signs. Just because the walker says the dog is friendly, the dog may not be friendly. So you have to watch out for the signs mentioned above. Sometimes a short initial meeting may be more productive and having a series of short meet ups can lead to a good friendly relationship.

Many people will tell you their dog is naughty when, in fact, the dogs just want to play. It’s better for you to take all descriptions they use with a grain of salt and see for yourself.

A few years ago, I kept bumping into this crazy Border Collie that the maid kept pulling back and going the other way. It turned out we lived in the same apartment block. One day I just offered for them to meet since what was happening just wasn’t good to continue. Yes, the Border Collie was crazy, but with built up energy that is. Once they got to sniff each other and run around a little, they were fine and no “false” aggression anymore. In fact, when that family was packing, Shepherd spent the afternoon with us. I was his slave tennis-ball thrower.

This isn’t to say that all meetings work out and it’s ok. It doesn’t mean either dog or dog walker is a bad dog/person… Some dogs just don’t like each other. And it’s okay.

So please don’t be afraid to meet other dogs. You’d be surprised how great it can be, with all the opportunities a learning experience. I have met some amazing people this way as well, and heard some heart-felt stories they have about their dogs.


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