Socializing adult dogs
Unfortunately, not every dog will be properly socialized as a puppy.
You may have adopted an older dog who was always kept inside, or perhaps your puppy was too ill to explore the world when they were young. You may even have been trapped indoors with your puppy during a lockdown.
Whatever the reason, if your dog misses that early window, you’ll find introducing unfamiliar experiences to them more challenging once they’re older. But it’s certainly still possible for your dog to progress with some patience and a slow and steady approach.
Social anxiety in dogs
If your dog becomes nervous or aggressive when other dogs or people are around, perhaps barking or looking for an opportunity to escape, it may be a sign that they need to be socialized.
You may also find new behaviours develop over time or appear with a change in routine. A dog adopted during the pandemic will have grown used to you being around and may experience separation anxiety when they’re left alone. They may also have grown cautious of other dogs after so much time indoors. Learn more about separation anxiety in dogs here
How to socialize an older dog
It’s important to be realistic when socializing adult dogs. If they missed out as a puppy, they’ll be starting from a disadvantage and it may not be possible to make them comfortable with everything they encounter.
Depending on your dog’s background, your goal might just be to introduce enough stimuli so they can feel safe and secure in their immediate environment and not the entire world at large.
The key thing to remember is not to rush an older dog. They won’t absorb new experiences like a puppy, so you must work at a pace that suits them.
You also should consider if they’re in any pain (e.g. arthritis) or have a mental impairment that will make socialization difficult for them. If you think this is the case, do not hesitate to talk to your vet who can provide some advice.
The best way to begin is to find an environment in which your dog is already comfortable, and slowly progress from there. For example, if you’re trying to introduce friends and family, have them approach your leashed dog slowly and one at a time, keeping their voices low and calm. Let them give your dog toys and if they show any anxiety, end the session and try another time. It's important to finish a socialization session positively, so remember to bring toys and treats.
Encouragement, positivity, and patience will play a big role in your dog’s socialization – as will rewards! Any time they make progress or try to conquer their fears, reward them with praise and their favourite toy or treat. Just remember to limit the number of treats you give and reduce the size of their main meals to balance their food intake.
Socializing adult dogs can take a long time, and you may encounter setbacks along the way. Don't be discouraged though, as the long term benefit to both you and your dog will be worth the time and effort. Please always consult with your veterinarian as they are the best resource to support you regarding socializing your puppy or dog.