The goal of adult dog-dog socialization is commonly thought of as teaching a dog to free play with other dogs. This is not the case. If you have adopted an adult dog from a rescue or shelter, and she exhibits all the signs of being poorly socialized as a puppy (or has gone a long period of time without socialization), the ultimate goal is just to teach her to be calm on a nice walk, in the presence of other dogs. This concept is often misunderstood.
Adult dogs, unlike puppies, can be negatively affected by the owners trying to introduce them to several other dogs all at once. This can be overwhelming and can lead to the perfectly normal behavior of the dog attempting to avoid the dogs, stand close to their human(s) or growling and snapping at boisterous young dogs that attempt to get into their “safe space.’.
When taking your dog on a walk where you know other dogs are likely to be passing by, be armed with lots of yummy treats and ready to offer lots of lavish praise. These rewards are given when your dog will sit quietly and respond to her name while allowing the other dog(s) to just pass on by. Please do not feel compelled to force your dog to meet and greet every other dog that walks by or even acknowledge its presence.
Also, please remember that dogs who are introduced to other dogs while always being held tightly on a leash can develop “leash stress” and reactivity. You holding a leash really tight and letting your dog just get close enough to smell the other dog at close range can inadvertently teach your dog that she should be stressed in the presence of other dogs because you are clearly stressed or you wouldn’t be holding her leash so tightly. That’s the message this sends. If your dog barks at another dog, just get her attention and calmly remove her from the situation. Walk the other direction and keep her attention on you until she is calm. Once she is calm, continue on your stroll.
A dog who barks and lunges on a leash when she sees another dog is not necessarily being dominant. This is another common misconception. More often than not, this is a fear reaction, or simply just not knowing at all how to properly react, and punishing her for this behavior will only exacerbate the problem. Again, get her attention on you, praise her for giving you her attention, and redirect her.
If you want to try to socialize your dog with other dogs, only introduce one dog at a time and make sure that the dogs you bring around her are friendly, calm, well socialized dogs. Enlist the help of a friend or a professional! Remember, if you or your friend is nervous and/or fearful, your dog will be as well! It’s contagious and your dog takes her ques from you. Then, take your dog and your friend’s dog on a walk together. I cannot stress strongly enough how important this type of interaction is. Dogs are naturally, hard-wired to migrate so walking together is a completely natural behavior for them. Be sure to keep your dogs at a safe distance from each other (put yourself and your friend in the middle and the dogs on the outside). If they are relaxed throughout the walk, allow short periods of interaction and sniffing while keeping the leashes loose.
If either dog becomes tense, cowers, tries to put its head over the other dog, or becomes reactive in any way, separate them calmly and keep walking. Always use calm, low volume tones when talking to your dog during these sessions.
Eventually, off leash play may very well be possible but it doesn’t happen overnight and you MUST be careful not to overload your dog too quickly.
Dog to dog socialization is only good for your dog if your dog finds it enjoyable. If it is highly stressful for your dog, the negative impact on your dog’s mental and physical health does not outweigh any possible benefits you may envision by this social interaction.
Please contact a professional if you feel you need help with this process! We at See Spot Sit are dedicated to enriching the lives of dogs and their human families. 🙂