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Socializing your dog

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Socializing your dog
Socialization describes the process by which your dog learns to relate to people, other dogs, and his environment. Your newly adopted dog will already be socialized to a large extent, but he can still learn new behaviors and routines. In fact, he will continue learning throughout his life.

The first month is critical
The experiences you give your new dog during his first few weeks at home with you are critical for his and your future, and will have a long lasting effect on his behavior throughout his life.

So make sure that you have time to invest in an intensive socialization program during his early weeks with you. You’re laying the foundation for your dog’s behavior later on in life, and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Besides, it’s great fun and will help you get to know your newly adopted dog very well, very quickly.

Where do I fit in?
Dogs are pack animals that need a leader. It’s important that your newly adopted dog recognizes you as the pack leader and learns his place in the “pack” when you bring him home. He may naturally choose to follow or he may try to lead.

But, in the canine-human pack, it is imperative that the dog understands that he has a lower ranking than any human, including children. This understanding can be achieved through effective training.

Through training, your dog will learn to understand what his human companions expect of him, and where his place in the pack is, so he’ll be better able to fit easily into his new environment. And the better you understand your dog’s behavior, the more rewarding your relationship will be.

House rules
Everyone in the household (including visitors) needs to know what the rules are now that the new addition has arrived. For example, is he allowed on the couch? Whatever the answer, these rules should be adhered to at all times.

Clear behavior guidelines will help your dog understand what’s expected of him so he can settle into his new home. Most dogs take about a month or so to feel comfortable in a new home—establishing and following a routine are the best ways to make this happen.

New situations
Identify those situations and environments where your dog will need to be comfortable. These may include riding in the car, meeting the mailman, having contact with the children next door (and children in general), walking through a dog-filled park—to name just a few. You’ll want to prepare your dog for all eventualities, so that whenever he encounters anyone or anything new, he’ll react with pleasant curiosity rather than fear or aggression.

New people
It is essential that your new dog be fully comfortable with all sorts of people, especially children. You can gauge his comfort level (and help increase it) by introducing him to a variety of people. When taking him for a walk, take some tasty snacks with you and ask people to toss him one.

Your dog will soon learn that people are friendly. You can incorporate some basic training into this by teaching him to sit before people give him a snack. This will prevent him jumping up at strangers.

Children may be seen as a different species (compared to adults) by dogs, as they move differently, speak differently, and react differently. So start slowly by spending time in and around children’s parks where your dog will learn the sights and sounds of children playing. Start by having just a few children around your dog, then build up to a larger number. Please note: If your dog is insecure or aggressive in any manner, seek the help of a professional.

New dogs
Hopefully, he’ll get along famously with other dogs, but if he’s had limited exposure, he may not. Aggression is a common symptom of a lack of contact with other dogs. Of course, the best way to remedy this is to have your leashed dog interact frequently with other leashed dogs.

Obedience classes provide a good opportunity to socialize him with dogs and people in a controlled setting. The more chances your dog gets to meet new friends, the better behaved he’ll be. Of course, he shouldn't be allowed to run at the dog park until he gets along with other dogs.

To get your dog feeling more comfortable around his canine counterparts, start with dogs that you already know are trustworthy. If your dog behaves himself, reward him for his polite behavior in the presence of the other dog. Gradually work up to rewarding the dog for being close to the other dog, getting closer and closer each time.

Your local park is a great training ground. Take a seat on a bench and keep your dog on his leash sitting right next to you. Every time another dog passes by, give your dog a treat and lots of praise. Once you repeat this process several times, your dog will come to associate other dogs walking by with getting something good to eat.

If, after all of this, you find your dog is still having problems around other dogs, you may want to consider taking him to a trainer who specializes in this area. Ask your vet to make a recommendation.

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