The way a dog interacts with other dogs is an important aspect of his health and happiness. Socialization should start as early as possible to help a puppy learn how to correctly handle different situations in which other dogs are present.
Between 8 and 12 weeks old, puppies go through a fear-imprinting stage that can dictate a lot of their learned behaviors into adulthood. It's during this time that socialization is most important. Puppies are naturally curious creatures and while they may have fear of bigger, older dogs, they are typically eager to learn from and play with them.
When socializing your puppy with other dogs, it's not always as simple as taking him to the dog park and just letting him do his thing. Not all other dogs are tolerant of puppies, and not all other dogs are healthy. When socializing your puppy, introduce him to dogs that you know first, such as the companion pooches of friends and family. Let the puppy down on the ground and stand with your feet slightly apart to offer a refuge if the puppy gets scared. Don't soothe your puppy if he seems frightened or weary, you'll just encourage him to be scared. Enrolling your puppy in obedience class is also helpful for socialization -- not to mention it can help your nerves out a great deal to have experienced help in the training department!
Why It's Important
By nature, dogs are social creatures who thrive in an environment with other dogs and/or people. When socializing your puppy with other dogs, your pooch will learn new things and behaviors. Because of this, it's important that puppies be introduced to dogs with good behaviors and temperaments. A well-socialized pooch will live a happier life -- and it will make your relationship with your pup more rewarding.
Socializing Older Dogs
It's not uncommon to have situations where you need to work on the social skills of an older pooch. While it's much harder to socialize an older dog than a younger one, it can still be done with patience and diligence. Once a dog has matured, he has learned many behaviors that aren't easily erased. Enlist the help of an experienced behaviorist to help you with an older, unsocialized pooch.
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