Proper socialization can be the difference between a well adjusted, confident dog and a dog that is fearful, nervous and potentially aggressive.
While it is best to socialize your dog as a puppy it that doesn't mean than an older dog cannot be socialized, though it can be much harder.
A young puppy is still defining its relationship to the environment, people, other dogs, and other animals, and it will accept new things more readily than an adult dog.
Socialization is exposing your puppy, or a dog, to as many different things, people, dogs, animals and situations as possible. Familiar things are not threatening. Well socialized dog will acquire a set of social skills and experiences that will allow him to interact with his environment with confidence. Most of aggression in dogs is fear-based.
Within the first six months of its life a puppy should be exposed to at least 120 different dogs and a 90 different people. The numbers may vary depending on the source but the point is that the more different things you socialize your dog to, the happier you will both be.
As if that wasn't hard enough, the crucial thing about successful socializing is that all these encounters need to be a positive experience for your dog. Remember, you are trying to get your dog to develop a confident positive attitude. This isn't usually a problem when socializing to people or objects, but it can be when socializing to other dogs. An encounter with an aggressive dog certainly won't help.
While dog parks might seem like a great place to get your puppy socialized to other dogs, it is important to keep in mind that in a dog park you will encounter all kinds of dogs, and not all of them might have been well enough socialized themselves. Based on my own experience and observation, I would not use a dog park as a place to socialize my puppy. I will take my already socialized and confident dog to the park, but I would not take a socially inexperienced dog there.
It doesn't mean that you won't run into an aggressive dog elsewhere, but the odds of running into one in the park are just that much higher.
So what is a good place to socialize my puppy to other dogs?
It is best to expose your puppy to dogs you know. That is easier said than done – do you know 120 friendly, well adjusted dogs? I don't …
Obedience classes are a great place for safe socialization. A better place yet is your local doggy day-care. All dogs admitted to a doggy day-care are evaluated and supervised by professionals. At the day-care where we took our J.D. there were 30-40 dogs at any given time.
An important skill to prevent negative encounters on your walks, or in a dog park if you do go there, is knowing dog's body language. If you learn to recognize the warning signs you will be able to prevent social disasters.
Learn to recognize aggressive intentions in other dogs and learn to recognize when your dog is not comfortable with the situation. This way you can remove your dog from the situation before things can go wrong.
Well socialized dog is a happy dog.
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