In the early stages of life, a puppy needs to be exposed to many different situations, people, other dogs, and animals. This is how they learn to be in the world. Often, however, dog owners mistakenly believe they must keep young dogs safe from outside influences.

It is important you guide your dog through new situations, so they learn to navigate those experiences without going into reactions like fear, hiding, or fighting. A well-socialized dog is a happy dog!

Socialization should start during puppyhood. If you wait until your dog is older, it becomes more challenging. Start with these tips and you’ll be on the way to having a well-adjusted and happy dog.

How to socialize a young dog

A dog’s social habits are formed between 5 weeks and 4 months of age. That is why using a reputable breeder makes such a huge difference. Animals from puppy mills can be distrustful and malnourished.

The idea behind puppy mills is to breed as often and as cheaply as possible. Once the litter is ready to go, there is no socialization and these puppies don’t get the best start in life.

In contrast, puppies raised by a healthy mother, that also had socializing skills, are healthier and used to following their mum’s leadership. So once you bring your puppy home, it is going to look to you for guidance.

A very important aspect of this is your energy and willingness to be the pack leader. Your dog will look to you for cues. Rather than letting it decide what to do in a new environment, direct your animal calmly and clearly. If you are going on a walk and want your animal to be friendly with other dogs, remind it of this beforehand.

If your little dog seems overwhelmed, back off a bit. Let him adjust and move in again. Do all of this calmly and let your puppy know that you will protect it from the other influences.

When appropriate, praise your animal for being calm. And, if it desires to run away in fear, correct that behavior gently. The goal is for your dog to relax. What energy do you have to be, and where must you position your body for it to relax?

Once your young dog learns that you will guide him through any situation without harm, it will become a well-balanced dog. So the more situations you expose him to at an early age, the better those skills will develop naturally in your dog.

Is it ever too late to socialize a dog?

If you have an older dog from the shelter, and that dog has not been socialized, you will have to devote time and patience to this process. Some of these dogs will not be totally relaxed in new situations, but they can come quite far.

I have met wonderful people who rehabilitated a fearful dog into a wonderful companion that can be trusted and taken everywhere. Just be aware that it requires extra work.

Tips for socializing an older dog

These dogs have to be exposed to whatever it is they are fearful of in a very aware manner. You must be willing to ask your dog many questions, so you know what situation to start with.

For example, if you are socializing him with other dogs, it’s best to arrange a walk with a friend and a dog that is very easy-going, not too active, and definitely not grumpy.

Start by meeting on neutral territory (not in your dog’s yard, not in the yard of the other dog, maybe in a neighborhood park). The people should be in the middle, with the dogs on the outside on leash.

It’s important not to put your focus on the dogs. Instead, have a conversation with each other — keep it light and easy. If you sense that your dog is fearful, add more distance, but keep moving. Don’t wait for something to occur.

How fast you progress will depend on your particular situation. Once your dog is doing well with this other dog, then you can try this activity with another animal.

Your energy feeds into your dog

In the beginning, I recommend you connect with people and dogs that you know, so you can be relaxed — which is the most important thing. Your energy feeds into your dog. If you are nervous, your dog may assume that you are anxious about the situation and try to defend you. Dogs have been our protectors for a long time; it’s a job they know well.

As the leader of the pack, always be alert. Be aware of what your puppy requires to become calm and confident when meeting other dogs, men with hats, noisy children, and other pets.

Remember, a well-socialized dog is less likely to display unwanted behaviors. Socializing your dog — as a puppy — is a win-win for both you and your animal.

A lot of dogs are having problems today because of their past. As a result, I created a recording for pet-owners to play to their animals on low volume. Please download it here for free