One minute it’s bursting with goo-goo-ga-ga love, like when your new puppy snuggles up in your lap after a vicious tug of war battle.
Then there’s the other moments, like when the cable guy comes over and your sweet little baby freaks out and bites his leg. Or when you show up at the dog park, only to find out your fun-loving gal is actually kind of an asshole.
Both those situations — and others like it — can be avoided by socializing your pup at the earliest age possible.
Socialization means exposing your new companion to a wide variety of environments, people and pets. The more you change it up, the more relaxed and adaptable your puppy will become in unfamiliar situations.
Which is the goal.
It doesn’t have to be this big complicated process, either. For instance, my mom adopted a Cavalier King Charles a couple years ago — a 12-week old puppy. She didn’t have to go out of her way to expose Ruby to strangers; she just went about her life, and took the dog along.
This way, Ruby got used to the car. She learned to do her business in all sorts of new environments. And she learned not to fear strangers (although, that little dog is so obsessed with everyone, I don’t think this would’ve been a problem in her particular case).
Ideally, the earlier you can begin the socialization process, the better. Three weeks old is old enough. Just know that the older the dog, the more difficult it will be to introduce her to new situations.
Make your outings short and unique. A walk one day, a park the next, a trip to the grocery store, etcetera. The more diverse, the better.
That being said, try not to expose your puppy to too much too fast, for fear of overwhelming or traumatizing her. She’s still a baby, after all. Create experiences in proportion to what you think she can handle.
Pay close attention to how she’s reacting, and pull her out if it seems too intense, or is heading in that direction.
When it comes to other dogs, be extra careful. You might have a lil’ sweetie, but big old Brutus might not feel the same way. If possible, try to plan play dates with dogs you already know to be friendly.
Arrange new-dog introductions in a neutral environment — not in either dog’s house or yard — and have them tentatively interact. Most likely, they’ll both do fine. But if not, you need to be able to diffuse the situation by either distracting your dog, or forcibly removing her from the situation.
Of course, encountering a mean dog (or cat, which is probably more likely) is still a valuable experience.
All new experiences are good, just not when they come at the risk of physical harm or traumatization. Use your judgment to determine what’s safe.
Immediately after your outing, give your dog a reward. Shower her with love and reassurance, and then provide her a safe, calm place where she can recuperate.
If you’ve adopted a rescue dog, then you already know that rescues come with their own set of baggage. (Also, good on you.) Maybe your guy came from an abusive environment, or never had a chance to mingle with other dogs.
Some older dogs are just as friendly as you please, in which case your life will be somewhat easier. But others have… issues. They need some extra special TLC.
The first thing to do is consult a vet and an animal behaviorist, who can determine whether your dog is sociable or not. A behaviorist will also work with you and your dog to make sure socialization is as safe and stress-free as possible.
Being a dog parent is no walk in the park. (Except when it IS a walk in the park. Dog joke!)
But caring for these furballs is our job. And making sure they’re not the weird outcast, or the aggro bully that no one likes, is vital to our babies’ emotional health.
Besides, nobody wants to be that guy with the asshole dog.