Our furry canine friends are experts at hanging out with us and being awesome. Unfortunately, they’re not always as friendly or outgoing around other humans or pets. This can be a real problem if you want your pup to enjoy their time at the dog park. Fortunately, socialization isn't rocket science. We have already explained a little about basic dog park etiquette, so make sure you're adhering to these basic dog park rules. And with just a little work, you can learn the steps of how to socialize a dog and ensure many happy years at the local park.
With dog parks opening again around the country and an influx of new pet owners post-social distancing, we thought it would be the perfect time to discuss how to make sure a dog is socialized before heading to the dog park.
Get Them Out There Young
The most important step in learning how to socialize a dog is starting early. After all, some children are learning between three and five languages in the first years of their lives. If they can do it, then our canine kids can learn to get along with others early in their development at the very least.
In fact, you can start socializing your pup at three weeks of age. Internationally renowned dog trainer Victoria Stilwell says the ideal age is between three and twelve weeks. Getting an early start is essential. The old adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” might technically be false, but socializing a dog undoubtedly gets more difficult as time goes by.
Change Up Your Dog's Walks So They Get Used To New Things
Most of us need to get a bit more exercise, and even if you were only wondering how to socialize your dog for the park, rest assured you’ll also become more active. This is because taking your pup out for daily walks is essential for socialization. Dog parks can be a scary place for those who don’t get out much.
Going on daily walks with your pup will allow them to encounter everything the world has to offer. This could include large buses driving by, other dogs and even the often feared mailman. Keep your canine companion on a short leash, and take them on different routes. Take the time to introduce them to different types of people as well (old, young, etc.).
All these steps will ensure your pup is ready for new encounters – which is great since that's all they'll be experiencing at the dog park.
See also: The 10 Best Dog Parks In New York City
Don't Be Afraid To Bribe Your Dog
Everyone responds well to positive reinforcement. Sure, it’s essentially bribery, but this isn't a heist film and no one is getting hurt. And if it works, who really cares? As behavioral psychologist and clicker training inventor Karen Pryor points out, “there is the potential for doing more harm than good” if your pup isn’t enjoying himself while you learn how to socialize a dog.
Of course, this isn’t the easiest thing in the world. The whole point of socialization is introducing your dog to interactions they may otherwise not enjoy. By bringing along their favorite treat, however, you’re making every interaction a positive one. Whenever your pup behaves when meeting new people or other dogs, make sure to reward your dog.
Choose The Right Dog Park, Not The First One
While scouting out dog parks without your pup won’t socialize them, it will help you choose the best spot to get the job done. Check out dog parks at varying times over several days. Are areas separated by size, and is this something your furry friend might need? Is there containment fencing if your confidence in the little fella’s training is lacking?
You’ll also want to consider when the park is the busiest. If your pup is new to the environment, it’s probably best to visit when there aren’t many others around. Don’t aim for a time when no one is visiting, but fewer dogs will be less overwhelming for your friend.
Organize Smaller Dog Playdates For Practice
When we hear the term “doggy date,” most of us immediately think about the iconic spaghetti scene from Lady and the Tramp. While this might be adorable, your doggy dates should be more geared towards how to socialize your dog rather than finding their significant other.
Make sure you set up a playdate with a well-behaved pup. This will ensure the best chance of your dog not being overwhelmed while learning to be around other pets. While doggy dates won’t simulate the full experience of visiting a dog park, they will certainly get the ball rolling in the right direction.
Once your pup does well in this situation, it wouldn't hurt to set up a “puppy party.” Research published in Veterinary Medicine found that dogs who participated in these social gatherings were less likely to display undesirable behavior throughout their lives.
Start Slow When You Arrive At The Dog Park
All of these steps are essential when learning how to socialize your dog, and following them will likely get your pup prepared for his first outing. All the preparation in the world, however, doesn’t excuse metaphorically “throwing them into the deep end.” You’ll want to start slowly by first introducing your pal to one or two other dogs at the park.
Start by walking along the perimeter of the area so your dog can become acquainted with the park. They may even meet a few new friends along the fence line. During this time, you should scope out other pets that appear to have a friendly demeanorcalm demeanor. Explain to their owners that you’re trying to socialize your dog and see if they’d be willing to let the two spend some time together. This will have your furry friend palling around in no time.
Have Patience And Keep Things Simple
Knowing how to socialize a dog doesn’t come naturally for most people. This means that if you have any concerns that you’re doing something wrong, rest assured that almost everyone has been in your shoes. By following these simple tips, though, you can snatch yourself out of that category. While your pup might currently only want to hang around the house with you, he’ll be dragging you along to the park in no time.