Dog training: How to socialize your dog

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Dog training: How to socialize your dog

Some dogs who have not been properly socialized or who have been traumatized by an unhappy encounter can act like wallflowers at the park or worse, be the neighbourhood bully. Karen Pryor Academy trainer Andre Yeu, owner of When Hounds Fly Dog Training in Toronto, offers these dog socialization tips to help Rover relax when he's in the company of other canines. 

1. Dog socialization requires starting young

All is not lost if you adopt an older dog. You just need to be patient if your dog hasn't spent much time with other dogs. That said, it's ideal to start dog socialization young. 

When you get a brand new puppy, start dog training as early as possible.

Endeavour to get him accustomed to many different things like people, environments, experiences and other dogs. "That alone will greatly reduce the likelihood of your dog being aggressive or afraid," says Yeu.

2. Choose the right setting 

When working on dog socialization techniques, you shouldn't rush a young pup over to the local dog park. Until he has had all his vaccinations (by around four months of age), he's still susceptible to diseases. Yeu recommends starting dog socialization training in a well-sanitized class, where owners are required to show their first round of vaccination certificates upon signing up.

Alternatively, set up backyard play dates with older dogs belonging to family members or friends, who can assure you that their pet is in good health. 

3. Take play dates outside

Dog socialization training means carefully introducing your pup to other dogs. For private doggy meet-ups, stay outdoors if possible -- the dogs won't feel as cornered. "You might not want to start by having them rush up to each other in a tight lobby, but instead by walking on leash with their owners in the same direction," advises Yeu.

Backyard dates are also okay, providing the "host dog" is not territorial. Just be careful not to take a shy or nervous puppy into a busy dog park on a leash when other dogs are running free. Your pup will only feel more vulnerable and may become defensive.

4. Dog socialization: Setting ground rules

Another reason not to start dog training in the dog park is that owners there may not have the reflexes to rein in their dog if he gets rambunctious around a newcomer.

With friends and family members, you can have a discussion about what's appropriate and what's not when their dog interacts with yours.

And in a puppy class, everyone is on the same page, and the dog socialization happens under the watchful eye of a certified trainer.

5. Don't be pushy with your dog

"It's important that a dog not feel forced to interact when it's not ready," says Yeu. If your dog just wants to sit near another dog and hang out, that's okay. If he wants to play straight away, that's also great.

But if your puppy is brought out from hiding behind your legs and another one jumps on him and doesn't respect his space, that could actually cause your pet to be more afraid of other dogs than ever.

The trick is to match your pup with a dog that is calm and gentle and that responds to your pup's energy level and playfulness well.

6. Reinforce positive dog behaviour

For a shy dog who is meeting other dogs successfully, offer rewards such as praise, pats, a scratch on chest or a food treat. Any positive behaviour that is reinforced will increase over time.

And don't punish a dog for anti-social actions: If a shy dog growls because he's uncomfortable and your reaction is overly stern, you may stop the growling, but ultimately the dog will feel worse about the social situation. "You should respect the fact the dog is not ready for that interaction," says Yeu. 

7. What to do if your dog gets snarly 

"If you see your dog display any aggressive behaviour to other dogs -- barking, lunging, growling, trying to bite or actually biting -- you should be calling a professional," says Yeu. Find a certified trainer at The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.

And in the heat of the moment, it's best not to scold or physically discipline the dog. "Just back away then leave together," says Yeu. "Your pup has passed its threshold."

Above all, don't let your own anxiety rub off on your dog. Your pup is far more likely to have fun if you just relax and let him make friends at his own pace. Dog training can be fun (and rewarding!) for both of you if you employ the right techniques.

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Dog training: How to socialize your dog