How To Socialize An Older Dog 

What is socialization?  
Dog socialization is training your dog to feel at ease in all kinds of situations and environments and around other people and dogs. It’s all about safely exposing your dog to different experiences and helping them feel comfortable in them. Generally, the earlier you begin to socialize a dog, the better. We believe, though it may be a bit more challenging with an older dog, it’s never too late.  

Unsure of whether your dog needs to be socialized? Here are a few signs to look out for:
     -  Anxious or shy around other people or dogs  
     -  Aggressive towards other people or dogs  
     -  Overly excited when meeting new people or pets

These behaviors may not happen inside your home where your dog is comfortable but are noticeable when you’re elsewhere together. If this sounds like your pooch, keep reading.

What are the benefits of socializing your dog? 
Social dogs are generally happier, get more exercise, are less prone to aggressive behavior, generally do better with the groomer and the vet, and more. This disposition contributes to a more joyful and tranquil home life for everyone. Dogs who learn the ability to adapt to diverse environments and situations respond to their surroundings in a positive manner, without fear or aggression. A confident, well-adjusted dog is the goal.

Socializing an older dog is much like training a younger dog, but usually with more patience and encouragement required. You may or may not know the history of your dog and all the reasoning behind his fear or anxiety. One of the most important things to remember is to go at your dog’s pace. You will find you’re most successful when you don’t overwhelm your pet with an overload of training or try to move too quicky. Always stay positive. Remember, old habits die hard – even for dogs! Be prepared with treats and lots of praise! 

One of the easiest ways to begin socializing an older dog is to go on walks in public together. Always make sure your dog is on a leash that is properly secured. Walking is a great way to take in the sights and smells of new places. When you frequent the same places, your dog should begin to feel more at ease there. If you encounter a situation where your dog is uncomfortable, turn around and go home – back to your dog’s safe place. Don’t forget to bring treats for rewarding positive encounters with other dogs and people! 

A great next step in socializing your adult dog is to introduce them to another adult dog. Make sure the new dog you’re meeting is not suffering from lack of socialization, fear, aggressiveness, etc. Plan to meet at one of your houses in a fenced backyard or go for a walk together in a familiar place. Keep both dogs on a leash when they meet, to ensure you have control in case the meeting doesn't go well. Reward your dog for positive interactions with their new furry friend. Never take your dog off-leash if there has been aggressive or fearful behavior during the interaction. If the experience is positive, plan to meet again, hopefully increasing the playtime and positive interaction between the two dogs.  

If your dog has trouble around other people, a great next step is to introduce them to new people perhaps without adding another dog to the mix. For this new experience, invite a friend over to your house and ask them to ignore your dog upon arrival. If your pooch remains calm, reward with a treat. Your friend may now interact with your dog. As the interaction remains positive, allow your friend to give your dog a treat. Treat-giving creates a special bond between dogs and humans. Hopefully, your dog becomes comfortable in this new experience quickly. In some cases, past trauma causes some dogs to be perpetually afraid of other people, depending on what happened to them in their formative years. Remember never to force your dog to stay in a situation where they’re clearly uncomfortable, anxious, or afraid.  

Another new experience in dog socialization is to introduce your adult dog to puppies or children. Use your best judgement, here. If you know your dog is aggressive, skip this experience. It’s not worth the risk of any human or animal getting hurt. When your dog is comfortable with other adult dogs and humans, they should be ready for interaction with puppies and children. Make sure you’re always in control when your dog is meeting a new puppy or kiddo. Keep the environment calm and positive. Kids and puppies can be unpredictable, so go slowly and always be ready to step in. As usual, reward positive interactions with praise and treats!  

It’s never too late to socialize an adult dog. The most important things to remember are to go at your dog’s pace and keep things positive. If your adult dog lacks experience in the world around you, take him outside and begin exploring!  

This post was adapted from our Puppy Raisers training guide for socializing a puppy. To learn about what it’s like to volunteer as a puppy raiser, caring for our future guide dog puppies, read more here!