Tips to Safely Socialize Your Adult Rescue Dog
People frequently ask me “How do I socialize my adult rescue dog?”
The first thing that comes to mind is “carefully”!
I know it sounds trite, but the truth is that it is imperative to ensure your dog’s safety all while making sure everyone and everything else is safe.
And, people don’t know the history of their new rescue, so it adds a whole other layer of making this more difficult and complicated.
Was the dog socialized with other dogs?
Was the dog socialized with cats?
Was the dog socialized with kids and people?
It is difficult to know.
Even dogs who have a known background, or those that were relinquished, should be treated with caution.
Because as the famous “Dr. House” from the old TV show says “Everybody lies”.
And, it is true… “everybody lies”.
People often don’t want to admit that they are relinquishing their dog because it bit their child, or their other dog, or their cat.
In some ways, many are hopeful that it was “their” fault, and that if the dog lived in another environment, it won’t have the same problems.
This is why so many aggressive dogs get rehomed.
Here Are My Tips to Help You Safely Socialize Your Adult Rescue Dog:
Expect the Worst
I always plan for the worst.
I expect to have trouble with dogs, cats, and kids, and, until fully tested with several of each, my guard is up.
Keep your dog on a leash!
I certainly don’t bring dogs home and let them loose in my home.
For many, many years, I would temperament test dogs at the shelter and bring them home as potential Service Dogs.
I had to be very careful that these new dogs would not hurt, or kill, my dogs or cats.
Likewise, I had to be very careful socializing these new dogs with children and other people in public.
Do you know we often would pick dogs up from the shelter (having newly temperament tested them) and take them straight to the mall to train and begin socialization?
Yes, they had already proven themselves through temperament tests, but those tests are not foolproof.
We had to be diligent and mindful of dog behavior while avoiding an incident.
Ironically, we never had a dog bite a person straight out of the shelter, but we often saw behaviors that were not becoming of a potential Service Dog.
Learn to Read Behavior
Get to know dog behavior so that you can better assess what your dog is trying to tell you.
Learn what his tail wag means.
- Hard Pupils
- Trying to run away
Can all be signs of early aggression and discomfort.
You don’t have to judge “why” the dog is showing a certain behavior (no one likes to cast blame). It is more important to simply recognize signs of trouble.
If you feel uncomfortable, even if you aren’t sure why, trust your instincts.
You don’t have to introduce your new dog to everyone in your life all at once!
Allow the dog to get comfortable.
Schedule greetings with friends and family so that the dog isn’t completely overwhelmed at first and space out the stress!
Imagine meeting a crowd of people when you are already overwhelmed with all kinds of new things.
Just allowing the dog to settle in for a day or two is a great idea.
I have said it before, and I will say it again, “socializing” doesn’t mean “reckless abandon”.
I certainly wouldn’t want to expose a new dog with zero obedience to new things (even though I have in the past).
The best way to introduce a dog to new things and people in his environment is through obedience training.
I don’t expect my dogs to play with other dogs (neither of my dogs is overly interested in play), but I do expect them to be able to function around other dogs without any signs of aggression.
We achieve this “socialization” through obedience.
I also want to give him other things to think about. I don’t need him to be contemplating bad behavior.
It is my job to give him something appropriate to do and coping mechanisms to appropriately socialize with anyone or anything!
So, get started training your dog right away!
You can also “socialize” in safe places like doggy obedience classes!
Once you have taught your dog the foundation, enroll in a class to proof his training by adding distractions!
Get Him Out of There
Whether he has reached the end of his sociability, or the dog he is playing with is being a bully, obedience allows you to stop any kind of negative behavior that you see.
Without obedience, you will have to rely on chasing him down and pulling him away, and this can be dangerous to everyone involved.
Don’t get uptight when you are socializing!
Your dog reads your signals.
If you are uptight every time he sees or interacts with another dog, he is likely to assess that other dogs are scary or bad in some way.
People often inadvertently teach their dogs to be reactive by worrying that things will go wrong.
Whereas, I am all about preparing for the worst and having a game plan, I want my dog to be happy and successful so I try to go into each moment with a positive and happy attitude.
My confidence spurs the confidence of my dog.
My confidence also teaches my dog that I am perfectly capable of handling myself.
I am the ruler in our relationship.
I don’t want my dog to ever think that he has to protect me.
I want my dog to know that I will, in fact, protect him so that he has the confidence to experience new things.
A confident, well-trained, and socialized dog is a happy dog!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.