5 Socialization Tips for Shelter Dog Adopters

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Many of our members adopt adult shelter dogs having never owned a pet before. And, while we commend them for their good deed, it is important to point out there will be a period of transition and it’s likely there will be a few challenges along the way. Understandably, some shelter dogs will experience stress when they move to a new home and consequently might be apprehensive or fearful about social interactions with people and other animals. Don’t be put off. It’s your job to show them a loving environment in which they can flourish.

Though the task ahead may seem daunting, with a bit of patience, your furry friend will become adaptable to almost any situation, with lots of doggie and human friends to boot.

1. Daily Walks

What better way to get acquainted with your new pup and and their temperament than taking daily walks together? It’s an activity that benefits both of you. Maintaining a daily schedule will help your dog adjust to their new home and reduce stress. You’re bound to meet plenty of other people and pets while you’re out and about, but these interactions should always be positive. Don’t force meetings during the early stages as your pet might panic or become aggressive. Certainly don’t punish your dog for negative interactions. Be conscious of their body language. If they seem fearful, encourage them along and simply keep walking if there’s a particular dog that upsets them (or is upset by them). With a bit of practice, your dog will become more comfortable with the sights, sounds and smells of the wider world. Be sure to keep them on a leash and if you notice them growling or barking at other dogs, use a muzzle.

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2. Basic Training

Before you start socializing with a wider variety of people and animals, your dog should first undergo basic training. We’ve all heard the expression ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ but with a little persistence, most dogs can understand the basics – many will even excel! The essential commands include sit, stay, wait, come, leave it, lay down and heel – chances are your new pup will already know some of them. Developing these skills will help build trust between you and your pet and, as your dog starts to listen and respond to your commands, you’ll feel more confident about socialization. It is important that training sessions are fun and positive. Don’t scold them for doing the wrong thing; keep at it and reward them with treats and affection when they get it right. There are many online resources to help you train your pet, or there’s always the option to attend professional obedience classes.

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3. One Step at a Time

Don’t try to do too much too soon. If you notice your dog is apprehensive around certain animals you shouldn’t let them off the leash or go to places where there are lots of dogs off leash. A great way to bridge the gap is introducing them to the pets of friends and family members you know and trust. This sort of one-on-one interaction helps build your pup’s confidence and shapes the groundwork for integrating into larger groups. Again, use a leash. Be conscious of body language (upright head, tail and ears indicates confidence), use treats if necessary and encourage playful encounters. As a next step, try taking your dog to the local park and see if he or she more open to social interactions with unknown animals.

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4. Go Where Other Dogs Are

Assuming your pup’s making progress, why not try some other activities. Most cities have an abundance of options for pet parents to get together and socialize. There are dog parks, pet stores, pet-friendly cafes and restaurants, as well as many doggy-oriented events. Again, taking it slow is the best practice. As an example, before going straight into a dog park, letting your pup off leash and hoping for the best, try walking them around the park before hand while you observe his or her behavior. If your pup seems confident, try taking them inside on the leash for a short while. Exercise caution with other dogs and reward good behavior with treats.

5. Get Some Advice from a Vet

Not only can a veterinarian help manage your new dog’s health and wellness (including vaccine schedules, flea and tick prevention and check ups), they’re also extremely knowledgeable about pet behavior. Search for a vet in your local area and book a quick consultation to take some advice about your new pup. You can also arrange any required treatments (like vaccinations and parasite control) to ensure your pup’s always at their best. At the very least it’s another opportunity for your furry friend to socialize with other animals they might not always encounter in their daily life.

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