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Is It Too Late to Socialize My Dog?


Written by Aurus Sy

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 12/04/2021, edited: 12/04/2021

Early socialization ensures that a puppy will grow up to become a happy, well-adjusted dog. But what if your canine companion hasn’t been properly socialized? Maybe you adopted your best friend when they were already an adult, or maybe they’re a pandemic pup who missed out on early socialization due to COVID restrictions. Whatever the reason may be, is it too late to socialize your dog?

What is dog socialization?

Dog socialization is the process of exposing a puppy to as many new experiences as possible, ideally before 12 weeks of age. Helping a puppy become acclimated to all kinds of sights, sounds, and smells during the crucial three-month socialization period will make a big, permanent difference in their personality and shape how they will behave in new situations later in life. 

For example, proper socialization can prevent a dog from being afraid of children, larger dogs, or riding in a car. Fear of the unfamiliar can lead to behavioral issues, which are actually the number one cause of death for dogs under the age of three, according to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.

Can I still socialize my adult dog?

An adult dog who hasn’t been socialized will likely be fearful or aggressive. Signs include being nervous when out on walks, shying away from people or other canines, and retreating or raising their hackles when approached.

Fortunately, the oft-repeated adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” isn’t true. Dogs are naturally curious animals who are always learning and excited to absorb new experiences. According to VCA Animal Hospital, older dogs are often easier to train because of their greater ability to concentrate. Since they’re not as easily distracted as younger canines, they can focus for longer periods and learn new routines more quickly.

On the other hand, a mature dog will probably come with some unwanted learned behaviors or annoying habits, but these can be resolved with a bit of effort and patience on the pet parent’s part. Dogs don’t think about the past or the future, and adopted canines are usually eager to please their new family. So while it’s best for your furry pal to learn social skills early on, it's never too late to teach an old dog new tricks.

How do I socialize my adult dog?

Socializing a puppy is pretty straightforward—expose them to as many new things as possible and they’ll quickly get a grasp of what’s normal, especially when it’s done during the important socialization period. 

Socializing a mature dog is also possible, but will require some practice and training to help build your pup’s confidence; below are a few tips on how to do just that. Remember that slow and steady wins the adult dog socialization race! 

1. Don’t go into the dog park straight away. 

While a dog park is a great place to meet other canines, an unsocialized pup may find the whole situation scary and go on the offensive if they feel threatened. So instead of letting your pooch mingle with a pack of unfamiliar hounds from the get-go, walk them near the dog park for the first few days or weeks and let them observe the other dogs from a distance. Then, slowly work your way up to approaching the fence and reward your dog with a treat when they interact with the other canines in a positive way. If they’re nervous or scared, take a few steps back.

2. Introduce people slowly.  

Introduce your pooch to different kinds of people both at home and outside. Ask friends and strangers to crouch down and offer their hand for your dog to sniff. If your dog looks relaxed, let the person give them treats and/or scratch their chest. Always speak in a calm, encouraging voice, and have your pup meet only one new person each week. Don’t let several people crowd around them. If your dog cowers during the introduction, try again another time.  

3. Attend dog training classes.

An obedience or agility class is a great way to help boost your pup’s confidence and socialize them before heading to a dog park or doggie playdate. Your pooch will have a positive experience around people and other canines without having to interact with them since they’ll be too busy learning new skills. 

4. Ignore unwanted behaviors. 

Act like everything is normal whenever your dog becomes scared or acts out. Paying attention to an unwanted behavior will only reinforce it; by going about your business as usual, you create a calmer environment for your dog and teach them that there’s nothing to be afraid of. 

5. Never punish your dog for being scared.

Don’t punish or yell at your pup when they’re nervous about something, but don’t coddle them either. Simply reassure them with an “it’s okay” and a treat or a toy. Avoid making a big deal out of a situation as it might make your dog more fearful. 

It may take more time, but older dogs can learn new tricks and shed old habits. If you need additional help with socializing your adult dog, consider booking one-on-one training sessions with a professional dog trainer.

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