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Parenting an adult rescue dog is tough, especially if they have a history of abuse or neglect. What's more, many rescue dogs have not been adequately socialized prior to adoption.
Undersocialized dogs can be difficult to parent and may injure you or themselves unintentionally. They may bolt when confronted with another dog or even attempt to bite out of fear. Undersocialization can make for many difficult situations, even if dogs don’t go out much. Routine vet trips could turn into an uncooperative frenzy with an undersocialized dog.
Adding to this challenge is the fact that adult dogs are already past the crucial socialization period that happens in early puppyhood. By adulthood, some rescues have already developed food aggression, dog reactivity, and anxiety, which can further inhibit the desire to socialize. Thankfully, most dogs can overcome these fears and inhibitions with training and behavior modification.
Learning your dog’s triggers and how to overcome them is the first step in creating positive social experiences for your dog. Is Fido fearful of people, dogs, or both? Do certain situations and settings make a difference in their response to others? These are all things to consider when devising a training plan for your rescue.
Getting a history report from the rescue or shelter can assist you in determining your dog’s possible triggers. Learning about your canine’s past will help you find socialization techniques that won’t overwhelm them.
Socializing can be a scary endeavor for many rescues, and this fear may manifest as aggression. If your dog is reactive, aggressive, or fearful, you should consider investing in a muzzle. Muzzles might look uncomfortable, but most dogs tolerate them quite well. Have your dog practice wearing their muzzle around the house before taking them out in it.
Lastly, it’s important to manage your expectations when socializing an adult rescue. Many rescues have trust issues from past experiences and have every right to be wary of humans or other animals.
Remember, socialization takes time, so don’t expect your dog to miraculously transform into a social butterfly overnight. Your rescue might never learn to love the dog park, but the important thing is they learn to tolerate others without fear or aggression.
Having the right equipment is essential when training a rescue dog to socialize. For this, you’ll need a snug-fitting harness and a short leash. These tools will help you maneuver your dog easily if a situation gets too intense.
Finding the right place to socialize is crucial when dealing with an adult rescue. You’ll want somewhere quiet with minimal distractions so that your dog can focus on the other dog or person.
Socializing in the dog’s own home is ideal for most, but it can trigger a territorial dog. If your dog is territorial, it might be better to socialize them in a public setting or someone else’s home.
Trying to socialize your dog among strangers isn’t always the right starting place with rescues. Instead, solicit one or two good friends to help you navigate the socialization process.
It’s a good idea to have your pet spayed or neutered before attempting to socialize them. Having your pet fixed can prevent aggression and breeding behaviors that may interfere with socialization.
Watch your pet closely when interacting with others. If your dog begins to tuck their tail, snarl, or flatten their ears, it might be a good idea to end the session. You don’t want your dog to become overwhelmed since this may make them not want to socialize in the future. Remember, you can always pick up where you left off later.
Never yell, scold, or otherwise punish your dog for misbehaving or refusing to socialize — this will only increase fear and may make them withdraw even further. Instead, use positive reinforcement measures like treats and gentle praise to enforce the good behaviors.
The Mirror Training Method
Prepare for training by outfitting your dog with a snug-fitting harness and leash. You may want to put a muzzle on them as well.
Bring in the other dog
Bring in another leashed dog and allow the dogs to sniff one another while on the leash.
Show affection to the other dog
As you hold Fido’s leash, love on and play with the other dog.
Encourage Fido to interact
Using a soft, calm voice, encourage Fido to play with the other dog as you do the same.
Remove Fido immediately if they show signs of aggression or extreme fearfulness. Signs of this include raised fur, trembling, a tucked tail, low body posture, and flattened ears.
Use positive reinforcement
Give Fido treats and gentle praise for sniffing, playing with, or even just tolerating the other dog.
Repeat this activity with other dogs and in different environments.
The Walking Method
Pick a quiet area
Find an area around your neighborhood that is quiet but also frequented by dog walkers.
Place a snug-fitting harness and leash on your dog and you’re ready to go.
With a calm but confident demeanor, begin walking your dog.
Allow Fido to sniff and explore at their leisure — this is meant to be a fun activity.
Use positive reinforcement
When you encounter another walker or dog, give Fido a treat and gentle praise.
Stay calm and move confidently as you pass other walkers. Fido will pick up on your calm demeanor and will reflect that back. If possible, interact with the other walkers along your way.
Encourage Fido to interact with other walkers as well; if Fido behaves appropriately, give them a treat.
Ignore leash-pulling and barking. Acknowledging the behavior or trying to calm them with pets and a gentle tone will only reinforce their actions.
Continue these walks daily, remembering to give praise and treats for positive interactions.
Written by Emily Bayne
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 05/10/2021, edited: 05/10/2021
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