4 Benefits of Socializing Your Dog

Dog socialization is the process of teaching your dog how to interact with other dogs and people, as well as new situations. In the process, your pup learns these things don’t have to be scary. Being socialized allows your dog to react to the world around him without fear, making life a happy adventure instead of a scary nightmare.

“Dogs are social beings and will, if left to their own devices, gravitate to other dogs,” says Steven Appelbaum, President of the Animal Behavior College. “If a dog spends time with human beings during early critical socialization periods, that dog will be much more comfortable around people. Dogs who aren’t socialized with people during 7-16 weeks may be fearful of humans and take a much longer time accepting them. Depending on the dog and the lack of socialization, some dogs will never learn to be genuinely comfortable around people.”

During their socialization period dogs also learn what’s proper behavior. For instance, puppies learn not to nip at other dogs or jump on strangers. These lessons eliminate challenging behaviors that could be problematic down the line.

Socializing your dog enables you to take your dog into the outside world without worrying about how he’ll react to the neighbor’s new dog, the mail carrier delivering a package or the kids biking by. 

While the most effective socialization should occur during puppyhood (starting between weeks 7 and 16), older dogs can also be socialized, usually with professional help.

Here are four key benefits of socializing your dog.

1. Socialization Builds Confidence

Confident dogs know how to navigate the world without fear, making life a lot more enjoyable.  They understand that other dogs aren’t out to get them. That strangers aren’t a threat. And that loud noises can’t hurt them.

But dogs can’t learn these things without being exposed to them first.  Controlling these exposures (aka socialization) is the key to making the experience a positive one and ensuring your dog is more confident and less fearful.

For example, many unsocialized dogs are scared of the dog park. For these dogs, the experience is fraught with danger. Because they’ve never had consistent positive encounters with other dogs, they’re not seeing an opportunity to have fun and play. They’re seeing possible aggressors who might hurt them.

A socialized dog, one that has had consistently positive experiences with other dogs, approaches the dog park with confidence because he sees lots of possible friends. Not threats.

2. Socialization Prevents Reactivity

What’s the one thing we know about bullies?

Bullies, like aggressive reactive dogs, are actually afraid. They use aggression to ease their anxiety.

For a leash reactive dog, for instance, the instinct to attack is his way of protecting himself should the other dog attack first. It also forces the other dog away, diminishing the anxiety the other dog’s too-close presence triggered.

“Generally, when a fearful dog is confronted by something they are afraid of, the dog will respond by trying to move away from what scares them,” Appelbaum says. “This can be problematic when on a leash because the leash and collar will prevent the dog from escaping. Sometimes when the dog pulls against the leash, you get what is known as an opposition reflex. This means the dog pulls away, the leash prevents that, but that causes the dog to increase their efforts to escape. Since this is a fear-based response, some dogs panic and become aggressive.”

But as mentioned above, socialized dogs don’t assume every new dog they encounter is a threat. And, when there’s no perceived threat, there’s no need to react or try to escape.

3. Socialization Provides Freedom

Having an unsocialized dog severely limits where you can go with your pup and what you can do. Dog parks are out, as is leaving your dog at doggy day care for a weekend getaway. Visits from your friends may be troublesome. Even walking your dog may require planning to ensure limited encounters with other people and dogs.

But socialized dogs can go almost anywhere. Dogs that have been introduced to a variety of situations as a puppy have learned that just because something is new doesn’t mean it’s scary.

In other words, feel free to take your socialized pup to that new dog-friendly restaurant you’ve been dying to visit.

4. Socialization Gives You Peace of Mind

Confident dogs make for confident, at-ease dog owners.

There’s nothing relaxing about taking your dog for a walk if you’re constantly worried your pooch will go crazy if he sees another dog. And, not that visits to the vet are ever fun, but knowing you might need to muzzle your dog to stop him from biting makes those visits that much more nerve-wracking.

Dog owners with well-socialized dogs don’t have those same anxieties. They’re not worried their dog will be the one to start a fight at the dog park. They’re not worried about that child asking to pet their doggy.