What to Do If Your Dog Isn’t Well Socialized

The most confident, easy-going dogs were likely socialized at a young age. Dogs learn how to interpret the world around them between the ages of 8 and 16 weeks. This is when they learn that other dogs can be friends and new people aren’t dangerous. But not all dogs are lucky enough to grow up in an environment where positive socialization occurred. For these dogs, new people and other dogs can be scary. Some react fearfully. Others turn their fear into aggression.

This can sometimes be the case with older rescue dogs taken from neglectful or abusive situations. But it can also happen with dogs who didn’t get the opportunity to mingle as a puppy – like during a pandemic quarantine.

Living with an unsocialized dog can be stressful, whether it hurts to see your dog so fearful or you’re terrified he’s going to hurt someone else. But there are things you can do to make going out into the world safer for you, your dog, and anyone your dog encounters.

Signs of a Poorly Socialized Dog

Some of the signs your dog isn’t well socialized are behaviors usually associated with “bad” dogs. But unsocialized dogs aren’t bad. They’re reacting to the world around them in the only way they’ve learned how.

Here are some of the most common behavioral indicators that your dog isn’t fully socialized.

  • Fearful behavior when around strangers and/or other dogs. Behaviors might include flattened ears, lip licking, yawning, cowering, avoiding eye contact, and tail tucked between the legs.
  • Aggressive behavior when around strangers and/or other dogs. Behaviors might include intent staring, holding ears erect, excessive barking, snarling, growling, and snapping.
  • Dog backs up or raises his hackles when another person or dog approaches.
  • Fearful or aggressive behavior when on walks, even if no other people or dogs are around.

Overexcitement around other people and dogs.

(Learn more about the benefits of socializing your dog.)

What to Do

1. Use a Shorter Leash

Whether your dog is fearful or aggressive, using a shorter leash is a great way to keep him under control. It’s much harder to stop your dog from lunging at another dog if he’s 12 feet away from you. With a three- or four-foot leash, there’s less distance between you and your dog. And that means more control.

Coastal Pet’s Multi-Function Dog Leash comes in three-, four- and six-feet lengths, so you can provide more (or less) slack depending on where you are.

2. Use a Muzzle

Muzzles might not be pretty, but they can be life-savers, particularly if your dog has a history of aggression. Even if your dog has never bitten anyone, but he’s lunged, growled, or nipped at people or other dogs, a muzzle can provide peace of mind that nothing bad can happen.

Coastal Pet’s Soft Basket Muzzle prevents dogs from biting and is more comfortable to wear (and for you to look at) than wire muzzles.

Keep in mind, muzzles are tools to be used only when there is a risk of your dog acting out. For instance, if you know your aggressive dog may encounter another dog on your daily walk, a muzzle can help. But don’t put your dog into stressful situations just because he’ll be wearing a muzzle. If you know the dog park is triggering for your dog, don’t go. The muzzle won’t change how your dog responds to the dog park. And, worse, he’ll associate that bad experience with wearing the muzzle, making him less likely to want to wear it the next time you need it.

3. Invest in Training

The above tools are helpful for keeping your dog safe. And keeping other people and dogs safe from your pooch. But they do not stop unwanted behavior and they do not help with socialization. The best way to help your dog if you think he is not well socialized is to invest in some training.

To start with, make sure your dog knows basic commands, like “heel,” “sit” and “come,” all of which can be helpful if your dog starts to act out.

But even better is to spend time socializing your dog. No matter their age, all dogs can be socialized. If you feel up to it, you can try socializing your pooch on your own. This is more appropriate for dogs that are slightly fearful. The socialization of dogs that are very fearful or aggressive is better handled by a professional trainer.

4. Don't Panic

The worst thing you can do when your dog overreacts to a situation is to reinforce his reaction through your own behavior. When you panic, your dog interprets it as you agreeing with their response to the situation.

For instance, if your dog lunges at another dog and you yell and jerk on the leash to pull him away, your dog associates your negative reaction with the dog he’s lunging at. Similarly, if he’s scared and you coddle and soothe him, he interprets that to mean he was right to be afraid.

Instead of panicking, try turning the negative into a positive. Use a command like “sit” or “watch me” to get his attention, then praise him or reward him with a treat for complying.