By Victoria Schade
Socialization isn’t just for puppies. Perhaps you’ve opened your heart and home to a senior rescue and you want him to enjoy all that life has to offer. Or maybe you’ve decided that your beloved but sedentary older pooch needs to get out and have some adventures. Tackling socialization with dogs who are well past the formative stage of development requires a gentle touch and patience, since older dogs have a well-established pattern of likes and dislikes. But much like puppy socialization, it’s important to remember that your senior sets the pace. That means that if he opts to hang back from unfamiliar people, or doesn’t want to immediately interact with other dogs, you shouldn’t push him. Forcing your dog into a scenario where he feels uncomfortable or overwhelmed can backfire and derail your socialization goals.
Keep in mind that attempting to socialize a dog with longstanding reactivity to other dogs or people requires a more choreographed approach and the help of a positive trainer and/or a veterinarian who specializes in behavioral medicine. The following tips are geared toward older dogs who are appropriate with others, but might need some extra support as they brush up on their socialization skills.
Host a Low-Key Gathering
Inviting two or three friends over for a calm, dog-centric hang can help kickstart a senior’s inner party animal. When your guests arrive, give them handfuls of savory treats, like freeze-dried liver, and tell them to ignore your dog unless he initiates contact on his own. If your dog approaches one of your guests, encourage that person to give a few treats. If he opts to put a buffer between himself and the guests, encourage them to toss treats to your dog from a distance, so that he begins to make an association between the goodies and the new friends. The goal of the gathering is to let your dog set the pace for interactions, and help him understand that unfamiliar people bring gentle pats and goodies.
Take a Buddy Walk
Find a friend with an even-tempered pooch and go for a hike together. Before you hit the trail, make time for a proper introduction on neutral ground so that the dogs can acclimate to one another safely. Going to a novel environment with a new buddy combines two aspects of socialization: experiencing the joy of unfamiliar territory and engaging in low-pressure canine bonding. Walking together is a gentle, stress-free way to encourage your senior to socialize with others, as the dogs can stroll near each other without directly interacting.
Run Off-Peak Errands
Consider taking your furry best friend with you for some easy socialization time when you need to stop by the bank and pick up your dry cleaning. Quick trips to dog-friendly spots during low-traffic times are a great way to gently introduce your senior to new sights, sounds, and people. Keep an eye on your dog as you include him in new adventures. If he displays stress behaviors, like yawning, licking his lips, and excessive sniffing, finish up and head home. If he seems comfortable and confident in new environments, keep up the good work.
Go Back to School
Even if you and your senior dog aced training classes back when he was a puppy, enroll in something new and fun, like a tricks class or nose work class. The ancillary exposure to other dogs in the group will provide secondary socialization while he reengages his brain learning new skills. And if you’ve got a rescued senior, taking a class together teaches you to speak the same language. Plus, a fun, positive training class can help speed the bonding process.
Walk a New Neighborhood
You and your senior dog have probably been walking the same route for many years, and while that’s fine for basic potty needs, it doesn’t flex your dog’s socialization muscle. Taking the road less traveled exposes your dog to novel experiences and gives him the opportunity to meet new friends along the way. Having positive experiences in a different environment helps your dog understand that the unknown can be fun, not scary. Bring a pocket full of treats along and give them to your dog any time he encounters someone, even if they’re just passing by. If you notice your dog acting nervous around any of the new sights and sounds, like construction noise or garbage trucks passing by, give your dog a treat so that it’s paired with the source of stress. In time, your dog will associate the formerly scary thing with the treat, and it won’t be quite so disturbing to him.
COMMENTS FROM LOVINMYPUPS.COM:
Socialization is important for a dog at any age. My licensed Mobility Service Dog is a Doberman Pinscher. Because Bella is out and about with me, it is very important to keep her socialized. After she completed her training and as she aged (6 yrs), she began to lose some of her socialization skills. It is a rarity to see a Doberman service dog so we are often stopped to speak with children and dog lovers. I have “please ask to pet her” on her service jacket. She has remained completely socialized while she is working.
We still do Pet Features and Pet Memorials on this site as well. Unfortunately I don’t have my affiliates on this site so supplies cannot be ordered. Anyone who is interested in featuring or memorializing your pet can PM me (Marsha Loverso) on messenger for more information.
And remember to share your love with your pets each and every day!