Making sure that your dog is well socialized to other dogs requires time and effort, but the payoff makes the expenditure well worth it. You won’t have to worry about your dog behaving aggressively when you encounter other dogs on walks, you can let another dog play with and tire your dog out and save you the trouble, and maybe you’ll even make a friend at the dog park who will take care of your dog instead of you leaving him at the kennel the next time you go on vacation.
Socializing the Puppy
Socializing the young puppy is important, but you do have to be careful about exposing your puppy’s delicate immune system to potentially fatal communicable diseases. Your puppy’s dog socialization began in her litter at 3 weeks, but it has to continue for her to learn to communicate well with her own species. Socialization to other dogs for puppies under 12 weeks is best done under very controlled circumstances where unvaccinated or unhealthy dogs are unlikely to be present.
Already have a dog? Hopefully your current dog is already dog friendly and has a healthy follower relationship with you. If so, have the two dogs meet on neutral territory, with leashes on and lots of treats for good behavior. If not, consult a professional trainer to help ease the transition.
Avoid areas where stray or feral dogs roam, and high dog-traffic areas like dog parks, even if no dogs are present when you’re there. Your puppy shouldn’t socialize with dogs who visit those areas until vaccinations are complete. The dogs that your puppy does socialize with should be trusted to be friendly to your puppy during this formative time. Females who have raised litters are often good choices because they know just the perfect balance of affection and discipline to apply. Playing with other puppies continues your puppy’s education in bite inhibition and other important social skills.
The Older Puppy
Starting around 16 weeks, or when your puppy’s vaccinations are complete, you can begin socializing her to dogs of all sizes, colors, and coat types. Even dogs with different ear sets and tail postures are to be considered different enough to seek out socialization opportunities. Dogs’ play with each other tends to involve a lot of chasing, wrestling, play-biting, barking, and growling. This can be unnerving for many new or first-time dog owners. If in doubt, take your puppy to a doggie daycare or a socialization class at your local obedience school (or go by yourself), and watch how dogs play with each other until you’re comfortable. You want to keep your puppy safe, but you don’t want to make her neurotic by being overprotective.
Of course, if a dog doesn’t play well with your puppy, remove your dog from the situation for her safety. Always ask the other dog’s owner if your puppy can meet their dog before allowing her to, but take their answer with a grain of salt. Sometimes people will rationalize their own dog’s aggressive behavior as play. You can always let your puppy drag a leash or dragline until you’re sure her potential playmate is suitable — and it’s not a bad idea from a training standpoint.
On-leash socialization can be an issue of contention for many dogs, usually because their owners do all the wrong things. You can increase the possibility of pleasant on-leash meetings just by keeping your leash loose instead of keeping tension on it. If things get snarly, simply turn and walk away — your dog will have no choice but to come with you.
If your dog hasn’t been well socialized up to the age of six months, it is usually a much more difficult (sometimes impossible) process to teach her to accept new dogs. While she doesn’t have to enjoy the presence of other dogs, you can teach her that she is safe in the presence of them and that you are in control of the situation. There is no excuse for allowing an unsocialized dog to take a the-best-defense-is-a-good-offense attitude with every dog she encounters.