When is it too late to socialize your dog?

My post last week was a check list of things that puppy owners need to go out of their way to expose their pups to. Proper socialization drastically cuts down on behavior issues developing later in life.

I fielded a lot of questions about the list. A lot of people wanted to know “is it too late?”


The window for socialization closes just about 4 months, and even if you checked off everything on the list, you still need to continue to get your puppy out and about. The official window is closed but you can and should introduce your dog to the things that he will see in his life with you.

If a dog has not been properly socialized as a pup, often times we see adult dogs who act as if they have been abused. Many people with shy and fearful rescue dogs assume that their dogs have been abused, but the reality in the majority of cases is that their dogs did not socialize and learn that life is good when they were puppies.

Once a pup’s socialization window closes -that’s it. There is no turning back the clock. Usually these dogs never seen much of the world, which can lead to fear and even aggression. After 4 months of age socialization is remedial.

Remedial Socialization Guidelines

*Dogs are individuals.

*Take your cues from your dog.

*Do not over face your dog.

* Don’t be a greedy trainer. Know when to back off and walk away.

*Teach your dog to hand target first your hand and then other people’s. This will give your dog an alternative behavior to do when they are unsure and also teach them that approaching people bring good things.

*Don’t attempt to introduce your dog to new things until you have bonded and developed a trust. The number one mistake I see with new rescue dogs is people moving too fast.

*Bring high value treats with you all the time, and pair new things with something pleasant. As a very general rule, dogs who are over their threshold will not eat. If your food motivated dog has stopped taking treats, try creating a bigger distance from what ever it is that concerns your dog.

*Remember that dogs do not generalize well. One big guy with a hat does not equal all big guys with hats.

*Don’t hesitate to contact a positive trainer if you are having issues.

*If your dog’s parents have solid temperaments, chances are you can over come. If your dog parents are genetically fearful, chances are you will be on a life time of management.

*Ask yourself what your dog finds rewarding and use that. It may be food or a toy but most likely it is NOT being touched by strangers. The reward for many unsure dogs is to go away from what scares them. Encourage your dog to move away from things that scare them.

*Plan setups with people. Start by having the people standing sideways in a non threatening way. Be sure your helpers understand to stay still and quiet and to move slowly. Good things ( jolly voice, treats, toys) need to happen when people are around.

*Plan setups with friendly, non reactive dogs. It is great if your dog makes a buddy to play with, but your first goal is to just be near other dogs at a minimum distance that your dog does not react. On leash meetings are never recommended.

*Remain patient and calm and expect setbacks. In time your dog will become more confident.

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8 comments

  • January 14, 2012 1:03 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Jessica @ YouDidWhatWithYourWeiner

    Funny. When I read “If your dog’s parents have solid temperaments, chances are you can over come. If your dog parents are genetically fearful, chances are you will be on a life time of management.”. I thought “parents” was referring to the adoptive Mom or Dad…then I realized you meant Canine parents :) Ha, ha.

    BUT I really do think this statements is true for the dog’s human parents too. I am a firm believer that your attitude (think…if you are calm, consistent, make your expectations clear and don’t get anxious and over anticipate a situation) has a HUGE effect on how your dog will behave/react. We adopted a very fearful dog last year and she has come such a long way because we are calm people ourselves and and our attitudes are what I listed. This has not been my first experience that went that way either. Every dog or cat I have rehabilitated has responded well if those principles are used.

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  • January 15, 2012 1:12 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Nancy K

    Not to change the subject but you mentioned never introducing dogs to strange dogs while on leash. How do you recommend introducing new members of a small rescue that are kept in a person’s home?

    I have been pretty much just turning everyone loose in my large, fenced in back yard and pasture. This has worked thus far but I’m wondering if there’s a better/safer way to make introductions.

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    • January 17, 2012 5:26 amPosted 2 years ago
      Nancy Freedman-Smith (@Gooddogz)

      Nancy, I foster a lot of dogs. A lot. Depending on how I size up the new dog, I sometimes just let them all loose. Or will introduce one dog at a time in the yard. Sometimes, I keep the new dog separate for a few days if I think they need to decompress a bit , or if I can’t get a read on the new dog. Sometimes I will let them meet through the fence first. Meeting through and fence intros can be triggers for some dogs, so I take that into account. The safest way to introduce dogs is a parallel walks, and to take your time. I am thinking that this is a great topic for a future blog post.

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    January 17, 2012 1:44 pmPosted 2 years ago
    Jenifer

    My JRT developed his antisocial attitude toward other dogs after the death in 2010 of his own father, my older JRT lost to complications of renal failure. The older dog was so friendly, socialized and outgoing – also quiet, relaxed and obedient – that people who had only heard of the bad rep of JRTs would say that he changed their minds about the whole breed. Like papa like son while the older dog was alive. Following his death, though, the younger dog, a senior himself at age 11 this year, became extremely vocal and angry toward other dogs and protective of me when he sees other human he doesn’t already know or has been introduced to. I worried that the death of one of the dogs would leave the survivor depressed or stressed but surprisingly this did not happen, the surviving JRT is very happy being the only dog in a one-dog household. As I live on a rural-remote farm this isn’t much of a problem but if I ever had to move into town it sure might be. Why would the younger dog suddenly decide only after the death of his papa that he didn’t like other dogs? What would be the appropriate positive/kind training for this situation? I abhor punishing any animal and only wish to use “pawsitive” training.

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    • January 17, 2012 1:56 pmPosted 2 years ago
      Nancy Freedman-Smith (@Gooddogz)

      How sad! Sorry for your loss. My first thought is that your younger dog took his cues from his Dad. Did you socialize him on his own separate from the older dog? My second thought is that dogs don’t take well to change and loosing his pal has really stressed him. There is an article I wrote for LWD on desensitization . That may help. Basically you want to do your best NOT to put your dog in situations that make him react and re introduce him to the world again, must in the way I write about in this post. It is not too late to call in a positive trainer to help you. Best of luck.

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    March 27, 2013 1:15 amPosted 1 year ago
    Diane Cavallero

    i too have a poorly socialized JRT but the blame lies solely with me i am afraid.. and that is the reason as well. I gt my pup Hadron Small Supercollider (yes yes i know lol) as a companion for my other JRT Kleopatra who was mourning for her just deceased partner Flash who had to be put down due to a highly aggressive tumor behind his eye.. i too was mourning but in addition was also suffering from PTSD and resulting agoraphobia made me shrink into a recluse and consequently his socialization and even housebreaking have suffered. … to make it worse i am also being gang stalked and now at one year old he is showing signs of behavioral problems i am unable to gt a handle on as i a fighting to stay safe and sane myself.. i am seeing hm hyperactive, hyper-vigilant and anxious (i do try not to get upset or anxious in front of the dogs now but at the start of stalking i was a nervous wreck plus they have been targeted as well as i and are experiencing nightmares now too).. he runs beside me when the doorbell rings barking like mad and bites my butt and leg all the way to the door, so much that i have to shut him in the bathroom to open the door to answer.. he gets very upset by this but he tries to bite anyone at the door, however in a moment he usually stops and begs fir attention and jumps all over them instead…

    you can see that he needs help so can i i want to do whats best for him so how can i best work on the issues while i try to heal myself? i love him to bits but going outside is for the moment very hard and i have zero support out there so this is a solo operation…. how can i get my pup his calm back and do remedial socialization and training? very occasionally he gets a break for a day with a person that fosters dogs and he always cones back happy worn out from playing and in a better place but i cant arrange that very often at all. but can see he needs it..

    can you suggest anything suited to a traumatized owner fr her traumatized dogs? (my elder 11 year old female JRT also has nightmares tho she has no other underlying grief or behavior issues thankfully but she is very cautious about strangers now and drops her head and checks them out where before she would just amble up and say hello.. sad to see innocence lost like this..

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    February 14, 2014 7:58 pmPosted 8 months ago
    maria

    i have adopted 4 1/2 yrs old toy poodlle from the breader and she is not socialized at all lived in a kennel all her life
    she keeps running away
    the day i got her she jumped out of the bag at the airport and kept running i manage to get her
    one day after i got her she run away in the middle of Canadian winter -18C survived
    5 days and people found her and i got her back
    then she become very attached to me and follows me everywhere and have terible separation anxiety and two months later i though she will never do it again
    i took her to Aruba and two weeks into the trip i was at my other condo fixing AC and the guy had door open and she was close to door i got scared and yelled her name and she just bolted out of the door and went after her callling her but she wont come
    lucky enough someone i know was there and caught her but that makes me very scared
    why is she running? she follows me everywhere and keeps an eye on me 24/7

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    March 15, 2014 3:29 pmPosted 7 months ago
    Lisa

    We have a 3 yr old border collie mix we rescued 2 years ago. She has social anxiety. She does not interact with people at all. We take her for walks and do our best to show her love but she is still hesitant. She stays under our bed the majority of the day. We have to feed her in our bedroom. She has to be coaxed out to go outdoors. She will do her business and hid under the steps outside until the door opens and she then makes a dash for her place under the bed. If she hears the leash she will come out and dance round. She enjoys her walks and is friendly with the people she meets. When we return home it’s back to under the bed. What can we do for our Katie?

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