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When is it too late to socialize your dog?

by Nancy Freedman-Smith

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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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