Sherlock jumping up and lying down on new surfaces with his friend in the mountains.
Be sure to check out my previous blog about puppy socialization as it has great foundation knowledge for socializing your dog. Now you might be wondering how socialization applies to your adult dog, especially if they have an unknown past. Here you’ll learn how to go about socializing your older dog and keeping all the interactions positive!
Before I go any further it is vital to talk to your vet and work with an experienced animal behaviorist if your dog is showing any signs of fear, reactivity, or aggression. The advice in this blog is solely for people who are looking to start off right with their new rescue, but this is not a resource for behavior adjustment or any form of reactivity or aggression help. Behind the Behavior has an excellent blog about different qualifications and how to find a behaviorist that will suit your needs.
Socializing your adult dog will be a longer process, as you’re not starting with a blank slate. The key with adult dogs is to focus on confidence building. Easy ways to start basic socialization and confidence building is to hand feed some of your dog’s meals (again, if your dog is displaying any worrisome behaviors, do not use the techniques I list in this blog and seek out an experienced behaviorist to assist you). This starts to build their trust in you from day one. Outside of hand feeding, a couple of my go to confidence builders are store bought and homemade food puzzle toys. You can also create new and uneven surfaces and have your dog walk over them.
One of my favorite homemade puzzles for confidence building is the box tower game. It is a fun way for your dog to eat a meal while building their confidence. To play this game you’ll take a couple of different sized boxes (generally plastic or cardboard) and set them up together randomly. One facing sideways, another on top, another facing up, etc. Then you’ll scatter your dog’s food in and around the boxes for them to find and eat! Start with just one box and as they get comfortable you can increase the difficulty. Another modification of this game is to put plastic bottles or something similar into a box where the dog would have to reach in and discover the food underneath the bottles.
The bowl on a cookie sheet is pretty much exactly what it says. You’ll place a cookie sheet down on the floor and put any kind of bowl on it with your dog’s food. Start with a bowl that will make the least amount of noise such as bowls with a rubber lined bottom. As your dog’s confidence increases with this exercise, introduce bowls that will make more noise and slide around. This is an excellent game for confidence building and socializing your dog to weird sounds.
There are many ways you can introduce your dog to new surfaces to walk on as well. I like to start with flattened cardboard boxes because they don’t make any noise and they’re mostly flat. From there you can build on that and use cookie sheets, put the couch cushions on the floor, scatter plates and bowls for them to navigate through, and more!
Once you’ve developed a strong relationship with your dog and they’re confidently taking on the challenges you’ve created in your home it’s time to take it on the road! I like to start out in a park with playground equipment.There are so many great socialization and confidence building options there. From the uneven surfaces throughout the equipment to the trees and grass and wildlife, you and your dog can have loads of fun while training and exploring. Remember to always watch your dog’s body language and let them run socialization training sessions. Don’t force them into a situation they’re not comfortable with.
Once you’ve established these foundations of trust and confidence, continue to explore new environments and introduce them to new people, animals, and more. You can access a free, downloadable socialization checklist to give you more opportunities to build confidence and strengthen your relationship with your dog.
Want to learn more? I offer private lessons where we can work on socializing your dog together! I’ll teach you different exercises and help you through them one on one. Email me at Skye@skyhighdogtraining.com or fill out the contact form on my home page for more information on how you can get started.