June 30, 2023


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How to Socialize your Dog

It can be overwhelming to add a new dog to your family and navigate all the logistics that come along with that, but one of the most crucial elements that requires focus from the get go is socialization. If you’re wondering how to socialize your dog (holistically, mindfully, and in a way that is respectful of their autonomy), you’re in the right place.

Socialization is the basis for a happy, healthy life – not just for your dog, but for you. This is the basis of all my work, it’s not about building a better life for your canine, but for all parties involved. When everyone is focused, understanding, and calm that is when we have succeeded.

How we socialize our dogs is such an important part of developing relationships and behaviors.

I really want to break down my approach to socialization and how we approach building connections with our animals in meaningful ways.

More than ever, this feels extremely relevant as I have encountered so many clients since 2020 that have struggled to socialize their dogs during and after the pandemic. I know it can really seem like the pandemic threw things off for human and canine life (and in many ways it totally did!), but in terms of socialization I want to challenge you to reframe the concepts.

What is Socialization and Why Does it Matter?

Socialization starts early in a dog’s life and is the process of helping them develop neutral and appropriate relationships with other animals and humans. The process of socialization is incredibly key for a dog, it’s the foundation for their interactions in everyday life and something that absolutely needs to be taken seriously.

Countless research has shown the benefits of socialization, a study done by Tiffani Howell et. al. found that properly socialized puppies were less likely to experience fear and aggression as adult canines. Further, the study found that socialization was associated with positive interactions with humans. There really is no reason not to invest time and energy into proper socialization for your dog.

View additional resources here – Benefits of Socialization Study

Socialization typically is focused on puppies, but it’s super important to note that if you are building a relationship with an older dog, these concepts are also essential. It becomes key when older dogs lack some of the basic socialization skills they should have learned as a puppy, and it really does become our job to help them define these skills. The process can be slightly different and potentially more challenging, but is totally possible.

To really understand what socialization is, I think it’s helpful to break down what it isn’t first. Socialization is NOT simply exposing your animal to the world randomly. Socialization is about helping show your canine the way the world around them works – a world which is completely foreign to them.

Socialization really is a calculated concept, and it’s all about keeping healthy boundaries and showing your dog how to maintain these boundaries with others. It may seem like a good idea to take your dog to the park and let them learn from interacting with other dogs, but in reality this can be insanely overwhelming for our dogs, especially puppies.

The ultimate goal of socialization is to promote positive experiences for your canine at a key point in their development. Establishing this clear basis will promote positive interactions and behaviors down the line and promote a more grounded, happier dog.

Where I See People Failing with Socialization Today.

It’s pretty undisputed that socialization is important – and many of my clients are actively trying to navigate their way through the process. Yet, I see so many people presently overstepping boundaries with dogs in public and not respecting their own dog’s emotional needs.

The most important element here really is to maximize your own observations about your dog and make sure you are in-tune with their needs. In the socialization process, this is even more important. Think about how it might feel for your puppy to interact with members of their own species – they might feel bombarded, disrespected, dishonored. These emotions inevitably are going to be complex for our canines and present some issues to socialization.

In modern relationships I see people approaching dogs without asking to pet them and generally invading their personal spaces all too often. This is a huge roadblock to successful socialization and something we as dog owners cannot promote and persist.

When dogs get accustomed to interactions being threatening and potentially damaging with other humans and canines, this can develop into a lasting mentality that is damaging. If our animals see that we are allowing other people and dogs to intrude on their space, this greatly diminishes their respect for us as the leader of the pack.

In general, it seems that people have become so misinformed on how to befriend a dog and create healthy behavioral patterns – I see so many clients trying to program their dogs like a computer, but it really takes an individualized approach and practice to understand your animal.

Take on the alpha role as their caretaker to make sure your dog is feeling safe in the socialization process, and ultimately this promotes stability for years down the line.

Busting the Myth of “Pandemic Puppies”

It’s worth it to take a second to address pandemic puppies. There were massive amounts of animals adopted during the pandemic, and inevitably the socialization process was different for these canines than what we had previously known. BUT, all these changes weren’t inherently bad for the development of our dogs.

People assume that dogs were delayed in learning and progress given they had a lot of daily interactions removed during the height of the pandemic, but this didn’t actually deter socialization in irreversible ways.

The main issue our dogs suffered during the pandemic was because they felt the stress and anxiety we as their leaders projected onto them and our environments. A lot of people weren’t feeling fully right with themselves and added dogs into their lives as a means to fill the void. There was a lot of projecting based on the general sentiments of the world onto our animals, and this dictates the energy they feel.

It’s easy to assume the pandemic was the root source for a lot of issues, but with socialization of our dogs, the pandemic actually had some benefits. For one, our dogs were able to experience life with their owners at an enhanced level, in a lot of ways this created healthy boundaries. Issues like personal space were alleviated by the pandemic, and it actually allowed our dogs to have some space to develop, understand, and analyze the world around them.

It’s close to impossible to argue that the pandemic really did have no negative impacts on our animals, but largely it just presented us with a new environment to help them exist in. Taking responsibility for the socialization process is something you can do right now – and that’s without a doubt the most important first step.

Read Next: We Need to Talk about Pandemic Puppies

Guide Socialization as the Embodied Alpha

You’ve probably heard me reference this term “alpha” a few times in this blog – and now I want to delve into what I mean by that. First and foremost, an alpha is a loving, guiding figure that does not operate with values of aggression and problematic authority. Instead, I use the term “alpha” to help us understand the pack dynamics our our canines and how we can fit into roles they understand to ease their wellbeing.

Our dogs are pack animals – they have been since their initial descent from wolves, and our turn to domesticity is something completely different than the naturally intended lifestyle dogs used to have. The best way we can embody this pack mentality is to take on the alpha role to promote consistency and order within our pack, which in turn promotes a more grounded and calm setting for our dogs.

When it comes to socialization, taking on this embodied alpha role means showing up on your terms in the clearest way possible. It’s all about consistency. It’s important to establish yourself as the provider of resources and opportunities to show your dog they don’t have to seek these things out themselves and spend energy concerned about them.

Dogs really take cues from our behavior, and when we allow them to call the shots, it actually leads them to try and take on this alpha role and by extension can make them feel overwhelmed. When they understand our loving but adamant leadership it becomes part of their understanding of the world.

In our role as the alpha, the energy and narratives we project really are absorbed by our dogs. It’s all about being intentional with everything you do in the realm of socialization, each interaction is a chance to build a foundation for positive behaviors. It also shows our dogs time and time again we are on their side, and there to help create an environment the entire pack can survive in.

It’s all about making sure your dog is electing you as their leader. Not for a walk, or a day, but for every moment. Every day. 365 days a year.

Read next: Your Dog is a Pack Animal (+ What that means for you)

Final Notes on Socialization

What I really want to impart here is the importance of socialization – not for only our dogs, but for us, and everyone else involved. It promotes seamless development of new relationships and a critical capacity to explore and understand our world in ways that do not promote fear and anxiety.

Though many people are caught up in the pandemic and how this impacted our dogs, what matters much more is generally being focused and in-tune with our canines. This really is done through taking on that alpha role and showing our dogs how to interact with others. Step up as the leader and make sure you are working with a clear plan, intentions, and behaviors. Consistency really is key for socializing.

In the end, it can be stressful to socialize our dogs, and it’s one of the first things that happens when we get them. Don’t let this intimidate you, the process really is a time to create a unique bond with your dog and find methods and strategies that work for your pack.

To learn more, check out my eCourse here. – Embodied Alpha Masterclass

Sasha Armstrong

Founder of Canine State of Mind

A place where dog parents can learn more about canine behavior and how to create the environment for a closer relationship with their dog.



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