Art of the Mingle: Socializing Your Shelter Dog

One of the top concerns that I hear from folks about adopting a shelter dog is the potential baggage that they bring with them.

"What if he/she doesn't get along with anyone?" is a common refrain.  Sure, you're not going to get a blank slate of a dog. I can guarantee that your new shelter dog is going to have some particular ideas about how things should be. The good news is that you can make the decision that will help integrate them into your community and daily socialization is the name of the game.

Daily? Really?

Yes, really. I wouldn't have expected this myself, but getting out there daily is the way to go to take your dog's anxiety over meeting others of his kind away.

For starters, don't avoid places where others dogs are. You don't need to jump in and have play dates immediately, however just being in the proximity of other dogs, in particular calm dogs, helps your canine pal learn the benefits of not being freaked out every time he sees something with four legs. Encourage good, calm behavior, and let him know that he doesn't need to get nervous.

Next, don't meet any dogs that don't want to meet your dog. "Is your dog friendly?" isn't something you should say unless you're OK with a "NO." Just like you wouldn't want someone forcing their nervous dog on yours, be considerate and do the same.

Be relaxed when you meet. From personal experience, I can tell you that your dog will pick up your mood and any little yank of the leash could easily be translated into "Danger!" instead of just your insistence to move along. Your mileage may vary here, but I've only had bad experiences by being more concerned than I needed to be.  That said, if there is any sign that either dog is agitated, don't have them meet. Walking in the same vicinity in a calm, cool, collected manner is an excellent start and may be as far as you'll be able to go with some dogs.

Obey the local leash laws. Some dogs are going to be friendly regardless of how they meet, but the right thing to do is to put your dog and the one that he's about to meet on equal footing and if your dog is off the leash, at very least you should be in control and get them to return to your side with a command.  In general your older dog may not have the same energy as a puppy to jump around. Maybe they'll be more excited in a good way than another dog with less social skills. Being considerate of others is always the way to go.

Some dogs prefer to meet other first, others, who are more shy need to see that you're OK to meet their canine brethren first. Don't push the scared ones too quickly, and just like you're watching for their reactions why your dog meets another, watch when you meet another dog first. If your dog is protective, it might just want to mix things up (and not always in a good way) if you're the one to make first contact. Stay alert.

Be patient. It could take anywhere from days to months for your dog to get used to others again, if they've had less than positive experiences in the past. Keep at it. Work on getting them calm, but work at it every day. Eventually they'll get desensitized about being around others and not get nervous about making contact. For some, this contact is going to be a sniff and a wag, for others it might be jumping around with one another and a kiss on the face. I've had dogs that have been deemed "trouble-makers", however all it took was patience, staying alert, reassurance, and trusting that they'll let me know when things aren't right.

This is not to say that my current dog is 100% comfortable around every dog he meets, but he's gone from an angry barker to one that is happy just to see his doggie buddies every day, and let's out the occasional sigh, when we don't have time to meet new dogs.

Related links:
Socialization posts on
Excuses for not socializing your dog
Proper socialization

Photo by: Chris Parfitt
Photo licensed under Creative Commons Attribution License

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