Just as humans crave social interaction, our dogs also need proper socialization throughout their lives. Keeping your pet socialized is crucial for their mental and behavioral well-being, but it’s equally important that you do it the right way. Improper socialization or introduction can lead to behavioral changes and highly reactive pets. That being said, to avoid any negative interactions with other dogs or people, it is best to do thorough research and observe your pet’s behaviors before introducing them to anyone. Although interactions will vary from pet to pet, here are some tips for dog introductions and socialization.
*Please note that this does not generally apply to cats or pets with behavioral issues. If your pet is known to be highly reactive or shy, consult a veterinarian before initiating interaction with other animals. *
Introducing The New Pet:
If you are introducing a new pet into your home, it is important to take it slow and not force your pet into an uncomfortable situation. Full introductions can take up to a month, so be patient with your dog.
- Scent Swap – Before your new pet’s arrival, bring your pet an item (blanket, toy, towel, etc.) with the new animal’s scent, and do the same for the other pet if possible. This will help them familiarize themselves with the other pet and reduce the risk of anxiety or reactivity.
- Preparation – Prepare a small enclosed space with your pet’s new supplies. This includes food, toys, blankets, pads, and any additional gear. Then, plan your pet’s arrival for a time when someone will be home for several days in a row to reduce the risk of separation anxiety.
- Time and Patience – Let your pet get acclimated to the new space, and don’t rush the introduction. This can take weeks to months. Do not allow your pets to meet yet.
- Slow Introduction – Now that your pet is acclimated to its new space, it is time for them to meet. Put both animals on a leash, and allow them to slowly approach one another. Observe their body language and keep the meeting brief. Reward the pets for any positive interactions you notice, and any aggressive behavior should signal the end of the meeting. Repeat several times a day if possible and on a consistent schedule to reduce stress.
- Continuation – As your pets get more comfortable with one another, establish a routine and allow the new pet to fully explore the household under supervision. Eventually, through patience and care, your pets will learn to love each other. Don’t be afraid to seek help from a vet if you notice behavioral changes in the pets.
Similarly, if you are introducing pets from different households, they also need to meet gradually. Scent swapping is highly recommended, and start the exchange off by walking the dogs parallel to one another with a sizable distance between them (20 ft or farther). If they react in a reactive or highly excited manner, pull them farther away from each other and keep walking. Once they calm down, get closer, and repeat the process. Watch their body language, and allow them to initiate play. As long as the reaction remains positive, let them continue to sniff and mess around. Keep this brief so that they are not overwhelmed.
Now that you’re past the introduction, how do you keep socialization positive? Once dogs are familiar with each other, socialization should be smooth. Supervise play to ensure that the dogs are not engaging in aggressive or reactive behavior, and make sure to reward your pet for good behavior. If the two pets are separated for a long period, introduce them again before initiating play. For any specific questions about your pet, talk to a behaviorist veterinarian.