How to Socialize a Rescue Dog

Last Updated on April 10, 2023 by Becky Roberts

Happy days have begun! You have just adopted a rescue dog, and you are getting along great. However, every time someone visits or you take him for walks, and he meets other people or dogs, he starts acting out. You’ve seen other dogs act out and you might think this is just something dogs do—and it’s not.

Dogs are social creatures. They descend from wolves, and they’re meant to live in a pack. You’ve seen videos with wolves playing like puppies. They are meant, when no external threat is present, to be friendly and active.

So, how come your dog either hides or charges when he sees other dogs or even people when he’s such a cuddle beggar around you? A rescue dog’s history differs from one dog to another. It could include abuse or encouragement to act out. Helping him overcome these obstacles is now your responsibilities, but how do you do that?

Socialize a rescue dog

Gentle Accommodation

Whether you want your dog to be more sociable with other people or dogs, gradually introducing him to these elements is essential. For people, even though you probably can’t wait to show him to all your family members and friends, limit yourself to one person per week.

Make sure the encounter takes place at home, where your dog has grown comfortable. Instruct the person arriving to keep their distance, but have some treats ready. Allow the dog to explore this “new element” and give him time.

If meeting other dogs is the challenge, the same routine needs to occur, but this time, in neutral territory. Take your dog next to a dog park, but do not enter. Allow him to observe from a distance and ignore any weird behavior, such as fear or anger. Once your dog is calm, pet him and offer him a treat. This way, he will not associate his deviant behavior to the treat, but his calm response, and will repeat it.

Focus on One Aspect Only!

Your dog might have issues with different things: your vacuum, other pet cats, other dogs, and other people. You would want him to adapt as soon as possible to the stressing factors above or any other issues specific to him.

You are aware though that it is not possible. That’s why it’s essential to choose one target at a time and STICK to it. If you have set your mind to help your dog overcome his fear of larger dogs, focus on that until you are confident this issue is solved.

Focusing on only one aspect of a dog’s social life will give him confidence in his social skills. You will see that, even if you have a long line of stress factors, you need to work against, the next one will be easier to overcome than the last, and so on.

Your Dog is a Teenager

You heard that right. Even if you adopt an elderly dog, which is usually calmer, he will try to show off. That means acting out and barking. Even if he has been on his best behavior in this socializing journey, he will act out. The best thing you can do is to ignore him. Don’t scold him while it happens, and don’t reward him after the behavior stops. Just let him be (if he poses no real threat, of course) and get on with your activity.

Listen to Your Dog

Even though you’re making great efforts to socialize your rescue dog, there are times at which you just need to pay attention and follow his lead. His past might hide things neither you or his previous caretakers know about. So, if you see a strong sign of anxiety and nervousness, back away. It might be the best choice.

Becky Roberts

Becky Roberts

One of Becky's favourite things to do every morning is to browse the top pet-related forums, looking for issues and questions that people have. She then shortlists the most common ones, and turns them into blog posts for Fuzzy Rescue. She's had over 4 cats and 2 dogs over the past decade, so she does know a thing or 2 about raising/training, and more importantly, loving them. She's the only one on our team that doesn't like coffee, but it seems to us she really doesn't need more energy :). We're very fortunate to have her on board as she does most of the heavy listing for the site, outputting an insane amount of content each month. Read More

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