Times have changed since the family dog ran with the neighborhood kids and no one worried a bit about the consequences.  Today we are all too aware of the very real threats of disease, dogfights, and law suits.  So what do we do?  We can choose to hide our dog from the world and protect them from the ills of modern society, but this does not create a well-balanced dog with good manners.

Dogs are highly social creatures and thrive on interaction with others.  Socialization is much more than just being with other dogs, it is about being with all kinds of people, animals, and different environments.  If the only interaction your dog gets with the world is a visit to the vet for his shots, then his memories of being in the car, going into a new place and meeting new people are going to be negative and scary. 

The beauty of our modern urban lives is that we have plenty of opportunities for positive social interaction for our dogs.  Here are some options – you need to choose the one(s) that best suit your life.

Dog Parks – Can be great or terrible.  Find a clean, low-key dog park and try to find times when a good group of dogs and people are there – a great way to make new friends for both of you.   Do not take pups under 6 months old to a Dog Park – it’s like taking a small child to the big kids playground.  Don’t take an unvaccinated dog to the Dog Park – too many unknowns there.  Always watch who is entering the park and be ready to leave if it is best for your dog.  You want your kids to play with the nice kids – not the bullies.

Doggie Daycare – This can be an amazing resource.  Daycares are typically better than Dog Parks because the facility has to prescreen their clients for sociability, and employees are present to keep the harmony.   Research the facility as you would a daycare for your child.  Is it clean?  Are there plenty of attendants monitoring the dogs? Do they have a quiet time?  How are the groups divided?  How is discipline handled?  Are there webcams so you can check in?  Are ½ days available?

Parks & Playgrounds – Excellent places to meet and greet the world.  There is always an abundance of people, children, dogs and squirrels to learn about in these community-gathering places.  Just be sure to set everyone up for success.  Keep your dog on the leash and don’t insist your dog greets everyone you encounter – it can be overwhelming. 

Stores/malls/restaurants – Find out which ones in your area are dog friendly.  This can be a very enjoyable time to spend shopping or dining with your dog and a wonderful opportunity to learn good manners in a social situation.

Neighbors – Get to know your neighbors and those who have friendly dogs so you can set up play dates.  Be sure to be present for the first few visits so that you can be sure the dogs get along, and don’t forget to reciprocate and give your neighbors a break too.

Vet Clinics – Take your dog to the vet’s office to just hang out and create a happy memory – no appointment needed.   Let your dog meet the vet, walk into an examination room, get comfortable in the waiting room.  Fun trips to the vet can set your dog up for a lifetime of pleasant visits to the doctor. 

Training Classes – Training classes are a great way to help you learn how to deal with the odd behaviors that can show up when taking your dog out for socialization.  A good trainer will give you the skills to develop clear communication with your dog, and will teach you how to read a dog’s body language so you are able to correctly interpret their social interactions. 

Puppy Kindergarten – Don’t raise your hopes too high that this class is the answer to your puppy’s social life.  Your pup already knows about puppies, and these classes can be a tad chaotic.  Make sure your pup spends time with all kinds of dogs, large, small, old, and young – each dog will teach your pup the subtleties of dog’s social communication.  KG is just the beginning and needs to be supported by good training and continuing social education.

People & children –Dogs need to meet: tall & short, old & young, people in uniforms, people with hats, sunglasses, people in wheelchairs, quiet people, loud people and very little people (kids), all in as positive a manner as possible.  Don’t make the mistake of making your dog greet every person you meet on the street.  Pick and choose.  Meeting too many people all at once can also create anxiety.  All things in balance for your dog.

Good luck and know that every thing in life is an opportunity to learn – for both you and your dog – so make the most of it.