How to Correctly (and Safely) Socialize your new Poodle

The following is an excerpt from "The Complete Guide to Poodles" by Tarah Schwartz. For more information visit the books Amazon Page.

Author Credit: Tarah Schwartz

Importance of Good Socialization

If you plan on traveling with your dog, or you regularly have friends and family visit your home, you will expect your Poodle to be on his best behavior. Good socialization is an essential part of any dog’s training program. Properly socialized Poodles are an absolute joy to be around. They are confident, friendly ambassadors of the breed. Well-socialized dogs are welcomed in dog-friendly public spaces and hotels, so no matter where you choose to bring your dog, he will leave a positive impression on people.

Traveling with dogs can be difficult, especially if your dog isn’t socialized very well. A nervous, insecure dog who barks at strangers is unlikely to be welcomed in most hotels and public areas. If you plan on flying with your Poodle or traveling by train or bus, your trip may end in disaster if you do not properly prepare your dog for the experience.

A Social Poodle is a Happy Poodle

It’s also important to properly socialize your Poodle because it allows your dog to have the best life possible. An insecure, unsocialized dog will not enjoy walks around the neighborhood, visits to the park, or the company of friends and family. These experiences will put a significant amount of stress on your dog and he may react badly, either by trying to escape the situation or by lashing out. Having to manage an anxious dog will also put a lot of stress and responsibility on you as an owner. You will constantly have to worry about how your dog is going to react to new environments and situations. To prevent you and your dog from being overwhelmed by new people, places, and animals, it’s best to start socializing as soon as possible. Once your Poodle receives all of his core vaccines, you can begin exposing him to new situations.

Behavior Around Other Dogs

Before you introduce your Poodle to other dogs, it’s important to have a basic understanding of canine body language. A wagging tail does not always mean the dog is happy, and if you miss important cues, you may end up breaking up a fight rather than preventing it from happening in the first place. Dogs who greet each other in a friendly manner generally approach each other in a relaxed manner with tails wagging, alert ears, and a relaxed head position. If you notice any stiffening of the body, raising of the head or hackles, be cautious about continuing the introduction. Dogs who are fearful may also cower, urinate, or lick their lips submissively. This can sometimes trigger a reaction from a more aggressive dog, so keep a close eye on all dogs involved and if you have any doubts, remove your dog from the situation immediately.

Neutral Territory – a Safe Place to Meet

Brown poodle
Photo Courtesy – Susan Ruderman

When introducing your dog to others, it’s best to do so on neutral territory. If you’re bringing your Poodle home to meet your other pets, or are introducing him to your friends’ dogs, try to do so out of their normal territory. With unvaccinated or under-vaccinated puppies, use caution when deciding where to set up the meeting. Often, the front yard, garage, or even a room that the dogs don’t use often, such as a laundry room or dining room, can work as a neutral space. It’s also best to restrain all dogs involved in case anything should happen. If the dogs are allowed to meet freely and a fight breaks out, it can be more difficult to separate them, and you are at risk of being bitten if you try to intervene. If the dogs are wearing leashes, it’s much easier to separate them. Be aware, however, that if there is tension between the dogs, it’s not uncommon for a fight to break out between them once the additional pressure of a leash is applied.

How You Act Matters

It’s also essential that you remain calm and relaxed during any introduction with strange dogs. Your Poodle will be looking to you for guidance and if you show signs of anxiety or nervousness, he will pick up on that and is likely to be insecure as well. Even if you are nervous, try to relax and hold the leash loosely. Try not to tense up, and pretend to be confident if you must. If your dog senses that you aren’t worried about a situation, he is more likely to approach the other dogs in a friendly, relaxed manner. Remember, dogs are social animals and they love playing, so be confident in your dog’s ability to greet others properly and make new friends.

Ways to Socialize Your Poodle with Other Pets

If you have pets other than dogs at home, it’s important to consider that this may be the first time your new Poodle has ever met an animal of that species. It might be overwhelming to both your new puppy and your other pet, so take things slowly. Your pets may not get along right away and that’s okay, so be prepared for them to take some time to get along. You may need regular introductions over a period of weeks or months before the animals can be trusted together. Be patient, calm, and never rush the introductory period. Not all species have similar body language and it can take a while before they understand they are not a threat to each other.

Safety First – Ensuring the First Meeting is a Success

As with dogs, it may be helpful to have the other pet meet the dog outside of their normal territory. Sometimes, this isn’t possible or necessary, so use your best judgment according to the species you’re introducing to your puppy. Wherever you choose to introduce the animals, make sure each pet is restrained, especially if there is a significant size difference between them. Whether you are introducing your Toy Poodle to your pet bird, or your Standard Poodle puppy to your cat, make sure everyone’s safety is a priority. It’s also necessary to be aware of each animal’s body language. If either pet seems uncomfortable at any time, separate them immediately and try again later. This can be an overwhelming and stressful experience and you don’t want to leave a negative impression on them. As with introductions with other dogs, it’s important to remain calm and confident yourself. Your dog and your other pets will likely sense any tension or anxiety from you and they may react accordingly, so take a deep breath and try not to be nervous.

Supervise Until You Are Completely Sure

Never leave your Poodle unsupervised with another animal until you are completely certain they can be trusted together. Accidents can happen in the blink of an eye, so make sure you are confident both your Poodle and the other pet can behave responsibly. In some cases, it may even be necessary to supervise their time together long-term. Toy Poodles, for instance, can be severely injured or even killed by larger pets, so it may be in your puppy’s best interest to either keep them separated or only allow them to interact under close supervision. This advice also applies to small pets such as rabbits, birds, rodents, and even cats. Some Poodles have high prey drives and they may try to chase or kill a little animal. You will know your pets better than anyone, so use your best judgment to determine when or if they can ever be left alone together.

Properly Greeting New People

Poodle by the door
Photo Courtesy – Connie Hucks

One of the most important aspects of socialization is introducing your Poodle to new people. This can be done both at home and around your neighborhood or city. Meeting as many different types of people as possible will help your Poodle gain the confidence to act responsibly while in public. Some puppies may react to strangers in a fearful manner, while others may react with excitement, but both will require patience and training in order to become well-behaved, respectful adult dogs. The best place to start introducing other people is in your own home. Your puppy will feel comfortable in familiar surroundings and is less likely to react out of fear. As his training progresses, you’ll be able to begin introducing him to your neighbors and eventually take him to the veterinarian, groomer, park, or shopping center.

Avoid Overwhelming Your Puppy

As you begin introducing your puppy to new people, you need to remember to take it slowly, so your puppy doesn’t become overwhelmed. Try introducing just one or two new people at a time and avoid crowds until he’s a bit more confident. You should also discuss your socialization goals with new people before allowing them to meet your puppy. Explain to them how he typically reacts to new people and how you would prefer that he react. If he tends to jump excitedly onto  people’s laps, tell them the puppy must sit quietly before they are allowed to touch him. If he tends to be fearful, warn them that he may cower or try to avoid them and that they shouldn’t try to grab him or make any quick movements. Remember not to coddle a fearful dog, as this will only make the behavior worse. Instead, be positive and encouraging and reward even small steps toward new people. The ideal reaction is a calm dog that greets people politely, without intruding into their space or jumping on them.

Treats and Praise Go a Long Way

Using positive reinforcement will help your puppy learn the correct way to greet people. After explaining your expectations to the new people, it may be helpful to give them a few treats and ask them to reward your puppy when he behaves properly. Fearful puppies may be coaxed toward strangers with treats, and rambunctious puppies can be rewarded for sitting patiently. Although petting often works as a reward in itself, puppies will often learn more quickly when their favorite food is involved.

Poodles and Children

Poodles’ intelligence and gentle, friendly nature make them excellent companions for children. With proper introductions and supervision, your Poodle and your children can become best friends. It can be a wonderful experience for a child to grow up with the companionship of a Poodle, but it does take preparation and training. Dogs and children must both be prepared for the experience and taught proper manners. If adequate training and supervision do not take place, it can be a dangerous situation for both the dog and the child. An overly enthusiastic child can easily injure a delicate puppy, especially smaller dogs such as Toy Poodles. Likewise, an excited or scared puppy may bite and seriously hurt a child. However, these tragedies are easily prevented as long as you are willing to put the time and effort into your dog’s training.

Educate Children on Proper Behavior Around Your Poodle

Before introducing your new Poodle to your children, it can be helpful to sit with them and have a discussion about proper behavior around animals. In their excitement over meeting their new family member, the kids may have difficulty focusing on your instructions, so explaining everything beforehand can help prepare them. Explain to them how to gently pet a puppy and how they can avoid frightening the puppy. If they are especially young children, try to discourage them from picking the puppy up, as even a short fall can injure a delicate young puppy. You may also want to discuss their role in the puppy’s care, if they have one. This can be a great opportunity to teach children about responsibility. Most importantly, you must explain to the kids that they are not to interact with the puppy without adult supervision.

Safe Spaces can Help Calm Fears

In the beginning, you may need to keep your puppy separated from your children except when you can carefully supervise the situation. Setting your puppy’s private space up in an area of your home where your children spend a lot of time can help him adjust to life with rambunctious kids. Having a secluded area that he can retreat to away from the kids, such as a crate or bed, will allow him a place to take a break should he feel overwhelmed. It’s also important to take these introductions slowly. As with introductions to other animals, it’s important to keep an eye on both the children and the puppy, and if you notice anyone showing signs of discomfort or anxiety, separate them immediately. You may only be able to allow them to interact for a few moments at a time at first, but over time they will adjust to each other’s presence and they’ll be able to play together for longer periods of time. No matter what, you should never leave children unattended with a puppy. Accidents can happen quickly and it’s essential that you are there to prevent them.

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