Socializing your dog is key to having a happy, well-balanced pet, and it helps to start early. From 12-16 weeks, puppies are very open to exploration and come into new experiences with an open mind. But it's possible to socialize an older dog, too.

If you're hoping to socialize your new dog—to new spaces, people or other pets—it’s best to take it slow, be positive, and do your best to be patient. These simple tips don’t hurt either.

1. Start with the Humans

  • Talk to kids who may be around your new pet about proper care. Set expectations, and make sure they know how to handle your new dog or puppy. They should know not to pull tails, ears or fur.

    Introduce the pet gradually, and be gentle and quiet to start. Save the roughhousing and play for a little further down the road, and let your dog come to the child first, instead of the other way around.

  • Set expectations among the family for who will do what, from feeding and walking to picking up the yard. Making sure your new pet’s needs are met will make him or her feel comfortable and at ease in your new home.

  • Be patient with your new dog. Don’t expect him or her to bound into the door and immediately feel at ease. New places can be scary for dogs and humans alike, so allow plenty of time for your new pup to acclimate, and never force interactions. 

2. Take it Slow with Existing Pets

It’s important to remember that a new pet can be a big adjustment for your existing pets, too. Never rush a meeting, and continue to be patient with all parties.

  • Introducing Dogs: First and foremost, make sure both dogs are up-to-date on vaccinations. Then, start in a neutral space, outside of the home (like a park), to avoid stirring up any territorial tendencies. Keep the dogs on leashes and let them sniff each other. Separate them quickly if their bodies begin to tense, you notice growling or see any signs of discomfort or aggressiveness, like intense staring.

    From here, walk the dogs next to each other for a bit. Once they are comfortable together, bring them into the house, and continue to monitor interactions until they are comfortable.

  • Introducing Cats: Allow the pets to see each other through a glass door or baby gate before putting them together in the same room. When they’re ready to officially meet, keep the dog on a leash and make sure your cat has a place to go if she feels uncomfortable. A high ledge is usually a good bet, so she can get up and away while still being able to see the dog. Take it slow and separate the pets if either becomes aggressive or uncomfortable.

3. Don’t Forget Visitor Etiquette

Your pet will need to get used to people outside his or her new family, too, so give plenty of opportunities to practice social skills with humans—just make sure to teach proper manners to help your pup make friends. Here's how:

  • Keep your dog on a leash to begin
  • Have him or her sit, and invite your visitor to pet the dog
  • Stop the interaction if your dog jumps or gets too excited
  • Reward when the dog stays seated, and exhibits a calm demeanor
  • Move away if there are any signs of discomfort

4. Think Outside the Home

It's also a good idea to take your pet out and about from time to time, to ensure that he or she doesn't get frightened by new places, faces and experiences. Go to the vet for a friendly visit, allow him to travel (safely) in the car, and take plenty of walks or trips to the dog park to help acclimate him to new things.

Above all, when it comes to socialization, patience really is key. Make sure to give your dog plenty of opportunities to practice those social skills. Give lots of praise when he or she does well, and don't ever push things too hard.

Your positive reinforcement, along with the comfort of a warm, welcome household will turn your dog into a well-behaved member of the family in no time.