How to Socialize a Dog To Behave Like a Service Dog + Checklist

Have you ever wondered “Hmmm, I wonder how they taught their dog to be so well behaved?”

Service dogs are the elite soldiers of all the working dogs. They are held to high behavioral standards and these amazing dogs become the well rounded citizens that we all know and love.

That's why when it was time for Koda to start his service dog training regimen, I wanted to dive deep into socialization training to give him the best foundation skills for this important job.

Whether you're looking to spruce up your pup's social skills, wanting to delve into dog sports, or your ultimate goal is to train your own service dog; socialization is the foundation skill you want your dog to master!

I'm going walk you through the essential steps of this process, offering insights, tips, and practical advice along the way. Plus, to make your training journey even smoother, I've included a handy workbook to ensure you cover all the bases.

So take a moment to grab yourself a treat for yourself and your pooch, and snuggle up in your favorite reading spot, and enjoy the post. It's going to be a long one! But I promise you, I'll answer all your questions about canine socialization!

If I don't answer your question, be sure to write it down in the comment section of the post so I can improve this guide or write future posts to help you in your service dog care & training journey.-

How To Socialze Your Dog To Behave Like A Service Dog Socialization Workbook

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While this blog contains advice for PTSD & Anxiety, I am not a Licensed Mental Health Professional (*Doctor or Therapist*). Always consult with your mental health care team when adding in our tips to your self care & mental health plan.

While I am a certified force free dog trainer, I am NOT certified to train service dogs for others. Only documented disabled handlers are eligible for a service dog. Do not buy a letter from a service and put a vest on your dog. It is a Federal Crime to impersonate a service dog.

This blog features snippets from the ADA about service dogs. All our service dog legal information comes from the ADA website. I am not a lawyer, nor am I associated with the ADA. This blog's information about service dogs is for the United States only as laws vary from states & countries.

See more in our affiliate disclaimer & general disclaimer.

Socialization isn't forcing your dog to face their fears. It's creating positive opportunities for your dog to learn the world around them is safe.

It is not learning to play well with other dogs, that's an entirely different topic.

Socialization is exposing your dog to a variety of challenges without causing the dog to become reactive- either negatively or positively.

Proper socialization is mastering various challenges to help the dog and the handler learn to navigate the world.

For others, socialization may be just exposing your dog to the world and discovering what he likes and doesn’t.

But my goal is to create a well-balanced dog that is calm, confident and easy to handle in stressful situations that will respond to my cues (formerly known as commands- eww dominance theory) and respond to my gentle leadership.

Essentially, you are working on creating a team dynamic between you and your dog.

Woman With An Samoyed In A White Jeep On The Beach Enjoying The Sun While Socializing Her Dog To The Environment- How To Socialize Your Dog Like A Service Dog By With Love, Me

What is the Goal Reaction for a Socialized Dog?

The overall goal of socialization is to create a well-balanced dog that can control their impulses, look to the handler for guidance, and has manners in difficult and exciting situations.

Your personal goals will determine the additional challenges you and your dog choose to master.

For example: dogs that want to do the sport of dock diving will need to master water, piers, jumping, etc while ignoring distractions.

I'm going to be blunt here. Socialization will change the quality of your dog's life.

An un-socialized dog has little choices and freedoms in his life.

Why? Because you cannot bring an uncontrollable dog into public and expect cooperation.

Let's look at what an un-socialized dog looks like, shall we?

A Dog that needs socialization:

  • Has to be crated or put away when visitors come
  • Can't be around other animals
  • Causes injury to animals and humans through over-exuberance or aggression
  • Is afraid or unpredictable when encountering new situations
  • Is over assertive and aggressive to those not in his family circle
  • Never leaves the house with his owner because of his impulsive behavior
  • Can never behave appropriately
  • Etc.

In short, a reactive dog is one that isn't welcome.

This dog may have a very limited life with his humans, may be surrendered to a shelter, or even put to sleep.

In a dog with limited social & environmental encounters, the canine brain learns that the world is dangerous and stressful, just like your brain does when encountering trauma.

A lack of socialization causes changes in the way the brain reacts to the world.

The choice to socialize your dog is the ULTIMATE kindness.

Instead of the dog learning that the world around him is full of negative experiences, your dog will learn that the world around him is full of experiences that reward him positively.

Socialization is the different between a dog that is part of the family and a dog that is left alone.

Did you know? Desensitization isn't just for dogs, it's for people too! And it works! Check out this post about desensitization therapy to learn more.

Is It Too Late to Socialize A Dog?

No. It is never too late to socialize a dog. In fact, dog socialization is the perfect way to bond and to create a team dynamic!

Socialization expands your dog's life by providing more ways to provide enrichment and adventure.

Dogs are social animals and love being with their humans. Dog socialization gives your dog more opportunities to being included in your life.

The socialization process is easier to teach in the first year of a dog's life as the dog has not developed their own responses to triggers.

BUT it is still possible to teach a dog socialization skills at any age.

Socialization skills are especially important for dogs in shelter and rescue programs as it improves their chances for adoption and decrease their chances for being re-homed.

I've started training dogs as young as a day old and dogs that are well into their senior years. Dogs are amazing, but a good dog socialization checklist will help you socialize your dog at any age.

Jack Russell Terrier Wrapped In A Gray Blanket With Very Sad Brown Eyes- How To Socialize A Dog To Behave Like A Service Dog- With Love, Me
Dogs love to be with their people. They are highly social creatures.

Socialization is a MUST HAVE Skill for Dogs

Socializing your dog is the foundation to all training programs.

Your dog cannot consistently perform more complex cues, tasks, and tricks without first mastering his impulses and the way he views the world.

Having a solid foundation will streamline your training process.

Why? You'll have a more confident dog that is bonded to you and trusts you to lead them. In short, your dog will WANT to work for you because he has learned to trust your guidance.

A dog without this foundational skill will consistently have a handler that is troubleshooting and rehabilitating problem behaviors instead of learning and mastering new (and fun) skills.

PRO TIP: A well socialized dog will participate in many dog sports, dog shows, fun with their humans, and will never be a burden to their humans. You will also be able to take your socialized dog on family vacations in dog friendly locations.

Maybe you got your dog later in his life, and have been struggling to improve his behavior. Don't worry. You can still use socialization as the foundation for behavior modification training.

Before You Socialize Your Dog…

Create a Dog Training Kit

Just like a painter needs a canvas, dog training requires some tools to help you succeed.

The best training tools to use are ones that do not cause a dog pain or fear when using them.

So, when choosing your dog training tools, keep in mind that if your dog has negative experiences with a tool, there is a high probability that he will associate negative emotions with the tool whenever it is introduced.Dogs relate to people, objects and places to emotions they feel. So, when choosing your dog training tools, keep in mind that if your dog has negative experiences with a tool, there is a high probability that he will link negative emotions to the tool whenever introduced. Even if you intend to use that tool to show him fun.

Remember: Negative emotions are stronger in the brain than positive ones. Why? Because the negative emotions trigger the nervous system's flight or fight mode. The dog's internal oh no button (and yours) is going off, and the body remembers that!

-Example: You have a fear of spiders. If we put a spider on the dinner table every night, you'd fear going to dinner. Dogs are very similar. Dogs get sad when they see their owners grab the car keys. They have learned that car keys + door = human leaves. This is also the reason that dogs learn to hide when their owners take them to the vet. They have memorized the routine, the tools, and behaviors of the humans that lead them to this unwanted experience.-

While the stores contain many training tools, I have these 6 items in my basic kit. Every dog handler should have these!

Sheepskin Tug Toy On A Bright Green Bungee
Sheepskin Tug

A Tug Toy

Leather Personalized Dog Collar Etsy
Buckle Collar

A Buckle Collar

No Pull Dog Harness Etsy
Walking Harness

A Harness

Multifunctional Dog Leash Etsy
Leather Leash

A Multi-Functional Leash

Dog Training Pouch Etsy
Dog Treat Pouch

A Dog Treat Pouch

Full Moon Training Treats Amazon
Small Soft Treats

Soft, Small, Pea Sized Treats

Helpful Shopping List: We've done the work for you! Check out the Socialization Training Toolkit on Amazon.

Learn What Motivates Your Dog

Just like every person is different, so is every dog.

We all have different ways of motivating our self to get the job done. Your boss pays your for your work or you wouldn't bother coming in.

To get chores done, you blast your favorite music. For this author, I sit down at my computer with my favorite cup of coffee and some music to get my brain juices flowing.

Your dog also wants to get paid for his efforts, too. Your dog's paycheck is what you reward with!

While most dogs enjoy treats as their rewards, there are some dogs that are motivated by play, attention, or opportunities for enrichment.

To reward your dog, you can use one or all of the motivation types, but the type that is most effective will depend on your individual dog.

How To Motivate Your Dog How To Socialize Your Dog Just Like A Service Dog With Love Me

Let's look at the chart of rewards above.

What dog trainers (like myself) call drives motivate dogs. Your dog's drives will depend on the dog's DNA and breed makeup.

Each breed has its own unique motivations. You have some breeds that love chasing, some love people, some want to explore, and some just love to eat –cough cough Labradors-. Just for fun, I'll show you what motivates Chloe.

Chloe's Motivation Chart

Motivation Chart For Chloe The White Chihuahua With Play, Food, Attention, Enrichment And Results.- How To Socialize Your Dog

You can see that Chloe, a low drive pup, becomes motivated to engage when people offer high value treats like chicken or wet food, or engage in 1-1 play and affection.

Homework: Note what motivates your dog! -Bonus: I have a worksheet for you that makes it easy!

Woo, look at you! You're ready to embark on an amazing adventure with your dog. –Don't panic, I got you!-

This portion is all about training socialization skills for dogs! We're going to go over the basics of socialization training together.

The Basics of Dog Training

1 Always use positive reinforcement and listen to your dog.

Positive reinforcement is the practice of rewarding wanted behaviors to strengthen those behaviors.

When a dog reacts negatively, instead of administering corrections the trainer ignores the dog or helps the dog disengage from a trigger and engage in wanted behaviors instead.

2 Be Consistent

Think of your dog as an alien visitor.

They don't speak the language, they are often confused, and they can't express themselves in a manner that is easily understood.

Consistency in dog training helps bridge the language gap to help the dog- and the handler- to learn to communicate with one another.

  • Always use the same cues/commands when asking for behaviors. Everyone should always use the same words and body gestures to signal the dog.
  • Dogs learn quicker when a daily routine is implemented. Think about it. You get up in the morning and you have a routine. Routines help behaviors become ingrained into your life. Dogs are the same way. Feed your dog at the same times daily, schedule their potty breaks, have a set bedtime, and make a training schedule. Dogs are experts at learning and predicting patterns. Learning routines are their expertise.
To Do This Week 7 Day Whiteboard With A Market And A Clock On A Wooden Table In Front Of A Pink Wall.- Dog'S Thrive On Consistency- Dog Socialization- With Love, M

3. Keep Sessions Short & Fun

Dog brains are similar to the development of a 2-3 year old child. They strive on short, positive, & fun experiences to learn best. In short, they learn fastest through play, but also learn by fun mini sessions.

Aim for 5-15 minute session when introducing your dog to training. You want the dog to be engaged with you and what you're teaching. Stop before the dog gets bored or frustrated. You know what they say about ending on a happy note.

With shorter sessions, you can easily fit them into your day. You can repeat a few times a day when you potty your pup, before meals, after walks, and before bedtime.

PRO TIP: Mix some high value treats into their kibble and use the mix as your training treats. Using kibble with treats helps encourage picky eaters to eat. You can use the kibble as lower value treats through the day.

Be engaging. There is a saying “You're duller than dirt.”

Well dirt is pretty interesting to a dog. So you have to be highly engaging for them not to be fascinated with the world around you.

Don't be afraid to be silly, talk and celebrate, and entertain your dog just like you would a toddler.

Remember that toddler brain? Be the fun and your dog will start choosing to engage with you instead.

Always remember: No interaction is better than a negative experience.

Trip Of Corgis In Front Of A Pink Background With Neon Colored Sunglasses On- How To Socialize Your Dog Just Like A Service Dog

4 Practice Daily

Every master is first a beginner. The difference between the two is the master has practiced until it has become second nature.

Incorporate training into your daily routine. In as little as 30 minutes total a day, you can start seeing your dog learn.

The other saying I want you to know about is “If you don't use it, you lose it.”

Dog who do NOT practice, do not progress.

They do not treat it like riding a bike. There are more essential skills for them to keep in their minds that get their needs met and are rewarding.

If you do not practice, your dog will “forget” the cue.

Dog minds are sponges, but they only retain information if you “wet” their spongy brain.

Practice every single day!

You can even do some training exercises from your couch! That's what Koda and I did for six months when I broke my leg!

Girl With A Young Golden Retriever Working On Dog Training Skills- How To Socialize Your Dog Just Like A Service Dog- With Love, Me

5 Get Help When Needed

All dogs need to know some basic obedience before attempting socializing in difficult situations.

  • Sit: Helps control impulsive behavior.
  • Stay: Useful for keeping your dog in place.
  • Come: Vital for safety, especially off-leash.
  • Down: Another good control command.
  • Leave it: Teaches your dog to ignore distractions or dangerous items.

Along with these cues, I encourage you to teach your dog basic leash skills. You can sign up for basic obedience classes with a local positive trainer. There are even online dog training classes!

Build onto easier skills to boost your dog's confidence before encountering larger challenges.

Your dog should master his life near his home and neighborhood before he engages in challenges that are difficult. If your dog cannot get it at home, he's not going to get it out and about.

Remember! Only Task Trained Service Dogs can enter the interiors of a NON Pet Friendly Business. Dogs that are in the beginning phases of learning socialization and obedience are NOT allowed in non pet friendly stores yet. Not sure about the rules of Service Dogs? Check out this helpful post about Public Access.

Dog Socialization Training Workbook

Before you can teach, you have to make a plan.

Okay, so you might be panicking now.

But Krystian, I don't know anything about planning dog socialization training!

That's okay. I did it for you with my premier workbook: The Buddy Basics Service Dog Socialization Workbook

As a beginner, it can be difficult to know just want to work on with your dog.

Forget the time consuming planning and organizing. I've done all the hard, time consuming work for you and organized this book into 5 sections that scale up the difficulty as your progress through the book.

I have spent almost 20 years socializing rescue dogs, and this workbook is full of all the challenges that my training students master.

You'll know you're ready for more challenging encounters as you complete each section.

Every section features a tips sheet for the encounters, pre-made worksheets with all the challenges, and even some blank worksheets so you can create your own.

Get ready to unlock your dog's potential in this 44 page guide to Socializing your Dog Just Like a Service Dog.

Available on Amazon as Kindle Ebook and Paperback Edition.

Dog Socialization Training Demystified

Okay, phew, this was a long haul. But we talked about some pretty important things in this ultimate guide to socializing your dog.

Remember, forcing your dog is never the way to go. You will only create a reactive dog versus a neutral one. Regroup an try again later, but make it easier for the dog to succeed.

Every success builds a confident dog who can blend into our busy human world. And for some of you, ultimately become service dogs!

Your goal should be a dog that can “become invisible” to the public eye, just like service dogs.

This will take time. Don't rush the process by practicing one challenge once then skipping to the next. Practice with that challenge until your dog is picture perfect around it! Take breaks on bad days, yours and your dog's!

Every single dog can be socialized, with a patient and loving handler.

Practicing these socialization exercises are the building blocks to the perfect dog! Yup, just like Lassie –and Koda!

The life of a socialized dog is full of possibilities, adventure, and a lifetime of love with their favorite person….YOU.

Hug your dog for me!

What is going to be your biggest challenge socializing your dog? Tell me in the comments.

Don't forget to grab your copy of the Buddy Basics Service Dog Socialization Workbook so planning won't be your biggest challenge.

How I Socialize Dogs To Promote Their Success Socialization Workbook 1

Pink Square Gift Box With Red Hearts And Cute Pink Bow And Ribbon

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Krystian Howe
Krystian Howe
Hi! I'm Krystian. The Creator of With Love, Me. I created this blog for others like myself: people living with anxiety disorder on a daily basis. I have been living with anxiety since my teens. This blog is to give you a how to guide for living with anxiety, because I sure didn't have one. I want to save you the pain and misery I had of figuring it out all on my own. Join me and my service dog Koda on the journey to help you manage your anxiety. See you on the blog and our socials!
Krystian Howe
Hi! I'm Krystian. The Creator of With Love, Me. I created this blog for others like myself: people living with anxiety disorder on a daily basis. I have been living with anxiety since my teens. This blog is to give you a how to guide for living with anxiety, because I sure didn't have one. I want to save you the pain and misery I had of figuring it out all on my own. Join me and my service dog Koda on the journey to help you manage your anxiety. See you on the blog and our socials!

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