Socializing with your new puppy is one of the most influential actions you can take, and it’s key to ensuring you have a happy, confident, and well-adjusted puppy. It is much easier to interact with puppies than with adults, so it pays to interact with them as much as possible in the best, most efficient window of time. Below, learn the best time to socialize with your puppy, how to do it correctly, and why it’s important.
Why Socialize Your Puppy
The idea behind socialization is that you want to help your puppy adapt to all types of sights, sounds and smells in a positive way. Proper socialization prevents a dog from being afraid of children, or from driving, which will help it grow into a polite, happy companion.
Having a well-adapted and confident dog could even save his life one day. According to the American Academy of Animal Behavior Veterinary Medicine, inappropriate socialization can lead to behavioral problems later on. The group’s position statement on socialization reads: “Behavioral problems, not infectious diseases, are the number one cause of death in dogs under the age of three.” Once your vet says your dog is safe, start taking him to a public place where he will learn to behave in all situations and enjoy interacting with different people.
When to Socialize Your Puppy
All dogs go through what’s called a “critical socialization period,” when puppies are more receptive to new things.
During the first three months of your puppy’s life, he will go through a period of socialization that will permanently shape his future personality and how he reacts to his environment as an adult dog. The puppy socialization phase starts at about 3 weeks of age and ends at 12-16 weeks, depending on the breed of your dog. When you purchase a puppy from a responsible breeder, the social process should begin before you bring the puppy home. Gentle handling by the breeder during the first few weeks of life helps to produce friendly, confident puppies. As early as 3 weeks of age, puppies may begin to approach people who passively observe them, so having a knowledgeable breeder who encourages positive contact with adults and children will help shape the puppy’s adult behavior. As puppies grow, good breeders can expose them to safe inside and outside environments, rides, crates, sounds, smells and gentle handling.
As mentioned above, there are three core factors that make up your dog’s behavior:
- Genetics: No matter how hard you try, you can’t change your dog’s genes. Training is valuable, but there will always be time.
Socialization is the only one of these factors on a timeline, and “re-socialization” will be more difficult when your dog is an adult and the problem has developed.
Customize Social Lists For Your Puppy
Think about what you want your puppy to live as an adult.
What would she most likely have to deal with semi-regularly in her ideal, real and unlikely puppy life? In other words, what is:
- Does your puppy need treatment every day?
- May your puppy still end up needing treatment occasionally?
- Things your puppy might need to deal with?
How to Socialize Your Puppy
As mentioned earlier, your breeder will begin the social process in the puppy’s first few days of life by gently stroking it and allowing it to explore its surroundings. But when the puppy comes home with you, the critical socialization stage continues, so it’s your job to keep that process going. Here are the basic steps to follow:
Make it Positive
Most importantly, when introducing your puppy to all these new experiences, make sure he is properly treated and praised so that he can relate to what he is exposed to and the feeling of seeing something new as a fun experience. Don’t forget to cut snacks into small pieces so your puppy can digest them easily. Also, don’t get nervous yourself — dogs can read our emotions, so if you get nervous introducing your puppy to an older dog, for example, your puppy will get nervous too and may be afraid of other dogs in the future.
Introduce Puppy to New Sights, Sounds, and Smells
The whole world is new, strange, and unusual to puppy, so treats everything he encounters as an opportunity to make a new, positive connection. Try to create as many different types of people, places, noises and textures as possible and expose your puppy to them. This means, for example, letting him walk on carpeting, hardwood, tile and linoleum floors; Have him meet a person in a wheelchair or with a cane, a child, a man with a beard, a man with sunglasses, a man with an umbrella or a hooded man. Think of it as a treasure hunt. Here is a comprehensive checklist of puppy socialization as a guide.
Step by Step
Try to avoid doing too much too fast. For example, if you want your puppy to get used to being handled by multiple people he doesn’t know, start with several family members and slowly integrate one stranger, then two strangers, and so on. Bringing your puppy to a large party or a very busy public place to start the process can be overwhelming and lead to terrible reactions to a group of strangers in the future.
Make it Public
Once your puppy gets used to a small amount of stimulation, leave his comfort zone and expand on the new experiences he will have. Take him to the pet store (after he started the vaccination series), play with puppies at a friend’s house, on different streets in the neighborhood, etc. It is safe to take him to a dog park for seven to ten days after he receives his full puppy vaccination (but be sure to follow the dog Park safety protocol)
Involve the Family
By involving different people in the socialization process, you’re constantly moving the puppy out of his comfort zone and letting him know that no matter who he’s with, he’s likely to have some new experiences. Make it a fun game to have kids write down everything the dog went through that day with them, like “man in a baseball cap” or “police siren.
Enroll in Puppy Classes
Once your puppy starts getting vaccinated, he can enroll in puppy classes, too. Not only will these classes help your puppy begin to understand basic commands, but the most important advantage is that it can be exposed to other dogs and people. A skilled trainer will mediate the session so that all dogs and people are safe and happy during the session. You can find puppy classes through local AKC training clubs and dog training facilities.
Get the S.T.A.R. Puppy Title
Get your puppy his first AKC title, S.T.A.R. Puppy, which stands for socialization, training, activity and responsible ownership, demonstrates your puppy’s hard work. After completing the six-week training course, your puppy can take a simple test conducted by an AKC-approved evaluator. The puppy will be tested on things like allowing someone to pet it, tolerating a collar or harness, allowing you to hold it and more (see S.T.A.R. here). Complete list of puppy test items). In addition, you must ensure that you are a responsible pet owner throughout your dog’s life. The program is open to purebred and mixed-breed dogs under the age of one.
What Socialization Can and Cannot Do for Your Dog
Each puppy has its own genetic makeup. Genes affect everything from a puppy’s height to its response to the world around it. Social skills, fright response, fear and excitement may all be part of the gene package.
Socialization cannot change genetics. But the current view is that the expression of these genes may have some flexibility, which is where socialization can help. Socialization can help your puppy to be as comfortable, confident and happy as possible.
In addition, socialization is often not enough to help dogs or dogs overcome traumatic events. Careful socialization can help with behavior correction, training and/or medical intervention.
Socialization is showing your dog the world he will live in. It told him that his world would be safe. This helps your puppy understand that you will always be by its side and that you are a trustworthy partner. Know who your puppy is and what his or her specific needs are. Socializing carefully and keeping these needs in mind will help your puppy be the best he can be. You can both have fun!