Puppy Socialization: Why, When, and How to Do It Right
Puppies are most accepting of new experiences between 3 and 12 weeks old, after that age, they become much more cautious of anything they haven't yet seen. From about 12-18 weeks old the opportunity to easily socialize the puppy ends and with each passing week it becomes harder to get the pup to accept and enjoy new things.
Puppy socialization begins with the breeder and continues with you.
Expose your puppy to different people, places, sights, and sounds.
Well-run puppy classes are a good way to socialize your pup to other dogs.
After 18 weeks old it is much more difficult and sometimes impossible to teach a dog to like something new or become comfortable with something he finds frightening
When to Socialize Your Puppy
During your puppy’s first three months of life, he will experience a socialization period that will permanently shape his future personality and how he will react to his environment as an adult dog. Gently exposing him to a wide variety of people, places, and situations now makes a huge, permanent difference in his temperament.
When you buy a puppy from a responsible breeder, the socialization process should start before you even bring your puppy home. Gentle handling by the breeder in the first several weeks of your puppy’s life is helpful in the development of a friendly, confident dog. As early as 3 weeks of age, puppies may begin to approach a person who is passively observing them, so having a knowledgeable breeder who encourages a positive experience with people – adults and children — will help shape the puppy’s adult behavior. As their puppies develop, good breeders allow them to experience safe inside and outside environments, car rides, crates, sounds, smells, and gentle handling.
Why Socialize Your Puppy
The idea behind socialization is that you want to help your puppy become acclimated to all types of sights, sounds, and smells in a positive manner. Proper socialization can prevent a dog from being fearful of children, for example, or of riding in a car, and it will help him develop into a well-mannered, happy companion.
Having a dog who is well adjusted and confident can even go as far as to save his life one day. According to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, improper socialization can lead to behavior problems later in life. The organization’s position statement on socialization reads: “Behavioral issues, not infectious diseases, are the number one cause of death for dogs under three years of age.” Start taking your dog out to public places once your veterinarian says it is safe, and he’ll learn to behave in a variety of situations and to enjoy interacting with different people.
How to Socialize Your Puppy
As mentioned earlier, your breeder will start the socialization process as early as the puppy’s first few days of life, by gently handling him and allowing him to explore his surroundings. But when the puppy comes home with you, the crucial socialization period continues, so your job is to keep the process going. Here are the basic steps to follow:
Introduce the puppy to new sights, sounds, and smells: To a puppy, the whole world is new, strange, and unusual, so think of everything he encounters as an opportunity to make a new, positive association. Try to come up with as many different types of people, places, noises, and textures as you can and expose your puppy to them. That means, for instance, have him walk on carpet, hardwood, tile, and linoleum floors; have him meet a person in a wheelchair or using a cane, children, a person with a beard, wearing sunglasses, using an umbrella, or wearing a hood. Think of it as a scavenger hunt. Here’s a comprehensive checklist for puppy socialization that can be used as a guide.
Make it positive: Most importantly, when introducing all of these new experiences to your puppy, make sure he’s getting an appropriate amount of treats and praise so that he associates what he’s being exposed to and the feeling of seeing something new as a fun experience. Don’t forget to break the treats into small pieces that will be easy for your puppy to digest. Also, don’t be stressed yourself — dogs can read our emotions, so if you’re nervous when introducing your puppy to an older dog, for example, your puppy will be nervous, too, and may become fearful of other dogs in the future.
Involve the family: By having different people take part in the socialization process, you’re continuously moving the puppy out of his comfort zone, letting him know that he might experience something new no matter who he’s with. Make it a fun game for the kids by having them write down a list of everything new the puppy experienced that day while with them, such as “someone in a baseball cap” or “a police siren.”
Take baby steps: Try to avoid doing too much too fast. For instance, if you want your puppy to get accustomed to being handled by multiple people he doesn’t know, start with a few family members and slowly integrate one stranger, then two, and so on. Starting this process by taking your puppy to a huge party or a very busy public place can be overwhelming and result in a fearful response to groups of strangers in the future.
Take it public: Once your puppy is used to the small amount of stimuli, move outside of his comfort zone to expand the number of new experiences he’ll have. Take him to the pet store (after he’s started his vaccination series), over to a friend’s house for a puppy playdate, on different streets in the neighborhood, and so one. At seven-to-ten days after he’s received his full series of puppy vaccinations, it’s safe to take him to the dog park (but be sure to follow dog-park safety protocol.)
Go to puppy classes: Once your puppy has started his vaccinations, he can also attend puppy classes. These classes not only help your puppy begin to understand basic commands, but the most important advantage is that they expose him to other dogs and people. Skilled trainers will mediate the meetings so that all dogs and people are safe and happy during the process.
Socialization is essential for helping your puppy develop into a happy, fun and safe companion. Most people find it easier and more enjoyable to live with a dog who relaxes with strangers, gets along well with other dogs and adapts easily to new experiences.
While some dogs are born with a genetic predisposition that can make this difficult or impossible, most dogs are very impressionable when young and can learn to take everything in stride. Socializing your puppy gives him the greatest chance possible to develop into a dog who's comfortable in his environment and a joy to be with.
Things that can be done before the puppy has received full vaccination.
Plan a puppy party where a group of people will gather to help you socialize your puppy right at home.
Ride around town with the windows down so the puppy can experience new sights and sounds.
Go to a park and sit on a bench and allow the puppy to watch people and encourage interaction.
Go to a pet-friendly store and let the puppy ride in the basket and meet new people.
All of these things can give your puppy confidence however please keep the puppy off of the ground until he has received his full vaccinations for his safety.