When you hear the word ‘socialize’ in the context of your new puppy what immediately comes to mind? Perhaps meeting new people or dogs and being in general friendly. Although this answer isn’t inherently wrong, it is important to remember that socializing your puppy involves a lot more than just being friendly with people and other dogs. In general socialization means learning to be a part of society and that goes for humans and dogs alike. This means that socializing your puppy means taking the time to carefully introduce your new family member to different types of environments, buildings, sights, sounds, smells, animals, handling, grooming, in addition to other dogs and people.
Why Puppy Socialization is Important
Even though we often hear that puppy socialization is important we don’t really think too much about why it is important.
Well-socialized puppies typically develop into more relaxed and therefore safer and enjoyable pets than dogs that are not properly socialized. This is because puppies that are socialized are more comfortable with various situations and therefore less likely to display fearful or aggressive behavior when faced with new things; in other words, they have learned how to cope with things and situations that are new to them.
What Age Should I Socialize My Puppy At?
In general, puppies are accepting of new experiences between 3 and 12 weeks; however, remember that most trainers and veterinarians advise at only separating puppies from their mothers and littermates no earlier than 8 weeks old. So you may not have the opportunity to introduce your new pup to a whole lot of new experiences before then, but fret not, 4 weeks can be more than enough time.
After 12 weeks of age dogs tend to be more cautious of anything that they haven’t encountered and after 18 weeks it can be extremely difficult to teach a dog to like something new whether it is the environment, sounds, smells, or other dogs.
How to Socialize Your Puppy
Socializing your puppy properly is a big project. It requires a time commitment and a lot of patience. Depending on the lifestyle you have planned for your dog make sure to expose him to the sights, sounds, smells, and people that he is likely to encounter in daily life. This might include garbage trucks, car rides, screaming children, crowds, cats, and more. Although it is impossible to expose your new puppy to everything he might encounter in life, the more bases that get covered during the peak socialization period of 3 to 12 weeks he’ll be able to better cope with new experiences by finding something familiar in new situations.
One great and safe way to socialize your puppy is to sign up for a puppy kindergarten class at your local Humane Society or SPCA. The classes are designed for puppies and often require all pups be up to date on their vaccinations which means that the risk of infection from another dog is very minimal. These puppy classes offer off leash play time which is important to help socialize puppies with each other and teaches them to be gentle with their mouths with the additional benefit of getting them used to being handled by a variety of people. Some classes also include exposures to new sights and sounds through the use of props like ladders, tunnels, and grates. A lot of puppy classes also teach some basic commands such as come and sit. Not only will it jump start your puppy in learning to listen to your commands, but also build a strong bond between you and your new best friend.
During the first 3 to 12 weeks of your puppy’s life she is very impressionable and although this can be an advantage in socialization it can also be a time where your puppy can also learn to be fearful of new things if it is overwhelming for her. Any time you take your puppy to experience something new whether it is interacting with the garbage cans or a crowd of people watch your dog’s body language carefully.
If your pup is cowering in a corner when meeting a crowd of new people then she isn’t learning anything good about strangers. So instead of introducing her to a large crowd of new people let her meet strangers one at a time so she feels more confident and comfortable. You can always tone things down if your puppy seems at all frightened. Here are a few socialization experiences to try out with your new puppy:
- Host a puppy party and invite close friends and family over, play some light calming music, provide light snacks, and let your puppy explore and experience.
- Take your puppy with you on simple errands where he can stay in the car with you. Drive through different neighborhoods, car washes, and even out into the country where she’ll see and hear different animals and environments.
- If you know of any indoor Scouts meetings take your pup along and let him meet the kids. Watch him carefully for signs of being afraid and to make sure the kids are being gentle.
- Arrange play sessions with other vaccinated puppies or adult dogs you know well and who are healthy and friendly.
- If you have a small puppy carry him around town and let strangers pet and give him treats. Remember to not let him walk around on the sidewalks or in public until he is 100% vaccinated and the vet has given you the ok to let him walk around in public.
And don’t forget to follow up every socialization experience with praise like a “good girl” and a special high value treat like plain boiled chicken or even some cheese!
No matter how you decide to socialize your puppy remember that it is an essential part of helping your puppy develop into a happy, safe, and fun companion for years to come.