Socializing your puppy is one of the most important things you can do to ensure a well-rounded adult dog. Giving your puppy the opportunity to get used to various sounds, people, animals, places and things will go a long way in eliminating fears and aggression, and producing a friendly, confident adult dog.
Just imagine how you would react if you grew up never seeing another human being, when you finally did come upon another human you wouldn’t quite know how to react, right? It works the same way with dogs, they need to see and experience all types of things, in order to understand that the world around them is a friendly and fun place to be!
The most crucial time for socialization is from birth through 16 weeks since this is the age range where they are most open to new experiences. Somewhere after that, getting your puppy to accept new sights, sounds, animals and environments gets much harder as they will have already developed ideas of what they are comfortable with, and what they are not.
Should I Socialize my Puppy Before Vaccinations are Complete?
The tricky thing is, a puppy won’t be complete with all vaccinations until somewhere around the 12 to 16 week mark, and there are varying opinions on whether it is safe to take your puppy out and about prior to receiving all rounds of vaccinations. Puppies can pick up disease when walking in areas where other sick dogs may have been. Diseases such as parvovirus are extremely contagious and can easily be picked up through feces of another infected dog.
So, how do you go about socializing then? I would simply suggest staying away from areas that are commonplace to dogs you don’t know, such as public parks or walking paths. In addition, when going to the vet pick you dog up, or crate him, in order to keep your puppy’s paws clean from other dog’s bodily fluids, or traces of feces. After all, many dogs are there because they are sick!
Socializing can easily be done by bringing your puppy along with you, wherever you go, and whenever you can, as long as it is safe for your pup. This will get him used to the car, various smells, sights, sounds, and whatever else you may come across. Make it a habit to visit everyone you know who has a good dog, so your puppy can socialize in new places, and experience various dogs and people. Invite neighbors to visit with their dogs (as long as their dog is healthy, and friendly). Invite neighboring children to play with your puppy. Heck, just sitting in a crowded place is enough to attract flocks of adults and children; who doesn’t want to pet a puppy?
It’s important that when you do go about socializing your puppy, that you do it in the correct way. Your puppy’s experiences should be presented to him in a fun and positive way. If your puppy has a bad experience it can have long-lasting, negative effects such as fear or aggression the next time he encounters the same thing. The goal to early socialization is to produce a friendly, relaxed, non-aggressive dog that is cool as a cucumber in all situations.
To Avoid a Negative Experience, NEVER Expose your Puppy to the Following…
- Hyper, aggressive or overly rambunctious dogs
- Children that may be rough, pull tails, hit, etc.
- Adults that believe rough play is acceptable
- NO dog parks prior to vaccinations; even then, take heed, as you will encounter all types of doggy personalities, some of which you and your pup may not be too fond of.
Don’t allow your puppy to become overwhelmed by the new experiences you provide. And always offer verbal praise, treats and petting after socialization so that your puppy relates it to something positive!
Should your puppy show signs of being overwhelmed or fearful by an experience then he should be removed from the situation until he is once again relaxed and calm. If the situation is allowed to continue, it could have the opposite effect of what you are trying to achieve by teaching your puppy to fear it. Since learned fears can continue long term, you want to avoid them from occurring in the first place. You may need to take it a bit slower, gradually exposing your puppy at a level he responds positively to.
Depending on your lifestyle, there will be various things you will want to expose your puppy to. But, here is the short list to get you started…
- Loud noises
- All types of people (male, female, adults, children, different ethnicities)
- Dogs (both large and small – puppies learn some of their best social skills from playing with puppies and dogs!)
- Other animals (as many different types as possible, particularly cats since they are one of the most common household pets!)
- Touch (get your puppy used to being handled to prepare for vet checks, grooming, or children who may not pet properly. This will ensure your puppy learns not to growl, snap or bite. On a consistent basis you should touch your puppy from head, to paws, to tail.)
- Environment (indoors, outdoors, crowds, etc.)
Poor socialization skills are one of the most common reasons dogs end up being surrendered to shelters. The more experiences you provide your puppy, the more likely he will be able to face the world being brave, calm and happy.