As a puppy parent, you want your new family member to grow into a confident, well-adjusted and happy adult dog.
Perhaps the biggest key to achieving this goal is to ensure that your puppy is properly socialized from a young age.
If you got your pup from a breeder, then chances are good that the formal socialization process begins well before you bring him home.
If you adopted your dog from the shelter, then it can be hard to know what kind of socialization training she may have received.
In either case, it can benefit you and your puppy to ensure proper socialization.
When Should Puppy Socialization Begin?
The first three months are especially critical to success with socialization. In fact, puppies are particularly attuned to and curious about new experiences when they are between three and 12 weeks of age. Once this period has passed, many dogs tend to be more cautious about new places, people and experiences.
At approximately three weeks, puppies are likely to approach nearby people on their own. Puppies that are handled in a gentle and positive manner at this stage are more likely to grow into confident, friendly adult dogs. Exposing pups to adults and children at this age is critical so that dogs get used to a wide variety of age groups.
Experts typically recommend beginning socialization classes at around seven or eight weeks of age. With at least the first round of vaccinations complete one week before socialization, puppies should be perfectly safe to mingle.
Even after your puppy reaches 14 weeks of age, continued socialization is valuable because it reinforces good behavior. As long as you keep his environment safe and secure, your pup will feel comfortable learning new things and encountering new situations.
Why Puppy Socialization Matters
The more comfortable your puppy is in a vast array of situations, the more likely she is to be relaxed and well-behaved. This means that she will be safe, and that people around her will be safe as well. Dogs that are well socialized as puppies are far less likely to be aggressive when they are frightened.
This means that it’s crucial to expose your puppy to all sorts of sounds, smells and sights at a young age. Your pup can be confident and well-adjusted thanks to this socialization, and you’ll be happier and more relaxed as a pet parent as well.
How Do You Socialize a Puppy?
Socialization can be quite informal as it can occur anywhere. Inside your home, while out on a walk, at the dog park, in the car or during a play date with other pups are all likely locations where socialization may occur.
Regardless of where it happens, it’s vital that socialization involves your pup encountering an entire world of smells, sights, sounds and textures. Exposure to other animals, which is not limited to dogs, can be especially valuable. It’s also a great idea to ensure that your puppy gets some quality time with young children so that they can get comfortable with their sometimes uninhibited style of interacting and playing.
Monitor Your Pup’s Reaction
It’s desirable for your puppy to encounter all sorts of people and circumstances at a young age, and it’s vital that these experiences continue to happen on a regular basis.
However, your role in this is not a passive one. It’s your job to monitor your pup to ensure that he isn’t feeling overwhelmed or anxious during the experience.
The reality is that puppies tend to be really sensitive. When they start to feel overwhelmed by a situation, they may communicate this to you through their body language.
A pup that is clinging to you, turning his head away or yawning excessively may be feeling too much stress. In these instances, don’t force your pup to interact. Consider removing him instead. A puppy’s feelings tend to be fleeting. What is scary at one moment may be fascinating five minutes later. Let your pup go at his own pace for best results.
Accordingly, it may be best to aim for frequent but short socialization sessions that at first doesn’t involve too many people or other animals. Keep things fairly controlled and keep an eye on your dog to ensure that she’s having a positive experience.
Get Help from Doglando
At Doglando, we’re committed to enriching every facet of your dog’s life. To support your pup’s socialization efforts, consider enrolling her in our potty training and puppy preschool programs. These fun and interactive classes provide excellent opportunities for socialization in a manner that’s not overwhelming.
You also might want to consider Doglando’s Enrichment Program. It’s an excellent way to ensure that your dog is living his best possible life with plenty of structure and stimulation.
Teena Patel is a Certified Dog Trainer and Behavioral Counselor who works with pet owners and owners of doggy daycares to bring her philosophy of Enrichment to the canine population. After almost two decades of successful dog training under her belt, Teena has done away with the standard doggy daycare “warehousing” of animals in kennels and runs. In place of an industrial model, she focuses on what is right for the dogs as living beings, providing experiences that improve and enhance their behavioral health. Coupled with a program of careful training, the Doglando experience results in companion dogs who are better-behaved, better integrated into their families, and above all, much happier. True to her passion, Teena Patel gives dogs the freedom “to be dogs”.