Socializing your dog is one of the most important things you can do for them. Socializing is simply the process of teaching your puppy what is normal in the human world. The good news is that this is not hard and will be a fun and positive experience for both of you!
Unfortunately many people wait too long to socialize their dog and set them up for a difficult life. A dog that is not socialized properly has a drastically higher chance of showing fear or aggression later in life.
It is crucial to understand that socialization is more than simply introducing your dog to a bunch of people. You also need to socialize your dog with other animals and acclimate them to a variety of environments. Anything they will see as adults should be introduced to them while they are young!
Socialize them early!
Many people with good intentions will tell you not to socialize your puppy until they have all of their shots. If you follow this advice you will be waiting until roughly sixteen weeks of age before socializing your puppy and this is too late! Puppies go through something called the Critical Socialization Period from six to sixteen weeks of age. This is the time that their little brains are like sponges, soaking up all the information about the world. After sixteen weeks a dog’s socialization window has closed and raising a well-adjusted dog becomes far more difficult.
The reason many puppy owners are told to wait until the dog has all of his shots is due to a perceived risk of Parvovirus and Distemper. Your young puppy will receive a 3-in-1 shot for Distemper, Adenovirus and Parvo (DAP) and this shot will be given 3 times before 16 weeks of age. Until receiving the third shot, there is a chance that your puppy is not fully protected from these diseases.
Don’t worry, if you socialize your puppy properly and take adequate protective measures, the risk of them contracting Parvo or Distemper is extremely slim. Let’s start with some don’ts. Don’t take a puppy who is not fully vaccinated to the dog park; don’t take them to pet stores; don’t let them wander around sniffing in areas where many dogs or animals have been; and don’t let them meet adult dogs unless you are 100% sure the adult dogs are vaccinated and healthy.
What should you do to socialize your puppy before they are fully vaccinated? There are a lot of fun and safe ways to socialize a puppy! Many people have puppy parties where they invite friends and family over to meet the new addition. Make sure to invite men, women, children, people with beards, small people, large people, and people with different skin colors, to name a few. Basically you are trying to expose the puppy to as many unique people as you can. We recommend introducing your puppy to at least one hundred people by the time they are 14 weeks old.
Socialization with other animals
Most young puppies love other dogs, but this doesn’t mean your job is finished! If you do not introduce your puppy to a large number of other dogs they stand a very real chance of developing dog aggression later in life. Take the time to introduce your puppy to as many other dogs as you can. You need to limit the number of dogs they meet before they are fully vaccinated, but after their third round of DAP it is off to the races!
Make sure that your dog meets a huge variety of dogs. You want them to meet big dogs, small dogs, male dogs, female dogs, etc. Your trainer can also recommend some additional socializing based on the breed of your dog. For example, dogs with high prey drives such as German Shepherds should be highly socialized with small dogs to help prevent future issues. It is also important to make sure your dog meets a lot of dogs of the same sex. Generally speaking, dogs are more likely to not get along with same sex dogs when they reach adolescence or adulthood, and additional socializing can help prevent this.
You should also introduce your puppy to any animals that they may need to coexist with in the future. Most puppies will love a cat when introduced properly, but it may be a different story when your little puppy is two years old. An adult dog that meets a cat for the first time may instantly consider the cat to be prey and this can lead to disastrous results.
Introduce them to different places and objects
When you are socializing your puppy it is easy to forget a very important part of raising a well adjusted dog: acclimating them to all the environments, noises and sounds that they will experience throughout life! This includes trucks, buses, cars, bikes, horns, hats, jackets and every other part of daily life. When a dog is properly socialized they should be able to walk down a busy city street full of people, dogs, and cars without any fear. If your dog doesn’t see a big city until they are a year old you may be in for a surprise. They may be terrified!
Take it slow and have fun!
Whether you are introducing your dog to people, other animals, new objects or new locations it is important to take it slow! Do not take an eight week old puppy to downtown Chicago for the afternoon. If you overwhelm your puppy and scare them you can actually sensitize them to a stimuli. That means they will become more stressed each time they see it rather than less stressed. That is the exact opposite of what socialization is meant to do! Practice walking your puppy on leash in public and ease them into each situation. Use this time to practice leash skills so that the dog can get used to walking calmly past new things. If your puppy looks scared it means you have pressed him way too far and need to remove him from the situation. The goal here is to have ALL positive interactions. If your puppy seems fearful when you are socializing him it is important to immediately notify your trainer. They can assist you in the process of desensitizing your dog to whatever is scaring him. Don’t worry, fear can be overcome, but it is important to start as soon as possible! Socializing your dog is incredibly important and incredibly fun. If you follow these guidelines the odds of your puppy growing up happy and social are extremely high.