Socializing a puppy means introducing him or her to the world and teaching the puppy how to be a part of the world.
You want your dog to feel comfortable around people and other animals, right?
So, the question is – how do you achieve that?
Dogs living in our society, which is becoming more and more modern, will experience much more than dogs back in the days. They will meet different people and animals and see different kinds of environments. This is why socialization is such an important process every puppy should go through.
So, in this article we’ll answer the most common questions about this process. Let’s get started!
Why Is Socialization Important?
Introducing your puppy to new things from an early age is crucial. By doing that, your dog will grow up to be comfortable in various situations and behave well around other people and animals. If you don’t work on your dog’s social skills on time, your dog will be surprised and scared in most new situations. As a result, this can lead to fear, insecurity and aggression.
Socialization is important if you want your puppy to become a friendly and well-behaved dog. It’s also vital for your dog’s flexibility and ability to adapt to new situations. For instance, a dog who hasn’t been socialized won’t do well due to a move or won’t take walks on busy streets. A clear sign of this fear of unknown places is limp tail .
The basic idea behind socialization is to help your puppy get used to all sights, sounds and smells – in a positive way. Additionally, this process should introduce the dog to children , people and other animals.
When Should You Socialize Your Puppy?
Unfortunately, you can’t socialize your dog whenever you feel like it. The socialization process has to take place under a certain time period. The critical time for your puppy’s socialization is somewhere between week 3 and week 12. This is the puppy’s “window” for learning and experiencing new things.
After week 12, dogs become much more “on guard” and cautious of new, unfamiliar things. Week after week the socialization becomes more difficult and the dog becomes less receptive for new experiences. By the time the dog reaches week 18, socializing your dog will become extremely difficult, or even impossible.
How Do I Socialize My Puppy?
Now that you know when to start, the next question is naturally How? There are a lot of different ways you can proceed, depending on your lifestyle. Naturally, it’s impossible to introduce your puppy to everything he or she will experience later in life but it’s important to cover as much as possible. The socialization process should be adapted to your lifestyle, but also try to include aspects your dog won’t encounter on a daily basis.
Introduce To Other People
Puppies should get to know many different people during the critical period. That way he or she will become open to other people in the future and won’t be suspicious toward all strangers. So, introduce your dog to people of different genders, ages, sizes etc.
However, be sure to pick the right people. Negative experiences leave a big mark during this period, so you have to choose carefully. So, don’t introduce your dog to people you know don’t interact well with dogs, as this can lead to an overall negative experience with people. Instead, choose people who like and have experience with dogs. That way your puppy will start trusting people outside your family and realize how great they can be with dogs.
The easy way you will socialize your dog everyday is through walks. Whenever you walk your dog, he encounters different types of people and learns how to relate to them.
If you start socializing your pup on time, you will notice that he will be friendly towards people that approach him in a nice way. A dog that hasn’t been socialized well would be fearful and might bark, roar or become completely stiff when in presence of a new person.
For tips on socialization games, read this article.
Introduce To Other Animals
Just like with people, you should introduce your puppy to different animals. The old tale about dogs and cats as rivals happens, in most cases, because they haven’t met each other during the socialization window. Dogs who grow up with cats are less likely to treat them as prey later on.
Try to introduce your dog to as many different animals as possible. This can be tricky in the city, but do your best. When it comes to other dogs, introduce different breeds and different ages. However, make sure to introduce only dogs you know are healthy and friendly.
Namely, the vaccinations are not complete when your puppy is this young. This is why you should introduce dogs you know are healthy. Avoid dog parks and boarding facilites until vaccinations are complete, even if you think it would be good for socialization. For more in-depth information on vaccines, check out our printable dog vaccination schedule chart.
Introduce New Sights, Smells And Sounds
Besides new people and new animals, there are many things in your surrounding your dog should familiarize itself with. For instance, if you live in the city, there are a lot of different noises on the street. Don’t shield your dog from them, but expose it to traffic and car rides – while keeping it positive!
The same goes for different weather. Let your puppy experience rain, sunshine and snow (if possible). Also, don’t keep your dog away from mud and other harmless materials. While you shouldn’t encourage rolling around in dirt, it’s not good to shield the dog too much either.
Make sure your dog hears all kinds of sounds, as fear of unknown sounds is very common and stressful for dogs who haven’t been properly socialized. Police sirens, fire trucks, doorbells – you name it! If you want your dog to experience a particular sound that isn’t that common in your surrounding, play it on YouTube or somewhere else.
Tips For A Smooth Socialization
- Keep it positive. As mentioned, during this critical period your dog will form its attitude toward the world. Naturally, you want him or her to have as many positive experiences from this time as possible. This is why it’s important to give a lot of treats and praise, so that he associates the new things to something positive.
- Don’t let your emotions get in the way. As you know, dogs are great at reading our emotions. While this is good for positive emotions, it can be a setback if you’re feeling nervous or anxious. If you’re a bit on the edge because of something you’re exposing your dog to, for example your child, your dog will pick up that easily and become anxious himself.
- Take small steps. Don’t overwhelm your dog by doing everything at once. For instance, introduce one new animal first and introduce more with time.
- Attend puppy classes. These classes will help your dog to understand basic commands and introduce him or her to new people and dogs. Just remember not to attend any classes before the vaccinations have started.
- Pay attention to your dog’s reactions. Every dog is different, so you can’t count on your new dog to act like the previous one during socialization. When introducing new things, observe how your dog reacts and provide encouragement when he’s acting positively, especially in uncomfortable situations.
- Accept the limitations. It’s impossible for every dog to love children, dogs, cats, every person etc. If your dog isn’t a cat-fan, that’s fine as long as he’s still well-behaved around cats. The goal of socialization is to make your dog comfortable and behave properly, not to love every single thing.
For more socialization tips, check out the video below!
What If My Puppy Seems Frightened Or Shy?
Just because puppies at this age are the most open to new experiences, it doesn’t mean they will be opened to everything they encounter. Every puppy will find itself in an uncomfortable situation at some point. When this happens, it’s very important to take small steps and introduce the situation gradually.
Also, you should do something your puppy likes, during or after the uncomfortable moment. This can be as simple as giving treats and praises, but it can also be combining two things – one enjoyable and one scary for the dog. For example, if your dog is afraid of snow, go out and play in the snow so that your puppy can associate snow with fun.
If your puppy is being shy around people, don’t force anything. Instead, tell the person in question to ignore the dog and pay no attention to him or her. The puppy will usually relax with time and come up to the person, who can then give a treat a praise. Don’t give the treat before as a bribe, but let the dog approach on his own.
In the case your puppy is very shy in most circumstances, you should consult a behavior specialist as soon as possible. The sooner you start fixing these problems, the easier they will go away.
One more thing we want to focus on is…
Disease Risk During Socialization
Having in mind that the critical socialization period is up to 16 weeks, most puppies aren’t done with their puppy shots by then. So, how do you socialize your dog properly when you know that the risk of disease, such as the parvovirus , exists?
If you wait until the puppy is fully-protected, you’ll miss the chance for socialization. This is why you shouldn’t put off this crucial process. Instead, you should take some precautions and avoid dog parks and boarding facilities. If you do that, the risk of disease is small. It’s even more important to take precautions, however. That’s why applying dog dewormers is necessary. It’s a vital part of pet socializing to help keep your pet safe.
Puppy classes, on the other hand, are a safe option as all puppies have to be vaccinated at least once before participating. The general norm is one set of vaccines minimum 7 days before the class and a first deworming. Besides puppy classes, you can also introduce dogs of your friends and acquaintances – dogs you know are vaccinated and won’t transmit a disease.
The bottom line is – you should never skip socialization because your puppy hasn’t been fully vaccinated, but take precautions instead.
Conclusion: Socialization Goals
Before we finish, we want to repeat the goals of socialization. The importance of this process can’t be stressed enough. So, once again, why should we socialize our dogs?
A socialized dog should be:
1. Polite and respectful
2. Without prejudices
3. Safe around children
4. Well-behaved among other dogs
5. Peaceful with cats and other animals
6. Relaxed and confident in the society
If you achieve these goals, you can consider yourself a lucky dog owner and enjoy every moment spent with your best friend!