Congratulations on adding a puppy to the family! You’ve got the right equipment, you’ve made a good start on house-training and you’ve invested a lot of time and love in your puppy’s well-being.
In addition to all these preparations, there is another important aspect of raising a dog: proper socialization.
Without the right socialization training early in life, dogs can become stubborn, shy, aggressive and/or fearful of strange people and other dogs. But there’s a little more to it than just presenting your puppy to a room full of people.
What Is Socialization?
In Training Your Puppy, writer and dog trainer/rehabilitator Nikki Moustaki says, “The process of socialization introduces a pup to anything new to tantalize his senses and shows the puppy how to handle new things in his environment.”
This applies to a broad range of things:
- Unfamiliar dogs
- Other household pets
Chances are high that your puppy will encounter all of these in his lifetime. A trip to the veterinarian alone will expose him to several new experiences. Plus, you may need to hire pet sitters, use boarding services or decide to add a pet to the household down the road.
Moustaki shares even more advice on the importance of socializing your puppy at the right stage of his life:
“Most experts agree that the window for socialization is extremely short — from approximately 3 weeks to 16 weeks of age. After that, a puppy’s opinions about the world have been formed; it’s much more difficult to introduce the dog to new things without him feeling naturally apprehensive.”
You need to control as much of the socialization process as possible.
In Raise Your Puppy to Be a Wonderful Dog, trainer Pete Campione advises creating a plan to make “each introduction a positive experience for your puppy. To do this, start small. Make each introduction in a controlled environment where your puppy can be made to feel as comfortable as possible.”
Most socialization can happen right at home. Try these tips:
- Bring people over one at a time to meet your puppy.
- Allow others to bring their friendly dogs over for some playtime (again, one at a time).
- Get your puppy used to the sounds of a vacuum cleaner or loud appliances.
- Take him on walks so he can experience new textures, such as grass, gravel and soil.
Remember: Every experience is new to him. He’s learning all about the world through you. The most important things you can do are plan out each step, make each experience fun and let him go at his own pace.
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Just as with children at school, socialization comes with the added risk of disease or illness. Your puppy may be particularly vulnerable because he is not finished with his vaccination series yet.
“Ask everyone who comes to your house to wash their hands before handling your puppy,” Moustaki advises. “And be sure that his canine playmates are vaccinated (or at least have started their vaccination series) and are healthy, with no coughing, nasal discharge, fever, vomiting or diarrhea.”
Be sure your puppy gets his vaccinations on schedule. Until he’s received them all, avoid dog parks and other areas where dogs gather.
Watch these puppies get familiar with a new experience — sliding:
Socializing your puppy teaches him how to properly handle new experiences. It can also be crucial for his well-being. “An extremely undersocialized adult dog at an animal shelter is likely to be [euthanized],” says trainer Sarah Clifford. “Unsocialized dogs can live in fear of strangers, and there’s a chance that the dog may show aggression towards people.”
When dogs aren’t socialized at a young age, it is much more difficult for them to handle new people, sounds and other animals. As Clifford pointed out, some dogs are even euthanized because of their lack of socialization skills that may have contributed to aggression and fearful behavior.
So do your puppy a favor and socialize him well. You’ll both enjoy the process, and he’ll be a much happier and more confident dog for it.