Socialization is the first step in raising a well-behaved dog. During the first weeks of their lives, puppies go through a critical period of development. When a puppy is exposed to new people, places, and situations in a positive way during this period, there's a good chance he'll be calm and accepting when he experiences them again later in life.
What Is Socialization?
Socialization is just what it sounds like; it's socializing.
Your puppy should meet and interact with as many types of people, animals, and environments as possible. He should experience many sights and sounds and learn that there is nothing to fear. By the time he reaches about 4 months old, your puppy should learn to accept being petted by strangers, meeting other dogs, being handled by a veterinarian or groomer, and meeting a wide variety of people.
When Should Socialization Take Place?
Puppy socialization should take place when your dog is between 8 and 16 weeks old. Because they have not received all of their puppy vaccinations, you should talk to your veterinarian about when it's safe to expose your puppy to new people and places. It's important that your dog does not interact with unknown animals or walk in areas where unknown animals might have been. There are many diseases a puppy can pick up before vaccines are complete.
Why Is Socialization So Important?
Socializing your puppy helps him to become a happy, healthy, and well-behaved member of your family.
Properly socialized puppies are less likely to develop behavior problems as they grow into adults. Dogs who don't get early socialization may react with fear or aggression when they are exposed to new things. It is much easier to teach your puppy to accept new things now than it is to retrain him after bad habits develop.
How Should a Puppy Be Socialized?
Socialization should involve as many people and situations as possible. Introduce your puppy to a wide variety of people, including men, women, children of all ages, people in wheelchairs, men with beards, and people wearing all kinds of clothing (e.g., uniforms, sunglasses, raincoats and umbrellas, hats and gloves, etc.). Before your puppy has gotten all of his vaccinations, you can begin to socialize him by inviting people to your home to meet him.
Let your puppy see large objects fall or move. Expose him to noises like trucks and crowds of people. Remain calm and reward him for remaining calm. (However, don't go to extremes and expose him to fear-inducing situations like fireworks.)
Handling exercises are another important part of socializing. Think of the ways your dog may be handled in his lifetime. A child could pull his tail, a veterinarian might need to restrain him, you may need to hold his feet to clip his nails. If you get your puppy used to being handled in a gentle manner now, you will be less likely to have trouble handling him when he has reached adulthood.
Once your veterinarian approves taking your puppy to new places, you can begin socializing him outside your home. This is a good time to get him used to riding in the car, meeting other dogs, visiting the groomer and pet supply store, and taking walks in your neighborhood.
Socialization should always be kept positive. Allow your puppy to approach new things in his own time. You can use treats and praise to encourage your puppy to approach unfamiliar people and objects. Remember, never push your puppy past his comfort level or he may become fearful of the things you are trying to get him to accept.
Can a Dog Trainer Help With Socialization?
Puppy training classes are a great way to enhance your puppy's socialization. Dog trainers usually refer to these classes as "Puppy Kindergarten." They should touch on the usual concerns of the new puppy parent, like housetraining and curbing destructive behavior. A good puppy kindergarten will also help your puppy to get comfortable with new people and being handled. Your veterinarian or local animal shelter should be able to help you find a good puppy kindergarten class.
Edited by Jenna Stregowski, RVT