By: Sharon Dianora
Socializing puppies is the single biggest time investment you can make in your new puppy.
If you socialize a puppy right, your puppy's confidence will grow and he will develop a "bounce-back" personality.
Also, a well socialized pup can draw on a vast amount of experiences which develops a resilient character. Both of these together will result in a well rounded adult dog that can handle new situations easily.
In short, puppy socialization means taking your new pup to new places and ensuring she enjoys meeting new people, dogs, and things in general. It's about bringing them to as many new environments as you can and teaching them that its safe and a fun thing to do. That's why its so important at this age to get them out and about AND make sure they DON'T have a scary experience.
If you take your pup to a new place, say an outdoor shopping mall, and have people that pass by stop and hand your pup a treat, your pup will think that's a fantastic place. If, on the other hand, you take your pup to the same place and instead drag them round on the leash, or worse a prong, and all they see is people whizzing by them with bags, (which may bump your pup) they'll have a totally different experience of that place. See what I mean?
Puppy socialization is not as easy as it sounds. Do it wrong, and you could end up with a nervous, aggressive, or fearful dog that may resort to biting if faced with a fight/flight scenario. By doing it wrong I mean either not socializing puppies at all, or, letting your puppy have a negative association with something new.
In order for you to see some great videos on socializing puppies the right way, I’ve partnered with Doggy Dan, The Online Dog Trainer.
This is very important, it doesn't mean just taking your little guy out but it means introducing puppies to things in the environment with positive associations. The best way to do this is to introduce your pup to a wide range of scenarios and different types and ages of people.
When socializing a puppy with different people you should have the people hand-feed the puppy and let the puppy move forward at his own pace. Never pick the pup up and force the introduction.
When meeting new people try not to let them pull your your little guy around (especially young children), have them hand feed treats and light petting only.
You can gradually build up on the amount of petting and handling your puppy gets but don't overwhelm him.
You should also vary the different types of people that your pup meets.
You need to expose him to many different age groups, sizes, colors, shapes, and sexes of people. All interactions should be controlled by you and a positive association paired with each new type of person. Positive associations can be treats or play.
Now the bad news. Socializing puppies can only happen during the socialization period which is a very short window of opportunity. It varies for each puppy but the socialization window typically closes somewhere between 12 - 20 weeks. With most puppies somewhere in the middle at 16 weeks.
Now given that puppies don't have their final injections until about 12 or 13 weeks, you can see that it is not a good idea to wait until your puppy has had all his jabs before you begin to socialize him. Most good breeders will start this process for you by inviting people into their house to view and play with the puppies as soon as their socialization period starts at about 4 weeks old.
Be warned, if you got your pup from a pet store or puppy mill then they are likely to miss out on the first few weeks of their socialization period so you will have to work harder to get them exposed.
When you get your new bundle of fur home get him a couple of days to settle in. Once he is settled invite tons of people round for a cup of tea and to meet your new family member. You can also invite friends' dogs that you know have had their inoculations, and are friendly, to meet your puppy. Just make sure you keep your eye on the interactions and keep it positive for your pup.
Wait one week until after he has had their first injection (usually about 8-9 weeks). Arm yourself with a ton of treats and take him to as many places as you can that you won't find other dogs. This may sound difficult but all it needs is a little creative thinking.
I've taken my puppies to Home Depot, DIY and garden stores, Blockbuster and supermarket entrance (you can't take your puppy anywhere where that serves food) so don't go in but its great exposure for the puppy to meet many people here. Don't introduce your puppy to any strange dogs until he has had all his shots and don't take him to pet stores until he has had all his shots.
Try and join a puppy socialization class to introduce your puppy to other puppies and of course all the different owners. Check with your vet, they may run one, or at least know of one that ensures the area is properly geared up for younger puppies. Our vets hosted the party every week for puppies until they reach 6 months old.
Now that your pup has had all his injections he is safe to go out and mingle with as many new people, dogs, and situations that you can find. This is when you can really step it up and make sure that he goes out multiple times a day to find new things to be exposed to. Again, remember to take plenty of treats with you and have strangers hand-feed him.
Introduce your dog gradually to each new scenario. Your puppy may seem spooked at first with something new but, with positive associations, will usually get over it pretty quickly. The more the puppy learns to get over things, the more resilient he becomes and the quicker he will bounce back next time.
Socializing puppies should be a fun and rewarding experience both for your new puppy and for you. Try and take her somewhere new every day and remember to take plenty of treats or a favorite toy with you. If at any time your puppy has a bad experience somewhere, take her home and try again another day but with more fun injected into the trip!
If you do come across problems, or just don't know how to get started, I urge you to try the Doggy Dan series and see if it can get you on the right track quickly. There is no better start you can give your puppy in life than socializing your puppy correctly.