Socialization is an essential, yet often overlooked part of a puppy’s development. Without it, your puppy can become evasive or even hostile towards the people and other pets that she encounters. Puppies have an important stage of development in their early lives where they absorb experiences and catalog what sounds, smells, and experiences can be considered “safe” and which ones are “scary”. At TCAP, we see puppy owners who range from socialization experts to those who are completely unaware of the concept and its importance to their puppy. Today, we hope to provide a few easy techniques to ensure that your puppy grows into a behaviorally healthy adult.
When Should You Socialize?
The quick answer is as soon as it is safe to do so for your pet. You should introduce your puppy to vetted dogs as well as friends and family as soon as you can. Experts say that the important stage to socialize a puppy ends as early as 12-16 weeks. Once they age beyond this stage, their reactions towards unfamiliar pets and people begin to solidify. Often, unsocialized pets will either cower or attempt to lunge towards new people and pets. The more you can train your puppy to view new experiences as fun, the easier it will be to train them and introduce her to strangers she meets later in life.
If your puppy has not received her three complete rounds of puppy vaccines then it is not yet safe to bring her to public venues like dog parks. However, if you have friends with fully vaccinated pets, they would serve as a good starting point. If you are looking for how to time your puppy’s vaccine visits, check out TCAP’s handy Pet Vaccine Guide.
How to Socialize Your Puppy
Take your puppy out into the world–by car, in your arms, or in a child’s wagon if she’s too heavy to carry. Take her to a mall, to a hardware store, to the bus station, or to a train station. Step into a TCAP lobby during our walk-in vaccine hours and out again. Visit a park, farm, construction site, and a police station. Encourage her to scramble among rocks and logs. Let her experience many surfaces underfoot, from grass to concrete to leaves to metal gratings. Teach her to use stairs, starting from the lowest step and working your way up till she can navigate a whole staircase comfortably, up and down. The more diverse and positive experiences she has, the better.
Many dogs are afraid of unfamiliar sounds. Make sure your pup hears police sirens, fire trucks, birdsong, music, rolling steel gates, obnoxious ringtones, and doorbells. Gunfire and similar sharp, cracking sounds are often culprits in dog phobias. You can easily download free recordings from the internet and play them as background music on occasion to help familiarize your puppy with the potentially scary sounds of the world in the safety of her home.
Follow these steps while supporting your puppy with praise and treats to help her associate new experiences as something good rather than something to fear. Socializing your puppy does not remove the need for training, however, it will make training considerably easier and she will be more inclined to stick to her training in unfamiliar environments.