Proper socialization is key to raising a well-rounded dog! Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to socializing your new pup.
Socializing a puppy is one of the most important actions to take to vastly improve their quality of life as adult dogs. In fact, almost all behavioural issues stem from inadequate socialization, genetics or a lack of training.
While you can’t change your puppy’s genetic code, and training can come a little later, socialization must be started early for maximum effect. It is also much easier to socialize a young puppy than an adult dog, so it really pays to focus intently upon it during the most effective window of their social development.
When to socialize a puppy
Depending on their breed, the critical socialization period for puppies is between three and sixteen weeks of age. That said, an 18-week-old pup will still be far easier to socialize than a 5-year-old dog, so simply start as early as you are able to.
Without proper socialization, dogs can become naturally ‘neophobic’ – meaning that they become automatically scared of new things. To set your puppy up for a happy, confident life, early socialization is key.
Socialization before vaccinations
Puppies aren’t fully vaccinated until around 12 weeks of age, so while dog parks and other dog-friendly locations are out until then, there is still plenty you can do before that age to ensure proper socialization.
How to socialize your puppy
Firstly, it’s important to note that exposure itself is not sufficient to successfully socialize a puppy, as their experience of it could go either way in terms of what they associate it with (positive or negative).
There are two main methods for puppy socialization, both of which have their merits and downsides. Let’s discuss them now, and then we can see why a combination of both may be the best approach.
The mass exposure method
This method is also commonly known as the ‘100 people in 100 days’ method, and works on the premise that the more you expose your puppy to new people and places, the more comfortable they will be with them.
The problem with this quantitative approach is that it doesn’t sufficiently focus on the quality of the interactions, and bad experiences, particularly with shy puppies, can make things worse and even bring about aggressive reactions.
The ‘everything is amazing’ method
While this method does focus on positive experiences, it suggests that every encounter needs to be extremely positive. This can lead to the puppy becoming an overly excited, frantic dog who never learns to accept new experiences and encounters with any real sense of calm.
Goals for your adult dog
Ideally, the goals we are hoping to achieve for our pups as they become adults is to stay calm and quiet around:
- People of differing appearances, such as gender, race and disabilities
- Everyday noises
- Other animals
Implementing a combination approach to socializing your puppy
It’s important to expose your puppy to a very wide variety of new experiences, normalize them and keep them positive while not making too great a fuss.
- Encourage your puppy to say hello to strangers without allowing them to drag you over on their terms
- Expose them to a variety of daily activities such as visiting the post office, playing music, greeting passers-by, mowing the lawn, etc.
- Treat them for good behaviour! If they react positively to a particularly new experience, be sure to reward them, especially if it is a little scary – such as a loud noise or greeting someone in a wheelchair, etc. Let them back up if they need to, but if they remain calm and look back curiously, that’s enough for a reward.
Use a checklist
It can help to use a socialization checklist of all the things that you would like your puppy to handle calmly. Work through the list checking them off as your dog progresses!
You can also use a scoring system such as ‘going well’, ‘needs revisiting’, and ‘requires serious work’, to keep track of how they are doing. Anything that needs work must be revisited from a further distance, ideally with a slower, smaller version and always focusing on only positive reinforcement as they improve.
Here is a checklist guide for you to adapt and add to, to suit your own puppy’s requirements.
- Different races
- Big dogs
- Little dogs
- Fluffy dogs
- Dogs with no tails or cropped ears, etc.
- Things blowing in the wind
- Vacuum cleaners
- Lawn mowers
- Babies crying
- Children playing
- Ice, frost, snow
- Reflective surfaces
- Public transport
- Long car journeys
- Busy streets
- Friends’ houses
- Parking lots
- Puppy classes
- Being picked up
- Collar and harness use
- Examining ears
- Lifting paws
- Lifting tail
- Opening mouth
- Wiping body down with a towel
- Holding on lap
Use this guide to further develop a checklist that relates to your daily life and activities, and work through it with your pup, ensuring that you allow them to take their time and reward them well for remaining calm, without making too much fuss.
Proper puppy socialization will help to ensure that you and your puppy can enjoy many happy years together without any debilitating and disruptive anxieties or antisocial behaviours!