Don’t Miss This Time Sensitive Opportunity
Teaching your puppy the world is safe prevents problems in the future.
What is Socialization?
Socialization is the developmental process whereby puppies familiarize themselves with their constantly changing surroundings. It is how they work out what is safe and good as opposed to what is dangerous and not-so-good. Having a puppy who has been exposed to lots of different people, places, noises, dogs, etc. builds a foundation that makes it easier for her to adjust to new things without worry or fear as she develops into an adolescent and an adult.
Anything you want your puppy to cheerfully accept as an adult dog (i.e. men, women, children, other dogs, animals, noisy traffic, bikes, skate boarders, trucks, things, and situations) you must introduce her to often and positively in the first 6 months. After her initial introduction to each new person, place and thing, you can make sure she stays comfortable with each one through repeated visits.
The Best Time for Socialization
The ideal time for socialization is when your puppy is between 6 and 12 weeks of age. Although the earlier the better, positive experiences up through 6 months of age will carry the most value.
While socializing your puppy, it is important to be aware of the 2 fear periods that are part of your puppy’s developmental landscape. These occur at 8 weeks of age and again at 12 – 16 weeks. You may observe your puppy being fearful of things that did not bother her before or she may just be more fearful in general. This is normal. Be patient as your puppy moves through this stage and be extra careful not to force onto her anything she perceives as scary. Potentially, if something scares her badly enough during this period she could be afraid of it for a lifetime. Avoiding boarding or grooming during these fear periods is recommended.
But Puppies Already Love Everything!?
Sure most of them do, until the early stage of their development draws to a close. At that point, they may become wary of other dogs, etc. if they have seen or met too few. And down the road, puppies can become shy or growly around children or strangers, too, unless they have enjoyed meeting a bunch of them.
Under-socialized dogs are at much greater risk of developing all sorts of behavioral problems stemming from fear, for example—aggression, agoraphobia, and reactivity towards certain people and animals. In fact, many dogs that are rescued and have behavior symptoms of under-socialization are often misinterpreted as behaviors related to previous abuse.
Teach your puppy that the world is safe and prevent behavior problems in the future.
Closely supervise the interactions your puppy has with children, adults, puppies, and dogs to insure that these experiences are positive from your puppy’s perspective.
How to Socialize Your Puppy
Think about the things your puppy will see every week as an adult: Visit those places, see those people, or experience those things as early and often as possible in her first 6 months.
Help your puppy form positive associations: Cheer and praise her when she encounters something new and offer a high value treat. Example: fire hydrant = high value treat (cheese, roast beef, chicken, etc.) so I like fire hydrants.
Step 1. Take your puppy somewhere where she can experience a few new things. If she is eager to investigate then let her do it and make the experience more powerful by feeding her a few yummy treats.
If your puppy seems even a bit nervous, move a little distance away, give her treats, and then walk away—anything she is unsure about should be encountered in short bursts. Work within the comfort level of your puppy. If she seems nervous, hesitant or even backs away, let her make the decision to move away and go with her. Forcing or dragging her toward the thing that is making her feel nervous or frightened will not make her feel comfortable and may actually increase her fearfulness.
Step 2. As soon as your puppy seems more relaxed, try again. As she sees or hears the thing that scared her before, start your cheerful praise and break out the treats. Treats are a way to form a positive association and use Pavlov’s science to our advantage.
Step 3. If your puppy did not seem nervous with the new thing or acts curious about it after she has been treated, go back and let her investigate a little more. Again, praise and treat.
When you move away from any new thing, go quiet and stop the treats. We want your puppy to learn that the presence of the thing is what makes you give her the food. That way, she begins to associate the food with the new experience and realizes that, “Hey, that new thing isn’t so bad after all.”
Can There Ever be too Much Socialization for my Puppy?
While positive socialization experiences are critically important for your puppy to develop into a confident and adaptable adult, there is some caution involved as well. Overwhelming your puppy with too much too soon will not improve socialization and may create exactly what you don’t want, fearfulness. Be sensible about your puppy’s limitations and start the socialization process slowly. One key to successful socialization is to stay well within your puppy’s comfort level.
For example, the first time we bring a puppy to a busy downtown area, we will start on a side street out of the main downtown area and we go during a predictably quieter time of day. We will walk our way towards downtown being observant about how the puppy is responding to people, noises, etc. If the puppy is happy to see people and does not react negatively to the noises of traffic, sirens, etc. we will continue through downtown. However, if the puppy appears nervous (stops and stares, tucks her tail, makes herself small, barks or backs away) about people, noises, or anything else we encounter, we may not continue all the way into downtown that day. We continue to work on the outskirts of town at a distance where she is more comfortable. In both scenarios we will feed the puppy generously as she experiences new things.
But My Puppy Lives with Kids and Other Dogs! Do I Still Need to Socialize Her?
The answer is a resounding yes! Just because your dog lives with kids and dogs in your household does not mean she will understand that all kids and dogs she encounters for the rest of her life are safe. She needs to see and have positive experiences with different kids and dogs in different settings in order to be truly socialized.
What Places Offer Opportunities for Socialization?
Your puppy can benefit from going just about anywhere with you as long as you are observant and you make sure she does not get overwhelmed. Places that we typically suggest visiting include; side streets around a down town area as well as down town itself, play grounds, parks and college campuses. If you have friends who have kids, ask them to visit your home so your puppy can meet the kids or visit the friend’s house if that is appropriate. Be creative and utilize the opportunities that exist where you live. Five or ten minutes each day in a new location with new exposures can make all the difference for your puppy growing up into a confident and adaptable adult.
At Everything Dog, we are happy to help you with socialization, house training, crate training, long term confinement or any other issue you are having with your puppy. Contact us with your concerns and questions.