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Safely Socializing Your Puppy

Behavior and Training  •   Jasey Day  •   Sep 01, 2016


What is puppy socialization?

Socialization is the act of exposing your puppy to the world. To become well-rounded, confident adult dogs, puppies need to experience - see, feel, hear and smell - many different environments, people, places and dogs. These experiences need to be overall positive from the dog’s perspective. This means the dog is not afraid, stressed, stunned, nervous or resentful.

What is the key socialization period?

According to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB), the first three months is the most important socialization period in a puppy’s life. Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM, MS states that during this time, puppies are primed for bonding, for learning that items, animals, and environments are safe, and for absorbing the meaning of canine body language. Under-socialized puppies tend to be afraid of unfamiliar things.

How do you safely socialize your pup?

For dog-to-dog socialization:

Only socializing with same dogs again and again will NOT be enough to teach your dog to speak his own canine language. Try these options to make new puppy friends and to learn:

  1. Invest in puppy class. According to the AVSAB, “…puppies can start puppy socialization classes as early as 7-8 weeks of age. Puppies should receive a minimum of one set of vaccines at least 7 days prior to the first class and a first deworming. They should be kept up-to-date on vaccines throughout the class.”
  2. Utilize a doggie day camp provider to ensure that the other dogs have been filtered as appropriate, friendly playmates. Play sessions should be monitored by a human professional who is fluent at reading dog language. Day camp can also be a great way to expose your dog to different sizes and shapes of other dogs.
  3. Use your local dog park. Please see this blog about safely using a dog park.

For environmental socialization:

  1. Walk your dog in different locations. If you have any concerns about safe locations, consult your veterinarian for advice.
  2. Take your dog to pet stores that allow your pup to accompany you. When your pup is with you, focus on training and socializing your pup instead of juggling your wallet and items to purchase. Consider doing your shopping on a different day when you do not have your pup.

In addition to new places and new dogs, what else should you show your puppy?

Expose your pup to the following:

  1. Humans of all different shapes, heights and ages! Make sure your puppy has positive encounters with humans wearing hats and weird outfits, too.
  2. Different surfaces. Will your puppy confidently walk across tile, laminate, vinyl, hardwoods, concrete, tarps, carpeting, grass and dirt?
  3. Sounds. This will help you later when you want to take the Canine Good Citizen test. One of the items is reaction to distraction, which could be a startling sound! See this blog for tips on passing the CGC.
  4. Wheels. Some dogs dislike strollers, bikes, zooming cars, dollies, vacuums and skateboards! Teach your pup from the get-go that these items are positive by giving your canine a treat when he sees or hears wheels.

What do you do after your pup reaches 3 months of age?

Continue to socialize your dog throughout his life by taking him places and by continuing to find positive interactions with novel dogs and people. Dogs that rarely leave their homes and neighborhoods tend to become skittish when they do leave the comforts of home. Don’t create a canine hermit. Instead, ensure your dog maintains fluency in his canine language and remains confident outside of the home.

Enjoy showing your new pup the world!

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