Puppies are born not knowing anything about the world in which they live in. As a new puppy parent it is your responsibility to help them learn about their surroundings in a safe and secure way. Socializing a puppy properly will cut down on many behavioral problems that may otherwise occur later in life. Adult dogs that have not been exposed to a wide variety of dogs, people and environments can become fearful or aggressive as they mature. Avoiding this by exposing your puppy to as many new experiences as you can is much better than dealing with it after the fact. Behavioral problems, especially aggression, are one of the top reasons dogs are turned in to shelters.
When should I socialize my puppy?
Puppies have a critical socialization period between 8 to 16 weeks of age. This is the ideal time to bring a puppy into its new home. During this time they are maturing very quickly and learning about their new home and surroundings. While this is a very important time to socialize your puppy during this time do not stop altogether at 16 weeks of age. Proper socialization should continue the entire life of the dog.
How do I socialize My Puppy?
Puppies should be introduced to as many new people, animals and environments as possible during this time. These introductions should always be safe and positive experiences for the pup. A bad experience, such as another dog growling or attacking them, can also be extremely harmful for their progress so be sure to socialize them with other dogs who are well-socialized themselves.
Enrolling your dog in a puppy class with a reputable, positive reinforcement trainer during this time is one of the best ways to work on socialization. The pup will get experience in a new environment with new dogs and people. You will also learn many valuable lessons to help you throughout the puppy's life.
Taking the puppy to the store, out for walks, for car rides or to visit friends and family is another great way to socialize them. Avoid places with lots of dogs, like dog parks until the pup has had all of their needed vaccinations.
What if I have an adult dog that wasn't properly socialized?
If you adopted an older dog or missed this critical socialization period don't beat yourself up too bad. While you can't get this time back and your dog may never be fully adjusted to new experiences and environments you can always start a socialization routine right now. It will be much harder for the dog especially if they are truly fearful or have already begun to show signs of aggression but the sooner you start the better. If your dog is extremely fearful or aggressive you should consult a qualified trainer in your area.
You begin socializing an adult dog much like a puppy. Take them as many places as you can and introduce them to as many new people and dogs as possible. Always make sure these are positive experiences and be careful not to overdo it. Adult dogs, depending on the age, may not be as receptive to all of these new experiences as a puppy.
- Take your puppy for walks every day in your neighborhood. Gradually progress to walking in other neighborhoods or parks.
- Take your puppy for a short car ride several times a week. As they become accustomed to this gradually increase the length of the trips.
- Take your puppy to stores like Pet Smart or Petco or other pet-friendly locations in your area.
- Invite friends and family over to visit. This will not only give your dog time for socialization but if you have understanding guests you can also work on door-training.
- Take your puppy with you when you go to visit friends or family. Of course make sure this is okay with them ahead of time.
- Take your puppy to a dog park or join a play group when they are old enough.
- Never stop socializing them! Many dogs do fine as puppies and then if socialization is not kept up they will regress.
It may be hard at first, but by properly socializing your puppy at a young age you will be blessed with years of fun with your well-behaved companion. Good luck with your new task of socializing your puppy.