The Importance of Socializing Your Puppy

What is socialization?

Socialization is introducing your puppy to, and establishing a positive relationship or response to all creatures and its environment.

Why is socialization important?

Socialization prevents a puppy from being fearful and, quite possibly, aggressive in new situations or environments. A properly socialized, confident, and happy puppy, when startled, should be able to recover quickly and respond in a positive fashion.

When do you start socializing your puppy?

Initial socialization should start to occur between birth to six weeks of age. During this period, puppies are stimulated by frequent handling. This helps them to be more social, handle stress better, and build confidence.

Primary socialization should begin at three weeks through fourteen weeks of age. This time is the most important time of social development in your puppy’s life, as lack of socialization may lead to the puppy regressing to an irreversibly fearful state.

How do you socialize your puppy?

Introduce your puppy to new situations, people, animals, and places. Take your puppy with you everywhere possible. However, when introducing your puppy to these new situations, there are a few things to remember:

  1. The first experience should be a positive and safe one. For example, if you take your puppy to the playground to meet children, the children should be respectful of your puppy. Do not allow children to jump, scream or tug at your puppy, as this may make your puppy fearful of children. The children should approach calmly and quietly, allowing the puppy to sniff their hands, and then pet the puppy with perhaps giving it a treat.
  2. Watch for signs of fear in the puppy. If you see your puppy with its tail between its legs, body hunched over, fur on its back raised, growling and/or barking, not wanting to approach some something or someone, constantly laying down or startled, immediately stop the introduction and go no further! Forcing an introduction at this point could create an irreversible fear of what the puppy does not want to approach as well as create trust issues between your puppy and you. Instead, allow the puppy to take a moment to process what is going on and approach it at its own pace.
  3. Do not reinforce a fearful response from your puppy. Meaning if your puppy is acting fearful, do not pick puppy up, hug, comfort or pet it. Act as though nothing is wrong and give your puppy a moment to process the situation and approach at its own pace. By trying to console and comfort a puppy when in its fearful, you are reinforcing to the puppy that acting fearfully gets a positive response from humans. Moreover, human interference does not allow the puppy to learn how to process and recuperate from being startled or fearful of a new situation.
  4. Do not correct a puppy for acting fearful, your puppy will associate what ever it was fearful of with a correction.
  5. Remember if puppies or dogs are startled, they can become unpredictable. They may try to bolt, or if startled, may try to snap at what has startled them. In order to mitigate this, keep your puppy on a leash whenever introducing it to something new or not in a safely confined area.
  6. Your attitude means a lot. If you act uneasy or uncomfortable, your puppy will respond in similar fashion, as it takes queues from you. Remain patient, calm, confident, and unaffected by the response of your puppy in these situations.
  7. Talk to your veterinarian about vaccinations and common puppy illnesses before socializing your puppy with other animals.

Remember when you are in public places keep your puppy leashed as it may save its life one day, and it is also the LAW. Do not limit your puppy to this list, be creative, and have fun! Here is a list of things to socialize your puppy to:

1. Introduce your puppy to as many people as you can, irregardless of age, sizes, ethnicity, disabilities, appearance or dress.

2. Introduce your puppy to people in motion such as walkers, bicyclists, skaters, joggers, persons using wheelchairs or canes.

3. Introduce your puppy to other healthy, vaccinated, friendly dogs and cats.

4. Introduce your puppy to different urban and woodland environments. Remember to have them leashed you do this.

5. Take your puppy to the veterinarian’s office, not only for its shots and check-ups, but to just visit. This helps build the association that good things can happen when you go to the veterinarians’ office.

6. Take your puppy to the pet shop with you.

7. Take your puppy on car rides. Do not leave a puppy in a vehicle with its windows rolled up for even a minute as it can quickly suffer from heat stroke and die. Also, do not leave the widows rolled down as your puppy can jump out of the car and become lost, injured, or even killed. If you can’t take your puppy with you when you get out of the car, leave it at home.

8. Take your puppy to a friend’s houses.

9. Take your puppy to outdoor sporting events.

10. Expose your puppy to anything which makes noise and/or moves in your house such as running vacuum cleaners, sweeping and mopping or a running dishwasher.

11. Expose your puppy to stairs, carpeted floors, wood or vinyl floors, grass, *pavement,* gravel paths and anything else you can find. *Please note: Check the temperature of any outdoor pavement before allowing your puppy to touch it, they can get pretty hot.

12. Allow your puppy supervised visits in all rooms of your home.

by Sharon Bradbury
Sharon Bradberry is the founder and primary trainer at Fredericksburg Canine Academy (703-953-5428).