Newt, 12 weeks old, figuring out slippery hardwood floors, wearing clothes (gear), and being on a leash!
This blog is dedicated to socializing your new puppy! If you just rescued an adult dog, there is a lot of great information both here and in the next blog talking about adult socialization. American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior’s (AVSAB) position on puppy socialization states that puppies should be “exposed to as many new people, animals, stimuli and environments as can be achieved safely and without causing overstimulation manifested as excessive fear, withdrawal or avoidance behavior” during their vital socialization period.
Socialization is VITAL for your puppy to become a well-rounded individual who doesn’t fear the world and are less prone to develop behavioral issues later in life. The window for socialization when puppies are most responsive is about 3 weeks to 14 weeks of age. It is important to continue positive socialization throughout their entire lives, but this age is the key to give your puppy a solid foundation. Responsible breeders should start for you by handling the puppies and safely exposing them to different sights and smells. Once your puppy comes home with you (recommended at 8 weeks old), you want to continue safely exposing them to as many other dogs and animals, people, weird surfaces, noises, and so on in a very positive manner. Check out this free, downloadable socialization checklist from the blog Some Thoughts About Dogs: Puppy Socialisation Checklist | Some Thoughts About Dogs
Puppies will explore the world at their own pace, and you want to reward interactions with new stimuli. Don’t try to push them to do something like greet a dog or walk over a surface they’re not sure of since that may create a negative association rather than a positive one. Always reward heavily when they try something new!
Socialization isn’t just about getting to greet every human, dog, animal, or interesting new object your puppy encounters. We want our puppies to be neutral to all these things. Set up socialization sessions where your puppy gets to see all of these things, and reward for both looking at the people, animals, and objects as well as checking in with you! Your puppy should only be allowed to greet trusted individuals who will respect your requests when it comes to greeting properly. A couple of good requests include approaching calmly, waiting for you to release your puppy, not greeting if your puppy chooses not to, and walking away if your puppy gets too excited. Make sure to advocate both for your puppy and for yourself. There is nothing wrong with saying “no, thank you” when someone asks to say hi. In fact, it is a vital skill to have!
Enrolling in a group class is a great way to expose your puppy to new dogs around their own age as well as new humans. Reputable puppy classes are held in spaces that have been thoroughly cleaned to maintain you and your puppy’s safety. Make sure you are also socializing your puppy with trusted older dogs so that they learn how to respond to body language from a neutral adult dog (the best way to learn!). Playgrounds are also a great place to help expose your pup to new surfaces, confidence building objects, and of course new people and children! Make sure you set clear boundaries both for your puppy and the children before allowing them to greet. I highly recommend waiting for engagement with you, like eye contact, before sending them to greet or play to instill impulse control and focus for future interactions. Always make sure you bring a blanket to put down or at least wipe their paws down afterwards to make sure you don’t bring anything home with you that might get them sick.
You may be concerned that your puppy is not fully vaccinated and how that plays into socialization. It’s a good concern and you should be cautious. There are a variety of different statements regarding vaccinations and safe socialization. I personally follow the AVSAB’s guidelines, while also working closely with my vet. Vets are more aware of what is going on in your area and what would be the wisest choice for you and your puppy.
The socialization window is also great to build a foundation on body handling. Play with your puppy’s feet, tail, ears, and mouth. Always make sure that the puppy is in a calm state of mind (after playtime or a training session). Do not reprimand or punish them if they pull away. You want to reward them when they remain calm while you are handling them. Another aspect of this is teaching your puppy to be comfortable wearing a collar, harness, and walking on a leash.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to socialization. For more information or if you have any questions about this topic you can email me at email@example.com.
Click here to read my next blog on adult socialization.