Teaching a puppy or a dog proper socialization skills is vital to the safety of both your dog and other dogs and people with whom he comes into contact. A properly socialized dog is a happy dog, and a joy to be around for both humans and animals. A poorly socialized dog, or one with no socialization at all, is a danger to other animals, other people and even his own family.
Socialization is best done when the puppy is as young as possible The socialization lessons a young puppy learns are difficult to undo, and it is important to remember that the socialization skills the puppy learns will affect his behavior for the rest of his life.
A dog that is properly socialized will be neither frightened of nor aggressive towards either animals or humans. A properly socialized dog will take each new experience and stimulus in stride, and not become fearful or aggressive. Dogs that are not properly socialized often bite because of fear, and such a dog can become a hazard and a liability to the family who owns it. Improperly socialized dogs are also unable to adapt to new situations. A routine matter like a trip to the vets or to a friends house can quickly stress the dog out and lead to all sorts of problems.
Socialization is best done when the puppy is very young, perhaps around 12 weeks of age. Even after 12 weeks, however, it is important that the puppy continues its socialization in order to refine the all important social skills. It is possible to socialize an older puppy, but it is very difficult to achieve after the all important 12 week period has passed.
There are so definite do’s and don’t when it comes to properly socializing any puppy. Let’s start with what to do. Later in this article we will explore what to avoid.
- Make each of the socialization events as pleasant and non-threatening for the puppy as possible. If a puppy’s first experience with any new experience is an unpleasant one, it will be very difficult to undo that in the puppy’s mind. In some cases, an early trauma can morph into a phobia that can last for a lifetime. It is better to take things slow and avoid having the puppy become frightened or injured.
- Try inviting your friends over to meet the new puppy. It is important to included as many different people as possible in the puppy’s circle of acquaintances, including men, women, children, adults, as well as people of many diverse ethnic backgrounds and ages.
- Also invite friendly and healthy dogs and puppies over to meet your puppy. It is important for the puppy to meet a wide variety of other animals, including cats, hamsters, rabbits and other animals he is likely to meet. It is of course important to make sure that all animals the puppy comes into contact with have received all necessary vaccinations.
- Take the puppy to many different places, including shopping centers, pet stores, parks, school playgrounds and on walks around the neighborhood. Try to expose the puppy to places where they will be crowds of people and lots of diverse activity going on.
- Take the puppy for frequent short rides in the car. During these rides, be sure to stop the car once in a while and let the puppy look out the window at the world outside.
- Introduce your puppy to a variety of items that may be unfamiliar. The puppy should be exposed to common items like bags, boxes, vacuum cleaners, umbrellas, hats, etc. that may be frightening to him. Allow and encourage the puppy to explore these items and see that he has nothing to fear from them.
- Get the puppy used to a variety of objects by rearranging familiar ones. Simply placing a chair upside down, or placing a table on its side, creates an object that your puppy will perceive as totally new.
- Get the puppy used to common procedures like being brushed, bathed, having the nails clipped, teeth cleaned, ears cleaned, etc. Your groomer and your veterinarian with thank you for this.
- Introduce the puppy to common things around the house, such as stairs. Also introduce the puppy to the collar and leash, so he will be comfortable with these items.
There are of course some things to avoid when socializing a puppy. These socialization don’ts include:
- Do not place the puppy on the ground when strange animals are present. An attack, or even a surprise inspection, by an unknown animal could traumatize the puppy and hurt his socialization.
- Do not inadvertently reward fear based behavior. When the puppy shows fear, it is normal to try to sooth it, but this could reinforce the fear based behavior and make it worse. Since biting is often a fear based behavior, reinforcing fear can create problems with biting.
- Do not force or rush the socialization process. It is important to allow the puppy to socialize at his own pace.
- Do not try to do too much too soon. Young puppies have short attention spans, and continuing lessons after that attention span has passed will be a waste of your time and your puppy’s.
- Do not wait too long to begin. There is a short window in which to begin the socialization process. A young puppy is a blank slate, and it is important to fill that slate with positive socialization skills as early as possible.