Many of us who have dogs have heard of the term “socialization”. This term is thrown around often in the dog world, and I don’t see it getting the type of explanation it deserves, particularly when it comes to young puppies. Knowing how to socialize your dog properly can save you a major headache later on in your dog’s life.
What is Socialization?
Socialization is the process of positively exposing your dog to the beings in the world around it. This includes humans, children, elderly, people with different skin colours, runners on the street, and dogs of all ages, sizes, and temperaments. Socialization is showing your puppy that all of these things are non-threatening, and they should be enjoyed instead of feared.
Between the ages of 3 and 12-14 weeks are what is called the socialization period. At this time, your puppy will develop his opinions about EVERYTHING, from people to other dogs. After this period ends, your puppy will start to develop fear and anxiety, so it is very important that you take this time to introduce your dog to everything that he will encounter in his life with you. If you fail to do this, your dog will possibly have behaviour problems later in life, such as anxiety or fear based aggression. If you miss that window, there’s no going back to it.
The controversial issue here is that puppies don’t receive their final vaccinations until approximately 16 weeks of age. Before he gets those vaccinations, he will be susceptible to picking up diseases, such as parvovirus. Many veterinarians will suggest that your puppy stay indoors, away from contact of other humans or dogs, prior to 16 weeks for his medical safety. From a medical perspective this is completely valid, but from a training perspective this is a big mistake. If your puppy isn’t exposed to the outside world, he won’t be able to live a full life. After the 16 week mark, your puppy has passed the socialization period, and instead of introducing your puppy to new things, you will be doing crowd control for issues that are already arising. Some of these issues may not show themselves until your puppy is in its adolescence, at 5, 6 or 7 months. Of course it is important to be safe when socializing your puppy so that he doesn’t contract any diseases, but you are doing a great disservice to your dog if you refrain from socializing him while he’s young.
Socialization from a young age is especially important when dealing with a larger breed dog because these dogs are large enough to do serious damage to a human or dog. It is badly socialized puppies that give big dogs a bad rep. Many people believe that small dogs require less socialization. This is false. Small and tiny dogs are genetically prone to anxiety disorders, so they need that early socialization in order to feel safe and comfortable in the world. The world is a big place for a small dog, and it’s important to show them that there’s nothing to fear.
How To You Socialize Your Dog-The Do’s
In order to socialize your puppy you need to introduce him to everyone and everything, and make it very fun. As your puppy is engaged in these new experiences, reward him with praise and treats. He will soon learn that other dogs and people are lots of fun!
Be sure to control all of the encounters, to avoid anything going “wrong” which can scar your puppies opinion for life. In the first year of life, one small negative encounter can prompt a lifelong fear for your dog, so it’s very important that you monitor your dog’s engagements. If your friends or neighbours have a dog that you know is good with puppies, invite it over for a playdate. Start off introducing your puppy to one dog at a time. Don’t throw your puppy into a dog park with 20 other dogs right off the bat, this is a recipe for disaster. Ease into the introductions slowly.
Puppy socialization classes, offered at many dog training facilities, are also a great option, because your puppy will be exposed to other dog’s his own age, in a controlled environment, with professionals monitoring the play. This is a great time to teach your puppy what is appropriate when it comes to playtime with other dogs. Visit the facility and sit in on a puppy class before deciding on any one organization. Make sure that the puppies all have space, are introduced to the other puppies slowly and appropriately, and that the organization uses positive methods in training. Classes should not be your dog’s ONLY time to socialize, you should be working on this daily!
Although your puppy’s first 14 weeks are critical for socialization, the meet-and-greets don’t stop there. There is still a significant amount of learning that will happen after those 14 weeks, so continue to introduce your dog to new situations and experiences throughout it’s life to ensure that it continues to get the exposure that it needs to be a well behaved dog.
How To Socialize Your Dog-The Don’ts
DO NOT “flood” or overwhelm your puppy with too much, too fast. When introducing your dog to a new person or experience, especially something that could potentially be stressful, pay close attention to your dog’s body language. If he is showing signs of anxiety, remove him from the situation before the fear escalates in order to avoid a negative experience. Don’t push him farther than he’s able to go.
DO NOT coddle or pick up your puppy at the slightest sign of stress. I see this a lot with tiny dog owners. They mean well, but are so afraid for their dog that they actually create a fearful dog by never allowing it to deal with situations on its own. If you see that your dog is getting anxious, or a potentially negative experience is about to occur, then pick up your puppy and remove him from the situation. Otherwise, let him stand on his own two feet so that he may be better prepared to deal with social experiences in the future.
DO NOT expose your puppy to environments or dogs that may carry diseases. This is especially important before the puppy has had all of it’s shots (typically 16 weeks of age). While it’s important for you to socialize your puppy at a young age, you should never be putting it into a situation where it may contract a disease. Prior to the final round of shots, keep the dog introductions restricted to dogs that you know. Also, avoid going to the dog park, or a place that is frequented by dogs.
Knowing how to socialize your dog properly early in life can lead to a long, and happy life with your pet (which is what we all strive for!). Along with health, socialization is one of the most important things for a dog owner to take into consideration. Help your dog to become a social butterfly by setting them up with positive social encounters.