We all want our dogs to be happy and unafraid – and to have the skills to cope with new situations and new people. Socialization is best done between the ages of three and twelve weeks. Confident puppies are curious about the world and eager to explore during this important period.
You can take advantage of that developmental phase by introducing your puppy to as many new experiences as possible. From screaming children to moving bicycles, wheelchairs to wheelbarrows, every new encounter lays the foundation for your dog to learn to accept new experiences throughout his life in a calm, unafraid manner. Here are six tips to give your puppy the experiences he needs to succeed comfortably in society:
Begin at Home. Learning begins at home and that includes puppy learning. First, expose your puppy to as many situations as you can in your home — the sound of the vacuum cleaner, the blender, the hair dryer and more, all in a matter-of-fact way. Invite friends over to your home along with, if appropriate, their friendly, vaccinated dogs. The more people your dog can meet during this critical socialization period, the better.
Enroll in Puppy Class. Supervised puppy classes can be a great way to socialize your dog. In this first very basic training class, he will be exposed to both other people and other puppies in new surroundings. Look for classes held indoors in an area that can be sanitized; the class should require that all puppies show proof of age-appropriate vaccinations.
Work Indoors. During your puppy’s best socialization period, he is not fully protected by immunizations and his mother’s immunities are beginning to wear off so it is important to keep him away from potentially germ-filled locations. Dog parks are out as are public areas where unvaccinated dogs may have traveled.
Include Your Puppy in Your Daily Routine. Your daily routine may seem, well, routine to you, but that drive-through trip to the bank or car wash is an all-new experience to your puppy. Bring your dog on as many outings as you can (always properly securing your puppy in the car). The simplest car ride exposes your dog to all kinds of traffic noises, motorcycles, trucks, and pedestrian sightings.
Set Your Puppy Up for Success. Make socialization a fun experience for your dog with plenty of positive, happy talk and special puppy treats. If you notice your puppy becoming stressed or uncomfortable, give him a timeout from the action. From a distance, sit and watch the fun with him, while talking and treating. When your dog seems relaxed and ready to go back in, you can then return to the situation, always leaving on a high note.
Make Socialization a Lifelong Process. Yes, after the puppy socialization window ends somewhere between twelve and eighteen weeks, dogs become more wary of new situations. However, that does not mean that your socialization work ends as your puppy grows or if you adopt an older puppy or dog. (Just as you might never be totally fluent in Spanish because you did not speak the language as a baby, you can still learn to speak Spanish. It might take you longer but you can still enjoy the experience and reap the rewards of being multilingual.) Your older puppy or adult dog might take longer to adjust to new social situations but you should continue exposing him to new experiences in a fun and positive way throughout his lifetime.
Socialization empowers your dog with the tools he needs to become not only a part of your family but also part of society. The experiences you give your puppy at a young age will make him both a happier and more confident dog, as well as a safer dog when you and your new best friend get out and explore the world together.
Content reviewed by a veterinarian.