In addition to making dogs friendlier, teaching them good social skills and imparting manners, early socialization serves the all-important purpose of teaching puppies to be more confident. This, in turn, leads to happier, better-rounded dogs that can easily blend into a variety of social situations.
What is Socialization?
Socialization is a broad term, but generally it describes the process by which puppies learn to accept and interact with various social situations. These may include encounters with people, traffic, buildings, unfamiliar sights, noises and smells, and, of course, other dogs.
When Can I Begin Socialization?
For puppies, early socialization is key to a lifetime of great behavior. Most veterinarians recommend beginning a socialization program at four weeks of age and continuing until twelve weeks, as this is the time at which puppies are most open to new experiences.
Waiting longer than twelve weeks from birth may result in a dog that is more suspicious of new experiences or that does not adapt easily to new environments. It is worth noting, however, that it is also important to wait for some socializing experiences until the dog has been adequately vaccinated in order to avoid early exposure to possible diseases.
How Do I Socialize My Dog?
Once you have brought your puppy home, there are many ways to socialize him, and the process can be extensive. Once the puppy has been vaccinated, you can begin hosting puppy playdates, during which a friend and their dog or puppy comes to play at your home. These playdates are effective as an early socialization tactic, because they allow the puppy to remain in a safe environment while also being exposed to new dogs and people. Also, mature adult dogs are very good at helping pups to learn proper doggy manners!
In addition to playdates, you can begin taking him or her on short walks around the neighborhood, as well as on car rides or visits to the park.
Another wonderful way to socialize young puppies is to enroll them in obedience classes. In addition to providing a solid foundation in obedience and discipline, these classes also offer a controlled, clean, and safe environment within which the puppy can get used to a myriad of other animals, smells, sights and sounds.
How Do I Know the Socialization Program is Working?
After each socialization encounter, a puppy should be more confident and better adjusted. If you notice that your puppy is acting scared or withdrawn after a socialization experience, consider readjusting your approach and moving slightly slower. While it is important to expose the puppy to many things, it is equally important to avoid overwhelming him or her, as this may result in a dog that is withdrawn and fearful later in life. Remember to provide your puppy with a lot of praise, rewarding his or her good behavior with affection and treats.
One of the first steps to help your new puppy grow into a happy, healthy, well-adjusted adult is early socialization. This allows the puppy to become comfortable with unfamiliar environments, bond more closely with you and the rest of your household, and build confidence that will translate into a more even temperament later in life.
Content reviewed by a veterinarian.