Socialization means learning to be part of society—a society that includes many different types of people, environments, buildings, sights, noises, smells, animals and other dogs. The first fourteen weeks of a puppy’s life is a critical period of socialization. The more novel experiences your puppy has which result in a positive, pleasant outcome, the more prepared your puppy will be for his or her future life.
While it’s impossible to expose a young puppy to everything he will ever encounter in life, the more happy experiences he has, the more likely the puppy will be able to generalize from his prior experiences and find something reassuringly familiar in a new situation.
Use your best judgment, the goal is not to frighten or overwhelm your puppy. If your puppy becomes uncomfortable, don’t make a big deal of it, nor try to soothe your puppy as he might mistake the attention as praise for his fearful reaction. Instead walk him away from what is overwhelming him, go to a quiet area, and sit with him until he is calm. Once he is calm, you can gradually introduce him to these experiences so he has time to adapt to the novelty of the situation.
- DO help your puppy to feel comfortable with new things. Remember that everything is new and strange to your puppy. It’s your responsibility to introduce new things to your puppy in a positive way.
- DO be generous with rewards—cheese, hot dogs—little tasty bits of goodness that accompanies all new and potentially scary experiences.
- DO carry your puppy into dog-friendly stores (this doesn’t just mean pet stores – you’d be surprised at how many banks and non-dog retail stores are willing to help a responsible owner with socialization).
- DO take treats to a busy mall and hang out with your pup on a mat at the entrance. Strangers will flock to you because they want to pet your puppy and they’ll willingly feed him treats.
- DO watch new people from a distance – overly-exuberant puppies can learn that they don’t get to greet everyone just because they want to (impulse control – important life skill), and shy puppies can learn that the appearance of strangers does not mean a scary encounter.
- DO carry your puppy into the vet for non-vaccination visits (to avoid any negative experiences with rude dogs).
- DO expose your puppy to other dogs… from your car: sit in the parking lot of the dog park and let your puppy watch the dogs come and go.
- DO keep these exposure sessions short so that you do not overwhelm your puppy.
- DON’T ever force your puppy to approach, enter, or interact with anything that they aren’t willingly approaching, entering, or interacting with. EVER. Shy puppies sometimes need multiple approaches to work up the courage to interact. Don’t force it.
- DON’T let well-meaning strangers overwhelm your puppy with enthusiastic greetings, invasive handling, or their own, special form of “training” that they claim to have gleaned from dog ownership.
- DON’T let your puppy meet random, strange dogs you encounter in public unless you are prepared to embark on a significant behavior modification program. Relying on a complete stranger to be honest and objective about their dog’s behavior is gambling with your puppy’s safety.
- DON’T let your friendly puppy get away with rudeness in the name of socialization. Part of socialization is learning how to interact with the world. For confident, friendly puppies, that also means learning good manners around strangers and strange dogs. Allowing an outgoing puppy to treat the world like his mosh pit when he is little is going to make life super fun when he’s bigger and older.
Most importantly, have fun and be considerate to your puppy.