When you get a puppy, you will hear it over and over again: Socialization is crucial. Everyone talks about the importance of socializing a puppy but many are stuck wondering how this is supposed to be done? How to socialize a puppy?
What is puppy socialization, and can you start socializing before the dog is fully vaccinated? In this article, we are going to have a look at why socialization is so important, and what it means to socialize a puppy. A common belief is that socialization means playing with other puppies and dogs, and while also included – there is so much more to it.
Let’s get started.
- 1 1. What Is Puppy Socialization?
- 2 2. Best Age to Socialize a Puppy
- 3 3. Vaccinations & Safety Precautions
- 4 4. My Puppy Seems Scared – Now What?
- 5 How to Socialize a Puppy
- 6 6. Consequences of Poor Socialization
- 7 Conclusion
1. What Is Puppy Socialization?
Socializing a puppy is not just about letting the puppy socialize with other dogs but helping the puppy learn how to behave in society. A young dog needs to be taught appropriate behavior around other dogs, humans, noise, vehicles, buildings, objects, and smells.
As a puppy owner, your job is to make sure you expose your young fur friend to as much as possible, while still prioritizing the puppy’s safety. You can start working on familiarizing your dog with the outside world already at home, by keeping DogTV on in the background, but it won’t be enough.
Your puppy needs to experience the world with you by its side – its smells, sounds, and sights, and learn how to be a good citizen. Proper puppy socializing is not about exposing the puppy to situations it isn’t prepared to handle, as puppies can easily become overwhelmed.
At such a sensitive age, it is crucial to take it slow so that your socialization attempt doesn’t backfire – traumatizing your dog.
2. Best Age to Socialize a Puppy
What is the best age to socialize a puppy or a young dog? Puppies are very receptive to everything that is new when they are between three and 12 weeks old, which is why responsible dog breeders start the socialization process already before the dog moves to a new home.
As a puppy parent, you don’t have much control over what happens before you pick your puppy up, so what you want to focus on is the time period between 8 weeks old and 4 months old.
This is time you will never get back, and while a dog should be continuously socialized throughout its life – you do need to actively socialize your puppy for those first few months, to help your fur friend grow up to become a happy, stable, and social dog.
3. Vaccinations & Safety Precautions
It can seem a little contradicting – the importance of puppy socialization along with the recommendation to keep puppies from walking and playing with unknown dogs until vaccinated, but there are many ways you can socialize your young dog without the potential risks.
Your puppy can still meet other dogs, as long as you know the dogs in question are up-to-date on their shots. Because of this, you should avoid the dog park and areas where unknown dogs hang out – dogs you can’t possibly know if they are vaccinated or not – and perhaps set up a controlled meeting with a friend and their dog instead.
A suitable location would be in your own yard where you know no other dogs have been. For the socialization activities and tips mentioned in this article that require you to be out and about – carry your puppy, or find other ways to keep your little fur pup off the ground.
Backpacks and suitable carriers are great for when you want to take your puppy on a walk without having to put the puppy on the ground, and just to be carried around to observe the world can do wonders for socialization.
4. My Puppy Seems Scared – Now What?
If your puppy seems uncomfortable or scared – see if you can take a step back. An example would be if you go to a pet store with your puppy. Start by standing in the parking lot one day, then the next day try to sit right outside the door, and then – once the puppy is ready – you take your pooch inside.
Too much, too soon can cause trauma, and we recommend looking for signs of fear or discomfort. It is normal for a dog to be wary of new things, but we want to try and keep the fear and discomfort to a minimum.
One thing to keep in mind, though: If your puppy seems scared, it means you really do need to work on socialization in that area. Some dog owners give up in an attempt to keep their puppy from feeling unsettled when what you should do is to just slow down the pace, start over, and work on it until the puppy becomes comfortable.
How to Socialize a Puppy
5. Places to Socialize a Puppy
As a new puppy owner, it is common to feel a little confused when it comes to where to socialize your dog. You have probably been told not to take your puppy for walks or to the dog park until fully vaccinated, so, what can you do and where can you go? The solution here is to think outside the box.
The puppy doesn’t need to touch the ground to benefit from an experience! You can carry your puppy in your arms, put your puppy on your lap, use a pet stroller, or dog carrier, or sit and watch from the car. The puppy diseases you are trying to protect your furry friend from are not airborne.
Use Google to try and find a puppy socialization class in your area. Yes, it does contradict the idea that puppies should not meet other dogs until fully vaccinated, but these types of puppy classes offer a chance for your puppy to meet other puppies that probably haven’t been out and about yet, and that should – theoretically – be disease-free.
Usually, the puppy will have to have had its first round of shots before participating in a class, making puppy socialization classes about as safe as they can be for a young dog. It is up to you if it is something you feel comfortable with, but there are multiple benefits to having your puppy socialize with other puppies in a controlled environment.
A pet store is a great place to go if you want your puppy to see other dogs, without interacting with them. In this scenario, you will have to carry your puppy or put it in a cart if it still hasn’t had all its shots, as a pet store tends to have dogs walking in and out all day, with no way to know if those dogs were vaccinated.
If your puppy seems overwhelmed by going into the pet store, you can start by sitting outside at a safe distance, and moving closer and closer as your puppy becomes more confident. Socialization isn’t done in a day, and sometimes it is best to take it slow.
Outside a Store
While on the subject – sitting outside any store is great for puppy socialization! Find a comfortable bench or stand close to the main entrance (carrying the puppy or with the puppy in a cart, stroller, etc, etc), and spend a few minutes watching people come and go.
Socializing in this way can be exhausting for a young dog, which is why it is important to limit the time spent sitting outside. Puppies get restless very fast, and once that happens – the socialization session is logically over. A few minutes per day will do the trick, and it is better to repeat the socialization activity multiple times rather than to overdo it the first time.
We don’t recommend going into a playground, as it can become a little overwhelming for a puppy, and possibly uncomfortable for parents that don’t want their children to run up to strangers with dogs. Instead, sit at a good distance and just watch the kids run around.
Little kids are loud, make sudden movements, and run fast, which is something a puppy should learn to handle in an acceptable way. If a child shows up and does want to pet the dog, take your responsibility as a dog owner and instruct the child how you want him or her to pet the puppy (gently and slowly), as you want to keep the child safe and also avoid traumatizing your puppy.
A park bench is a great place to observe people out running, skateboarders, families, other dogs, and people wearing hats, face masks, and umbrellas. You will always see something different when you are out there, making it a great way to prepare your puppy for future walks in the park.
Remember, as tempting as it is to let your puppy sniff around in the grass – wait until the puppy is fully vaccinated. You can bring a thick picnic blanket and let the puppy play on there instead, or keep it on your lap.
6. Consequences of Poor Socialization
The first three months of a puppy’s life are incredibly important, and a lack of socialization can lead to behavioral issues like fear, aggression, and unnecessary stress. Unfortunately, you can never get these first few months back, and while you may be able to work with an unsocialized adult dog to reduce or eliminate issues – it most likely won’t be easy.
It is not a coincidence that puppy mill dogs often have behavioral issues, as puppy mills are anything but ideal when it comes to early socialization. Responsible breeders tend to start socializing their puppies long before they move to their forever homes, while most puppy mills separate puppies too early from their mothers, and keep them in enclosures that are anything but stimulating.
You have probably watched those videos that pop up on social media from time to time – terrified rescue dogs that are so afraid of the outside world that they can’t even move. Many of these dogs were abused, but some simply lack socialization.
Picture having a human child locked inside your home for the first 20 years of his or her life. Would this child grow up to be a confident and well-adjusted adult once allowed out in society? Probably not, and it is likely that this hypothetical person would experience fear and insecurities when exposed to what the rest of us consider everyday things.
While an extreme example, this is often what happens if a puppy isn’t socialized in the crucial first three months of its life. Nobody likes seeing their dog scared, and the best way to reduce the likeliness of fear is to work on socialization continuously throughout the dog’s life.
It is essential to understand that almost all dogs will experience stress at some point in their lives. Moving to a new house is usually stressful for a dog, or seeing human family members pack for a family vacation.
However, you can reduce the amount of stress a dog experiences in its lifetime, by teaching your little fur friends that the unknown is not a threat. How to do this? By exposing your puppy to new things (also known as socializing the puppy).
A problematic consequence of poor socialization is aggression, which often (but not always) springs from insecurity. Behavioral issues are one of the main reasons dogs are surrendered to shelters or put down. This means that by properly socializing your puppy – you might end up saving its life.
Fear can cause two main reactions – fight or flight, and both can lead to dangerous situations and even death for the animal, in one way or the other. By showing puppies that objects, other animals, sounds, and people mean no harm to them, you contribute to a puppy that will hopefully grow up to deal with the unknown in a more acceptable way.
4. Difficulty to Adapt
It is a myth that you can’t teach an old dog to sit, but the expression comes from somewhere! A dog that has never been taught a single trick in its life will struggle more to learn when they are older, compared to a dog that already understands the concept of learning tricks, and the same applies to socialization.
Allowing your puppy to experience different environments, sounds, smells, sights, and people will help make your puppy more adaptable, which could be beneficial when it comes to its overall ability to adapt to change. You can’t expose your puppy to everything, but new things are less likely to present an issue if the puppy is overall well-socialized.
5. Inability to Read Other Dogs
If you only have your puppy and no other dogs in the household, it is important to make sure your dog becomes familiar with the behavior of other dogs. Playing and interacting with other puppies and adult dogs are crucial elements in the puppy socialization process, as it helps them learn how to properly interpret the behavior of other canines.
A puppy that hasn’t been around other dogs may grow up to be a dog that misunderstands a play invite and takes it for an invitation to a fight, or that doesn’t pick up on another dog’s discomfort or warning signals. That said, just because you socialize puppies and teach them to play with other dogs, it doesn’t automatically mean there will never be issues, but it gives them a strong foundation to build on.
Don’t Miss my Ultimate Puppy Socialization Checklist!
Socializing is also a great opportunity to bond with your puppy and to build trust, and we encourage looking at the concept of socialization as something fun and exciting, rather than a chore. Go hang out outside a department store, just to watch people go by, or take a ride in the car around town.
Keep in mind that puppies should preferably not walk around in public places until they are fully vaccinated, due to the risk of Parvovirus and Canine Distemper, but you can carry your puppy as well as work on socialization in the comfort of your home (stairs, kitchen appliances, etc, etc).
A well-socialized puppy is more likely to grow up to become a functional, secure, and friendly adult dog.
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