When you hear the word “socialize” you likely think of helping your puppy learn to play with other dogs, but puppy socialization includes much more than that! Socialization is all about helping your pup navigate the world safely. This includes everything from meeting new dogs to encountering unfamiliar situations and handling them calmly. The idea that you are charged with teaching your pup everything he needs to know about the world may seem daunting, which is why we’ve created this handy guide for how to socialize a puppy. These tips are sure to help guide your pup’s social development.
Socializing your pup is critical for developing a well-rounded, even-tempered, patient companion. Just like people, dogs tend to fear what they don’t understand, so the more you can help your pup understand, the better! This will help him feel confident and give him the tools he needs to navigate unfamiliar situations. As a result, he’ll be tolerant and calm when encountering new people, sounds, smells, environments, and more. A well-socialized dog is less likely to react aggressively to scary situations or other dogs. As you work to help your pup navigate the world you will develop a deeper a bond. Your pup will see you as his point of reference and soon he’ll know that he’s able to endure any situation as long as you’re by his side.
A puppy’s most crucial stage of social development occurs between 7 to 20 weeks of age. During this period pups are learning all kinds of lessons that will shape the way they see the world. They’re at their most impressionable and malleable during this time. Needless to say, socialization should start as early as possible. The more situations you can expose your puppy to during this age, the better. But, it’s important to take care to ensure that his socialization experiences are highly positive. Don’t rush him, but do push him out of his comfort zone.
Your goal with socializing your puppy should be to introduce him to a wide variety of new environments and situations while providing him with plenty of support and encouragement.
With this in mind, consider your lifestyle and how you want your pup to fit into it. Do you spend a lot of time hiking, walking through urban neighborhoods, going on road trips? Do you host parties, or have small children? Plan to slowly familiarize your puppy with each of those scenarios. You should also expose him to people of all different ages, dogs of all different sizes and energy levels, as well as other types of household pets and animals.
If you use a comb or brush to groom your dog, introduce this to him too. Let him sniff it first, then slowly begin to brush his fur. Offer plenty of praise and treats as you go so that he understands the activity can be fun and rewarding!
These activities help your pup become comfortable being handled, and will cull any impulse he has to react negatively when someone touches him. As a result, he will be much more cooperative when he goes to the vet, the groomer, meets small children who want to grab his tail, and more.
Another good exercise is to practice removing your pup’s favorite toy while he’s playing with it. Some puppies are stubborn and won’t like it when you take something they’re playing with (after all, who would?). While this behavior isn’t unexpected, it’s important that your pup learns that it’s not acceptable to growl or show his teeth when you do this. Practice taking his toy, and if he’s cooperative reward him with treats and pats then give it back. If your pup growls or shows other signs of aggression as you try to remove the toy, say “no” firmly and wait for him to relax. Once he does, reward him with a treat and return his toy.
Start with short walks on a quiet street, and offer plenty of praise and rewards as your pup adjusts to his surroundings. Gradually you’ll want to extend the length of the walks and introduce him to new environments. Once your pup is comfortable on a quiet street, try one with a little more action.
Remember, things like bicycles and traffic sounds are all new to your pup, as are different ground surfaces. You don’t want your pup to be a rockstar on grass but deathly afraid of sand, so try to expose him to as many different environments as possible. Offer praise and treats any time he encounters something he’s unsure of. Your pup sees you as his support system, so make sure he feels supported and protected at your side.
In order to help your pup feel comfortable in the car, start taking him for drives. At the end of the drive reward him with a fun walk, playtime, and plenty of treats. This will help him realize that car rides have positive outcomes and that going for a drive is exciting, not scary!
The best way to set your pup up for success is to start introducing him to other dogs in controlled environments. If you have a friend or family member with a friendly dog, invite them to join you and your pup on a walk. This way the dogs can get to know one another in a low-pressure environment.
If the walk goes well, let the dogs play together off-leash in your backyard. Keep a close eye on them to ensure neither one feels overwhelmed (some dogs aren’t prepared to contend with rambunctious puppies). Make sure to offer plenty of encouragement, praise and even treats throughout their playdate.
If you instead take him to visit the veterinarian on a social call where he’s met with praise, pats, and yummy treats, he’s going to build positive associations with the animal hospital. Down the road, this association will make taking him for checkups SO much easier and less stressful for both of you.
Signs that your pup is truly scared include:
His body is tense and rigid
His tail is between his legs and his ears are pinned back
He’s constantly licking his lips
You can see the whites of his eyes
If your pup is showing any of these signs he’s too scared to continue with the activity. It’s best to take him home where he’s comfortable and let him relax. You can always try the activity again later, and you should!