Socialization is a crucial part of raising a puppy to instill confidence and eliminate irrational fears. By desensitizing your puppy to everyday situations and stimuli, your dog will learn to be well-adjusted and friendly with other people and dogs. Puppy socialization helps to prepare them for typical real-life situations both in and outside of the home, and it helps to make their world feel like a safer place. Without proper socialization, dogs can become fearful or aggressive in response to even the most normal of activities, resulting in anxiety and hiding, or growling, barking and lunging.
As early as a few weeks of age, puppies will begin to explore their surroundings. The breeder, foster home, or rescue will begin the socialization process by handling the puppies and allowing them to explore. Between 7 weeks and 4 months of age is the prime window for puppy socialization, in other words as soon as your puppy comes home with you. The older a dog gets, the more their “worldviews” solidify, so it’s important to start early. However, don’t be discouraged if you adopt a slightly older puppy because they are still very open to learning and developing their confidence.
Your goal during socialization is to make every experience positive. Equip yourself with yummy treats and a positive attitude. Start with experiences inside the home so as not to overwhelm your puppy with a wide variety of stimulants all at once. Allow your puppy to explore your home and a variety of sounds, smells, and textures. Break out all those fun dog toys you purchased so your puppy has the chance to experience a variety of materials. Now is also a good time to expose your puppy to large, noisy appliances that might be frightening to pets such as the vacuum cleaner.
Family and food
Everyone in the household should spend time with the pup so he can get used to his new family. Your puppy should be handled regularly, including touching/playing with his ears, tail, paws and toes. This type of physical touch will help prepare him for nail trimmings, trips to the groomer, and vet visits.
Next, you’ll work on developing trust with your puppy when it comes to food. While your puppy eats, move the food bowl around on the floor, reach into it to touch the food, and take it away and then put it back down. Other family members should also interact with the puppy’s food bowl. This helps to prevent your puppy from becoming protective or aggressive about his food.
Enter the stranger
Introduce your puppy to people of all sizes, ages, and varieties to help him understand the world he lives in and prevent irrational fears in the future. This is a great time to invite friends and family to meet your puppy, including children who will be gentle with a young pup. Expose your puppy to people wearing all sorts of clothing, including hats, sunglasses, and hoods. If you live in an apartment, introduce him to the leasing and maintenance staff. Pup hack: If your dog is skittish, have each new stranger give him a treat.
Now that your puppy is comfortable with the nuances of home life and has met his share of new people, it’s time to venture out of the home. Take your puppy to public places and on walks through the city where there will likely be more people and activity. This exposes them to more diversity and helps to curb irrational fears of things like the noisy garbage truck, skateboarders and bicyclists. Go for practice visits to your puppy’s vet office outside of any appointments so he can get used to the people and environment.
Meeting other dogs
Your puppy should be introduced to other dogs during the socialization period. Start with puppies and trusted dogs (and cats if you have a cat in the household) that are known to do well with puppies to prevent any negative experiences. In her lifetime, your pup may have unpleasant encounters with other dogs, but now is not the time to practice for those. During socialization, all interactions should (hopefully) be positive. Some pet stores offer play sessions exclusively for puppies, and puppy-specific classes are a great opportunity for socialization with other pets and strangers, as well as learning basic training.
A little alone time
As adorable as your new puppy is, it’s important that he regularly gets some time to himself. If your puppy becomes accustomed to having a human’s presence at all times, it can be traumatizing to them when you need to leave. Dogs with separation anxiety are very stressed upon being left alone, resulting in crying, barking, or destructive behavior like digging at the floor and scratching at the door. Desensitize your puppy to being alone by occasionally stepping out of the house for short periods of time, and gradually work up to longer absences. Be sure to keep comings and goings very low-key to teach your pup it’s no big deal.
Keep in mind that learning is exhausting for your puppy and he’ll need plenty of breaks, so give him some space to take all the naps he needs. Successful puppy socialization includes regularly exposing your pup to all types of people, situations, and objects over several months. With dedicated efforts to socialize your puppy, he can develop the confidence he needs to face the world and all its unknowns.
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