Have you ever known one of those dogs who don’t seem rattled by anything? New people, big crowds, vacuum cleaners, other animals — they take it all in stride! Although some dogs are by nature more easy going than others, chances are very good that these super laid back pooches were well socialized when they were puppies.
If you’re planning to adopt a puppy or have recently become a new puppy parent, you want to do all you can to help your little guy (or girl) grow into a dog who adapts well to new situations and people. You can do this by exposing him to as many things as you possibly can during his impressionable puppyhood.
When you’re making plans to socialize your puppy, you should always follow the advice of your vet. There are some situations that he may recommend avoiding until your pup has had his immunizations. Here are some general guidelines to help you bring up your little pooch to be an easy-going social butterfly.
When to Socialize Your Puppy
Most experts agree that there is a short window of time in which puppies are the most impressionable. Although it may be possible to help an older dog adapt or overcome certain fears, puppies under 16 weeks old are highly influenced by the impressions and experiences that they have.
That’s not a lot of time, so you want to take the opportunity to expose him to as many things as you possibly can during those critical weeks.
How to Do it
The key to successfully socializing your puppy is to allow him to have as many positive experiences as you can so that he develops good associations that prevent him from being fearful in the future. Keep it low key, and always pair new things with lots of praise, cuddles, and training treats.
It’s usually wise to start gradually. Instead of inviting the entire neighborhood over at once, start with just a couple of new people at a time. Once you can see your puppy’s comfort level growing, then you can up the intensity of the situations you put him in. If at any time you see signs of fear, it’s time to back off. Forcing a puppy to remain in a situation that makes him uncomfortable will not help him “get used to it.” Instead it will likely reinforce his fearful reaction and make it much more difficult to help him through it later. You can always try again at a later time, using new tactics to put your pup at ease.
Meet New People
You never know who your puppy will come into contact with later in life. So it’s important to do everything you can to make him totally comfortable with meeting new people. Even though you may want to give him a day or two to adjust to his new family when you first bring him home, don’t wait too long before you start arranging encounters with other people.
Make sure to give him the chance to meet men, women and (well-behaved) children. Introduce him to big people, small people, bald men, men with beards, and people of different races. Let him meet the mailman or another person in uniform. As often as possible, these encounters should be pre-arranged. This will give you a chance to coach the new people on how to approach your puppy and to arm them with a few treats to win his affection!
Introduce Your Pup to Other Animals
Of course you’ll want to make sure that your puppy learns to get along well with other dogs. This will be especially important if you plan on visiting the local dog park, enrolling him in doggy day care, or even if you may encounter neighborhood canines on your daily walks. When choosing which dogs to introduce to your pup, make sure that you stick to those that are healthy and well behaved. Don’t visit the dog park or allow him to approach dogs you haven’t met until his immunizations have been completed. However, if you have friends with trustworthy, friendly dogs, go ahead and invite them over for a puppy play date.
Don’t stop the socialization process with other dogs though. Give puppy a chance to learn how to interact with cats, to observe small caged animals, and even to visit with larger animals such as livestock or police horses if possible. You never know when these experiences might come back to help him later in life!
Lots of Sensory Experiences
Living things aren’t the only concern when it comes to socializing a puppy. Make sure that he also has the chance to experience different sounds, textures, sensations, and smells.
Give him the chance to walk on linoleum, carpet, grass, pavement, grating, and anything else you can come up with. Take him for rides in the car, on public transportation, on a boat, in a stroller. Get him used to having different parts of his body handled.
Many dogs are fearful of noises such as thunder. Playing recordings for your puppy while cuddling or giving him treats may help to avoid noise phobias. If possible, let him hear sirens, the lawn mower, the hair dryer. Really, you’re only limited by your imagination. And the more you expose him to positively, the more likely he is to associate even noises that we may find unpleasant with happy things.
For more suggestions of situations you may want to consider experiencing with your new pup, check out this checklist.
No matter what you do when you socialize your puppy, make it fun for him and for you! Spending the time together will help you bond, and you’ll be rewarded with a well-adjusted, outgoing dog that will bring you joy for years to come!