How to Socialize Your Puppy

We all want our dogs to be friendly and get along with people and other dogs. That starts with socialization. Breed type, genetics and early learning play a strong role, but once we choose a puppy, our job starts with socializing.

Socialization is the “art” of exposing puppies to as many different experiences as we can, in the most positive way we can, to prepare them to live their whole lives with us. This exposure should be done skillfully, at the pace most comfortable for your puppy. Every individual experiences the world differently.

At 9-16 weeks puppies are as fearless as they will ever be. During this time, your puppy is also learning how responsive you are to their needs and how well you listen to them. This is the foundation of your relationship and it’s an important period. 

Puppies will go through more sensitive periods, and these continue throughout adolescence. They may appear fearful or get easily startled at times. It’s important to respond by helping them navigate the situation in a way that makes them feel safe even if you don’t see a cause. Taking them further away from the situation can help.

You can actively socialize your puppy by seeking out new experiences daily. There are many lists available to help. A good one by Dr. Sophia Yin is available here: cattledogpublishing.com/poster-download/.

A common myth is that dog-dog interaction is socialization. Your puppy meeting other dogs is not actually helpful at an early age unless it’s a dog they live with or frequently spend time with. Observing dogs at a distance is far more helpful for developing good social skills. Improperly monitored dog interactions can be overwhelming and frightening. Dogs need to learn how to play and interact through careful experiences that positively shape their skills.

In much the same manner, puppies meeting people isn’t helpful if they are jumping up on or backing away from them. Observing people at a polite distance while eating treats from the owner’s hands is a much better training choice.

Socialization training should focus on puppies watching people, hearing novel sounds, experiencing different surfaces, freely investigating new objects and environments, and observing other animals at a distance. Think about all the things you want to do with your dog during their lifetime and include those experiences in some way.

A Simple Training Plan:

1. See it: Ensure you puppy is comfortably observing the experience or help them find a more comfortable distance.
2. Pay it: Offer a high value treat and verbal assurance.
3. Take a break: Take your puppy away when they need a break or are becoming over-stimulated.
4. Repeat: Repeat important experiences at different times of day throughout your puppy’s development. 
5. Respond helpfully: Take your puppy a distance away if they get frightened. Adjust things so the next experience will be better. 
 
There is lots of training to do with a puppy including the beginning of critical life skills like being comfortable alone, recall, and leash walking, but socialization is the foundation of friendliness. Understanding what and how is important. A well-run puppy class with an experienced trainer is a good start. Another good resource is this website and book on puppies: puppysocialization.com.  

A final note – socialization does not end with puppies. Every change in our life is a change in our dog’s life. Help them through these transitions in much the same way. Have fun and keep it positive!

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