Updated: Apr 20, 2022
A few weeks ago I posted a question in a Roanoke Valley pet page. . .”What do you wish you would have known before you got your puppy?”
A couple of people responded about not using pee pads to potty train their puppy, etc. But what surprised me were a couple of responses about how important it was to socialize their new family member.
What is Socialization?
Socialization is getting the puppy used to things that occur naturally in their environment; such as other people and animals, things that make noise such as trash trucks, activities such as joggers and skateboarders, and surfaces such as wood, gravel, dirt, and concrete.
It helps them develop the confidence they can use throughout their life.
Socialization general occurs between 8 and approximately 12 to 14 weeks. That’s when the puppies have left their mother and littermates and are ready to experience the world.
Puppies of that age are like a sponge and soak in everything they’re exposed to. So it’s important for them to have positive experiences around children, other pets, etc.
Socialize them early so they won’t be afraid of things in their environment later on.
If puppies aren’t socialized properly, they can become anxious and afraid of new things or when they’re in new surroundings.
COVID really put a damper on puppies getting out to experience their environment and as a result, some weren’t socialized properly and have negative reactions to things in their environment such as other dogs, loud noises, etc.
I’m getting a lot of requests for dog training from dogs that are now reactive to other dogs because they missed that critical socialization window. Maybe it was because the owners couldn’t get out during the shutdown or maybe they adopted an older dog that had no socialization when it was younger.
How do I Socialize My Puppy?
Make new experiences fun. For instance, fun visits to the vet. Go in preferably when there are no other pets there the first couple of times. Take lots of treats or their kibble with you. Have your puppy meet the staff. They can pet your puppy, maybe walk over to the scale and have the puppy get on it. Make the visit short and then leave.
The same if you go to a pet friendly store such as Lowe’s or The Home Depot. You can walk around and they can see people and maybe other dogs. They can greet the staff and maybe some of the shoppers. In and out in 15 to 20 minutes. Allow the puppy to potty outside before you go in and make sure the puppy isn’t too tired or in need of a meal because they might become over-stimulated and just like a human child, have a meltdown.
Walking on the Greenway is another great way to socialize your puppy. Depending on where you go, you might hear lawnmowers and see bikes, children, adults running, etc.
Doesn’t My Puppy Need All Its Vaccines First?
There is some division between dog trainers and vets. The socialization window closes around 12 to 14 weeks; about the same time the puppy finishes its vaccinations. However, if you wait until after that period to socialize, you may wind up with a puppy that’s afraid of new experiences.
Most vets and trainers agree socialization is just as important as vaccinations in the development of a healthy puppy. So for that reason, vets recommend (and I agree) that your puppy not go to a pet store or dog park-someplace where a lot of dogs have been that could spread germs-until the vaccination schedule is completed. But there are lots of other stores where your puppy can go to experience new things.
Can I Socialize My Older Dog?
It’s possible but once that critical socialization window is closed, it becomes more difficult. Think of it in human terms. . .children usually aren’t afraid of anything when exposed to them in a fun way. However, when we become adults, some of us may over think new things and be afraid. For instance, I am afraid of heights and think of every way I could fall down, fall off, get injured or be killed from the ski lift, etc. Children generally don’t have those thoughts.
Socializing an older dog is much like socializing a puppy but you may need to go more slowly, especially if the older dog is already afraid of things or experiences in their surroundings.
Will Going to the Dog Park Help Socialize My Dog?
I recommend against going to a dog park, especially for a puppy. For the reasons stated above, germs can be spread easily.
Puppies don’t necessarily need to socialize with other dogs. Some dogs don’t want to play with others and prefer to be with people rather than dogs.
Instead of going to a dog park, I recommend having puppy play dates. If you have a neighbor or friend with a dog that is up to date on its vaccines and doesn’t mind the excited behavior of a puppy, get them together on a regular basis perhaps at your home or maybe a tennis court. Your puppy can learn appropriate play from the older dog while you can control the interaction between the two.
In summary, get your puppy or dog exposed to as many new things as early as possible. Make it fun and make the experience short. They’ll be happy to have that experience again and again.
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