Socializing Your Puppy

When you socialize a puppy, you’re teaching it how to be a part of society. There are many different areas of socialization: people, environments, buildings, sights, noises, smells, animals and other dogs. Socializing your dog is a very important part of being a dog owner. By letting your dog experience as much of the world as possible, you are giving it a reason not to be suspicious or afraid of new things. There is a sweet spot when it comes to the puppy’s age (3-12 weeks old) so make sure you are prepared to get as much socialization in during that short time.

When Do I Socialize My Puppy?

If you want your puppy to grow into an adult dog that is relaxed and comfortable in almost all situations, you need to socialize it as a puppy. The more experiences you expose your puppy to; the more likely it is to be comfortable in that situation. Adult dogs that were socialized well as a puppy are typically more relaxed and are less likely to react in a fearful or aggressive manner when encountering something new. It is much easier to live with a dog that doesn’t cower when encountering a new person or lash out in aggression when being examined by a vet. Does your adult dog react poorly to loud noises like thunder, people on bikes, other animals like cats, vets, and unfamiliar buildings? If you said yes, those are things that you can easily socialize a puppy to.

How Do I Socialize My Puppy?

This process is a project and can require a considerable amount of work. It’s best to have a game plan before you start this process so make the plan early. Before you even acquire the puppy would be best time to strategize your approach. Here is a short list (not comprehensive) of common things/stimuli you allow your puppy to experience:

  • Trains/Planes – if you live under a flight line, this is necessary
  • Garbage Trucks – wish I had thought of this one for my Lab. He goes nuts when he hears those poorly maintained brakes.
  • Playing/screaming children
  • Larger crowds – parties are a great way to expose your puppy to lots of new people
  • Other animals – cats and other dogs are the major players. Livestock if you live on a farm.
  • Crying babies – this is a big one if you plan on having children (or grandchildren)
  • Open spaces – like parks and the outdoors in general
  • Confined spaces – dog cages, long stairwells/hallways.
  • Chainsaws, power tools – everything that makes a lot of noise. Guns if you plan on training your pup as a hunting dog.

This list isn’t comprehensive. If you anticipate your future adult dog encountering something as it grows up, add it to the list.

Make a Plan
Make a socialization plan and stick with it. The more your puppy experiences, the more relaxed your dog will be as an adult.

What Do I Look for When Socializing?

It is very important not to overwhelm your puppy. You want him/her to be comfortable with the new stimulus, not worried or frightened. Keep a close eye on your puppy when you put it in a new situation. If it starts to show signs of extreme nervousness or cowering, reduce the level of stimulation to a level that puppy can handle. If your puppy is easily frightened, introduce the experience gradually while doing something the little dog loves. Start further away from the stimulus and bring some yummy treats or toys. The goal is to make the process fun and enjoyable for everyone involved. Puppy parties or puppy classes are a great way to socialize your pup with other people and dogs. When you’ve completed a session of socialization, make sure to praise, pet, and play with your puppy. Let him/her know that they are loved and that you’re excited about what they just experienced.

The Puppy Party and Puppy Class

Adding a Second Dog or Puppy - Jack Russell Terrier

Puppy parties and puppy kindergarten classes are an excellent way to introduce your dog to other dogs. These environments are intentionally designed or planned for early socialization. What you’ll typically encounter is off-the-leash play and play-fighting. There’s nothing cuter than a ball of puppies play fighting and rolling around together. This environment teaches your puppy how to be gentle with its mouth (biting) and how to be handled (picked-up) by strangers. Many trainers offer puppy classes so your dog can encounter new sounds (audio tracks with loud noises and weird sounds) and new dogs (many different breeds and sizes). Many trainers have adult dogs that can tolerate the rambunctious behavior of a teething puppy; they will expose your pup to bigger dogs.

How to Introduce a Puppy to a Bigger Dog

Here are a couple simple tips to use when introducing a puppy to a larger adult dog.

How Do I Avoid Disease Risk During Early Socialization?

You may be worried that your puppy is at an increased risk of disease at such a young age. Until your puppy is fully vaccinated, there is a greater risk of disease. However, that risk is small and socializing your dog is very important process that can influence its behavior as an adult. Vets that specialize in dog behavior recommend the following:

  • Attend puppy classes that have other puppies with up-to-date vaccinations and are disease and parasite free. You can start as early at 7 or 8 weeks old. Your puppy and the other puppies in your class should receive a minimum panel of vaccinations and their first de-worming at least seven days prior to the first class.
  • Hold the classes on surfaces that are easy to clean and disinfect. Dog trainers/boarders usually have large open rooms with floors that meet this criteria.
  • Avoid dog parks and other areas that have heavy dog traffic.
  • Use common sense when socializing to avoid unnecessary risks.

What to Do if Your Puppy Hasn’t Been Vaccinated Yet

When to Vaccine Your Dachshund?
  • Expose your puppy to people and other dogs you know are healthy.
  • Drive around town with your puppy in the car. Go through drive-thrus and car washes. Roll the windows down (not too far) out in the country to expose your dog to wild, new, and potentially exotic smells.
  • Host a party (only people) and have everyone pickup, hold, or interact with your pup. Just be conscious of how your puppy reacts. Try not to have too many people over at once.
  • Expose your pup to groups of children at scout meetings or to your children’s friends (if you have young kids). Birthday parties are great for this because there is always a lot of activity and noise.
  • Take your puppy to the play ground. Kids love to socialize with puppies. Just make sure they are gentle with him/her and if the puppy shows fear, go sit on the bench alone.

Your Puppy’s First Car Ride

How to introduce your puppy to riding in the car

Helpful tips to acclimate your puppy to car rides.

Last Words

If you desire to have an adult dog that is well adjusted, happy, fun, and especially safe, puppy socialization is the answer. With a properly socialized dog, you won’t have to stress out when strangers come to the house or your dog encounters a new experience. The key to socializing a puppy is to develop a plan and start early. You will enjoy life a lot more with a dog that is comfortable in nearly any environment.