Socializing Your Puppy
Puppies are capable of learning at an early age and, like children, they form lasting impressions, tendencies, and habits during this time. It can be a make-it or break-it time for your pup when it comes to his behavior. A puppy that is exposed to a variety of sights, sounds, and experiences during this early period will be more likely to develop proper socialization skills and grow into a happy, healthy, well-behaved older dog.
Generally, important socialization skills are learned when a puppy is between 8 and 16 weeks of age. If you are not diligent in exposing your puppy to new people and places during this time, he is likely to suffer in the long run. As soon as your new pup has reached at least 8 weeks of age and been properly vaccinated, the socialization process can begin.
A simple way to get started is to take him for a walk. If your neighborhood is especially loud or crowded, you may want to take him to a park instead. It’s important that the environment for his first socialization is fun, safe, and stress-free, so your puppy feels comfortable smelling, exploring, and interacting. By taking a walk together, you can expose him to a wide variety of people, animals, and other things at one time.
When other people show an interest in your dog, let them pet him so he can get used to different touches and smells. It’s also a good idea to carry extra treats with you so some of the people you meet can feed your puppy a snack, which should help to rid him of any fear of strangers. When your pup is nose-to-nose with another dog for the first time, keep both dogs leashed, and make the introduction slowly and carefully.
During early socialization, your puppy should also get a chance to hear different sounds, such as jingling keys and clapping hands, and smell different scents, such as grass, dirt, and other dogs. He should also be exposed to a variety of sights, like people wearing sunglasses or baseball hats, garbage cans, and moving cars. All exposure is good for your puppy during this formative period, to help alleviate his fears and ensure his comfort in just about any situation.
Keep your puppy on a leash at all times during the walk, and during other socialization activities. This will allow you to keep him close to you and protect him if necessary, and he will sense this protection and feel more safe and secure. However, it’s also important not to coddle your dog or reward fearful behavior. If you notice that he is fearful in a particular situation, modify it until he feels more confident. For example, if he is fearful when surrounded by a group of children, try to limit his contact with children to one child at a time until he is more confident.
Socializing your puppy can be time consuming, but it should be well worth it in the end. With some dedication and patience early on, your pup should mature into a well-rounded, well-behaved older dog.