Dogs will be dogs. And left to their own devices they always believe that their behavior is correct. Even if it's not. If you've ever been to a dog park you have probably seen dogs jumping up on people or sniffing people in embarrassing places. Even being unruly towards other dogs which will usually end up in a fight.
If the dog is socialized while it is still a puppy you will have a more confident, relaxed and well-adjusted dog. This is also great for dogs that are timid as they have the most to gain with proper socialization. Your first step, however, is to consult with your veterinarian. This person will give you the low down on puppy socialization. They will tell you how to commence the program at home and they should also have a list of professional services that can help you along the way.
When to Start Socializing
Socialization should be started as early as possible. There is a definite period in a dog's life when your puppy will learn the most and that is usually between 3 and 12 weeks of age. Although the main training of socialization should be carried out until the puppy is about 6 months of age. It is up until this age that the puppy will have a better chance of retaining what is learned.
An essential part of this socialization process are puppy socialization classes. These classes are designed to teach both you and the puppy proper socialization. These classes should supplement your home training regimen. Just keep in mind that the puppy needs to have as much exposure to this type of training as possible. Plan on spending at least one hour a week in puppy class. More is better.
Build the Dog's Confidence
The key component to socializing your puppy is to teach him how to be confident. He should be relaxed in any situation. Puppies tend to react with fear to new situations. Gaining confidence is best accomplished by having your puppy meet new people and dogs outside of the home.
All too often, dogs are not introduced to new situations in a positive way. In situations the puppy will react with fear, aggression, or by shutting down. Therefore, it is extremely important to introduce your dog to as many new situations as possible. Your puppy, in return, will learn to accept these new situations with confidence and a better attitude.
Take Your Time and Reward
The proper way to introduce your puppy to a new sound, sight, or environment is slowly. First make sure that he is calm and unafraid. Then, as you introduce the new situation to him give him a reward in the form of praise and a treat. Even letting him play with his favorite toy will encourage the training. Don't push him into the new situation. He should be encouraged to interact at his own pace. Pushing him into a new situation will do more to damage his confidence than improve it.
What Areas Need To Be Socialized
The short answer is everything. However, there are some areas that are more important than others. The following list should be used as a guide. Not all areas will require training as the puppy may already have built up confidence in that area. But you should test all areas and work on the ones that need improvement.
- Dogs and puppies (Seek a variety of breeds, sizes, genders and play styles; be certain that the other dog is vaccinated and dog friendly. Avoid high-traffic areas like the dog park until your puppy has had all of his shots unless you are participating in a specific puppy class for vaccinated dogs only.)
- Pocket pets
Introduce your puppy to a variety of people, including various genders; ages (babies, toddlers, children, teens, adults and the elderly); weights; sizes; skin colors; hairstyles; voice tones and volumes; facial differences (including beards and sunglasses); walking aids (crutches, wheelchairs, walkers); and clothing (high heels, hats, big jackets, hoods). The more exposure your dog has to people with different appearances, the less likely it is that he will have specific fears of certain people, such as a fear of men with beards or a fear of little boys. Keep in mind that it is an owner’s responsibility to supervise all interactions, keep the dog safe and make the experience as positive as possible.
Introduce new sounds at a quiet level, such as running the vacuum in another room with the door closed or playing the sounds of thunder or fireworks at a very low volume while your puppy eats a meal. Gradually increase the sound level as your puppy's comfort with the noise increases.
- Vacuum cleaner
- Dishwasher or washing machine
- Animal sounds
- Traffic noises
- Household tool use (kitchen mixer, blow dryer)
- Construction noise
- All body parts touched and examined, including sensitive areas like paws, nails, ears, tail, tummy, eyes and mouth
- Being comfortable with various items they may wear, such as clothes, harness, head halter and collar
- Grooming, including being brushed, clipped or having the nails trimmed
- Being held in a variety of manners, including while standing or sitting
- Being loomed over, being given eye contact, being petted in ways that may happen later in life, such as being hugged or patted
- Veterinary office
- Being crated
- Being left alone for short amounts of time
- Car rides
- Dog class or dog group
- Getting a picture taken
- Playing with a variety of toys
- Walks both in the neighborhood and on busier streets with a variety of people
- Joggers and bicyclists passing
- Being taken to rural areas, such as the mountains or a field
- Shopping carts, strollers, motorcycles or other objects that move
- Going outside in different weather conditions, including rain or wind
- City situations, such as automatic doors, outdoor cafes and airports
- Visitors at the house
- Walking on various surfaces, including grass, cement, tile, sand, mud, snow, ice and stairs