Socialization is a lifelong process—it doesn’t end when your puppy reaches a certain age. Dogs change as they grow through different mental maturity levels, and they need constant positive experiences to keep building on the foundation created with puppy socialization. Help your dog cope with new situations, people, and animals and grow into a well-adjusted, happy pet.
What is puppy socialization?
Most new dog owners understand the importance of socializing their puppy. They take her everywhere, exposing her to strange sights, sounds, smells, people, and animals. Suddenly, she is considered well-socialized. Unfortunately, proper socialization is more complex and requires your lifelong commitment to your pet’s mental and emotional health.
During a puppy’s first few months, usually between 4 to 14 weeks of age, she’ll go through a socialization period during which she will form lifelong impressions of her experiences that will greatly influence her behavior. Dog owners are often encouraged to drag their new pup around town, throwing stimuli in her face to “socialize” her, but this socialization technique can do more harm than good.
Follow these socialization tips to start your new pup out on the right paw:
- Strive to make every experience positive. Simply exposing your puppy to new people and sounds is not enough. Pair every potentially scary experience with a high-value treat or toy, and heap on the praise and encouragement. Consider introducing your puppy only to dogs whom you know have gentle dispositions, trying to include a variety of shapes and sizes—flat-faced dogs can cause concern if your dog has never seen one. Timing is critical, and always give your pup her treat before she has time to decide whether she’s unsure and frightened. Pair treats with veterinary visits, grooming sessions, strangers, new animals, thunderstorms, fireworks, and being left alone. Our veterinarians say that dogs are most terrified when their paws and ears are handled—needle pokes are nowhere near as frightening as a nail trim or ear cleaning—so ensure your pup forms positive associations with these two experiences at an early age.
- Avoid flooding your dog. Flooding is a technique many people think will help desensitize a pet to scary stimuli, but if you force an already anxious dog into a scary situation, she likely will become even more anxious, and possibly aggressive. Consider a tiny puppy who is nervous around tall, loud strangers. She cowers behind you when a new person approaches and displays every stress signal, but the towering stranger still leans over and pats her on the head. The puppy sees a giant monster reaching for her, even while she’s begging to be left alone. This terrifying experience can lead to the puppy growling, nipping, snarling, or snapping. If your four-legged friend is exhibiting signs of anxiety or stress, contact us for help in reducing her discomfort before it escalates.
- Socialization is not a treatment for dogs with existing behavioral issues. A common misconception is that socialization will help a fearful or aggressive dog. If your dog is nervous around strange dogs, tossing her into a dog park on a sunny Saturday afternoon will make her anxiety skyrocket and potentially lead to a doggy brawl. If your pet has behavioral issues, we recommend working with both a veterinary behaviorist and a certified dog trainer to help her overcome her fears. A multimodal treatment plan, often including medications, supplements, and a behavior-modification program with training techniques, will help your dog become a well-adjusted, happy pet.
- Keep up the good work. Socialization doesn’t end at 14 weeks—it’s a lifelong process. A puppy’s first fearful period occurs during the primary socialization sessions, but she will undergo another period between 6 to 14 months when she will again need proper socialization, or her previous positive experiences may be overpowered and her behavior will change. Consider socialization as a behavioral vaccine, aimed at prevention, and invest in lifelong socialization to help ensure your pet does not develop behavioral problems in the future.
- Doggy daycare and obedience training provide wonderful socialization opportunities. Stay on top of socialization skills by enrolling your pup in doggy daycare or a training class. Canine behavior professionals will assess your pup to determine her play style and which dogs will be her best companions, oversee playtime, and ensure she interacts positively with her buddies. A formal training class doesn’t allow as much interaction with other dogs, especially after the initial puppy kindergarten class, but behavioral quirks can be tackled before they become problems.
Your puppy may need a helping paw to learn some proper manners. Enlist the help of our skilled staff and doggy daycare facility to set your furry friend up for success.