When welcoming home a new puppy, you’re likely thinking of all the supplies they need—food, toys, treats, bowls, bedding, a collar, and a leash. But, are you thinking about the time needed to teach them the ways of the world? Socialization—the positive exposure to new situations—is perhaps the most important aspect of raising a puppy. Without proper socialization, your new puppy can grow up as a scared, nervous adult who cannot visit dog parks, doggy daycares, or go on walks without acting aggressively because of fear.

What is socialization for puppies?

Socialization is essentially the process of exposure. The term refers to the learning process a puppy undergoes to learn key life skills that will ensure they are happy and confident in their environment. During your puppy’s socialization period, you want to positively expose them to as many new people, dogs, and experiences as possible, to help them form positive associations with their world.

What are the socialization periods for puppies?

Ideally, your puppy’s introduction to the socialization process should begin during the first two to three weeks of life. Gentle handling during this period increases the puppy’s ability to cope with stress and unfamiliar situations later in life.

Next, the main socialization period occurs between 2 and 12 weeks of age, when your puppy should undergo safe, positive exposure to a variety of novelties, especially ones they will encounter in their daily life. In addition, your puppy should be introduced to things they may find unpleasant, but which are important for their health, including handling and restraint, nail trimming, hair coat brushing, ear cleaning, and toothbrushing. 

Keep in mind that puppies experience a fearful period around 8 to 10 weeks of age. Unfortunately, this time often coincides with leaving their mother and littermates, joining a new family, and the first veterinary visit. Occasionally, puppies exhibit fear and anxiety at their first veterinary visit, which can escalate without gentle, positive socialization and training. During this timeframe, avoid frightening events, which can have lifelong effects on your puppy’s fear, anxiety, reactivity, and aggressiveness. 

Why is proper socialization important for puppies?

Puppy socialization is the most important aspect of training, yet often the most overlooked. Adequate, positive socialization can make the difference between a fearful, timid, adult dog, and a confident, relaxed, friendly one. While genetics and maternal behavior play an essential role in determining your puppy’s future personality and demeanor, the nurture aspect of socialization is equally crucial for building a foundation for your pup’s reactions to new experiences. Puppies who are well-socialized from an early age—and who receive ongoing, lifelong socialization—are more trusting of new people, react better in unfamiliar environments, and get along with a wider variety of dogs and other pets. 

What should a puppy be exposed to?

Your new puppy should experience a wide variety of stimuli during their socialization period. Categories of new things they should be exposed to include:

  • People — Introduce your puppy to people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities. Be specific and extensive by including, for example, men with beards, bald men, tall men, short men, men with umbrellas, and more.
  • Animals — While socialization with a variety of other dog breeds is important, so is an introduction to other species.
  • Sounds — Loud noises, like vacuum cleaners, household appliances, people yelling, traffic sounds, and construction, can frighten a puppy, so expose them from a distance before moving closer.
  • Situations — Walking in all sorts of environments and situations, such as through crowded street fairs and quiet nature preserves, is excellent for exposing your puppy to new places.
  • Handling — Teaching your puppy to accept grooming, nail trimming, ear cleaning, toothbrushing, and gentle restraint will make your life—and your puppy’s—much easier. 

What are common signs of poor socialization in puppies?

The most common sign in a poorly socialized pup is fear, which can manifest in a variety of ways, often characterized as aggressive behaviors, such as growling, barking, snarling, lunging, and nipping. In reality, this aggression is intended to scare off a potential threat, rather than doing harm. And, more often than not, the target of such aggressive behavior is not threatening, but is perceived that way because the puppy has been inadequately socialized.

How doggy daycare can help your puppy build strong social skills

Without interacting with a variety of dogs, your puppy’s social skills can become rusty. Daycare lets puppies continue practicing their dog-to-dog communication skills with a diverse cast of characters. Doggy daycare also provides ample exercise, a safe environment for playing with other dogs, and the opportunity to interact with different people.

Act now to positively expose your new puppy to novel sights, sounds, people, pets, and places, to ensure they grow into a healthy, well-adjusted adult dog. Keep them safe while they explore the world around them, and ensure they receive their vaccination series on time, so they can safely make canine friends as soon as possible. 

Give our Stone Ridge Veterinary Medical Center team a call to schedule your puppy’s appointment. And, for a fun-filled day with other puppy friends, contact our Pet Resort at Stone Ridge team to schedule your puppy’s boarding reservation with play time.