Getting home a puppy and providing it with food and water is not the end of your responsibilities. As a dog guardian, you are also responsible for bringing up a well-rounded, well-behaved puppy and conduct puppy socialization. I have discussed the importance of socializing your puppy in my previous blog post.
Puppy socialization is not rocket science. You must teach your puppy how to interact with other dogs, animal companions, strangers, house guests, and people on the streets. There are many simple ways to easily turn socialization into a fun and amazing experience for you and your puppy. In this blog post, I will discuss tips that can make socialization a million times easier for you.
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Why should you conduct puppy socialization?
Puppy socialization is often overlooked as a part of the dog training process. However, this is one of the first training the puppy should undergo, whether the puppy is with the breeder or the guardians. One common fact that guardians overlook is that puppies have an imprinting phase. This phase lasts from birth to around the age of 14 weeks. During this period, the puppy is open to learning and is very accepting of new situations.
This is the time that should be utilized to start training the puppy and get him into a habit of regular training. There’s also the time when you should introduce your pup to new situations, new people, other animals, and places. These experiences shape the puppy’s personality, and you will eventually have a well-adjusted and calm family dog.
This stage should also be utilized to expose the pup to new sites, sounds, smells, etc. However, all of this association must be done with positive reinforcements only. Puppies tend to get distracted easily. If your puppy seems distracted, bring his attention back to the task at hand with a few treats. However, never punish your puppy or hurt them. They are not listening to your commands. As I mentioned, this phase is the imprinting phase. If you hurt your puppy at this stage, you may have an aggressive dog on your hand when the puppy grows up.
What should you be aware of before starting the puppy socialization process?
Only indoor puppy socialization before 14 weeks
It is not advisable to start socializing your puppy in the first 14 weeks of age because the puppy is not ready to get all the necessary vaccination until now. The first set of vaccination for the puppies are completed after 14 weeks. Therefore, if you take your puppy out before 14 weeks or before the pup has had the complete set of vaccination, your puppy is vulnerable to catching several different diseases and infections. These increased risks force the veterinarian to ask you to start the puppy socialization process after 14 weeks of age.
If you want to go ahead with the socialization procedure before your puppy turns 14 weeks, you should go to puppy school or training classes. Do not take your puppy to the dog park at this stage because it will leave your pup open to a variety of infections. Puppy classes are very well organized and are generally held indoors. This substantially reduces the chance of your puppy acquiring an infection.
Socialization starts at home. This does not mean that you start socialization the day your dog enters your home. Puppies need time to accumulate to their new environment. However, your puppy should start to feel adjusted within a week. Make sure that you have enough time to spend with your new pup. Encourage the pup to play on his own as well. This way, your puppy will learn to be independent and not feel anxious or develop separation anxiety.
Keep a specific time to play with your puppy every day. You can start training him commands like sit, lay down, high five, etcetera. In case you have other pets in the household, keep your puppy away till your puppy has acclimatized to the environment of your home. Once your puppy is comfortable being around you, you can start acclimating your puppy to the other animals in your household.
Allow puppy socialization through a puppy gate.
It is advisable that your puppy is kept separated from other animals during the initial phases of puppy socialization. You can use puppy gates. This will allow the puppy to interact with the other animals while keeping him safe. Allow the animals to sniff out one another through the gate first. This is their way of determining if they are the right fit for one another or not. During the initial phases, the interactions will be limited and conducted through the puppy gate. As your puppy starts to gain confidence to be around the other animals, you can allow the interaction to involve other animals as well.
During this time of puppy socialization, you should also start crate training. This way, if the interaction with the other dogs or companion animals seems to be too much for the pup, he can retreat to his safe space in the crate. Crate training should never be associated with a negative experience. The crate should be a safe and happy place for the pup.
Introduce the pup to household items
Make sure to introduce your dog to the other items in your family as well. It is best that your dog first encounters the fear in your home and then proceeds to encounter his fears outside. If it seems that your dog is scared or apprehensive of an item, for example, the vacuum, turn it off and allow your puppy to sniff and explore the vacuum first. Once your puppy seems comfortable with the vacuum lying around, switch it on when the puppy is not close to it. This way, the puppy will understand the work of the vacuum. Address all the fears of your puppy in a safe manner so that your dog does not develop anxiety regarding new experiences.
Involve guests and extended family
Once the puppy seems completely comfortable in the house, it is time to start inviting family and friends over. You can also invite people belonging to your extended family and friends who have dogs or other animal companions. This is the time to correct any negative behavior that your dog may display. If your dog shows signs of jumping on guests, you need to address this behavior now. The only behavior that is acceptable from a well-mannered dog should be allowed in the presence of guests. You can also involve the help of your guests in training your dog. This can be a great pastime for your guests and an amazing socialization experience for your dog.
Before you allow your guests to take part in the training process, you need to make them aware of the dos and don’ts of dog training. For example, they are not allowed to give the dog any food, or table scraps, encourage jumping behavior from the dog, not poison the commands and finally, not reiterate the commands multiple times.
Next phase: puppy socialization in the community.
Once your puppy seems comfortable at home, start socializing him outside. Having a puppy who is scared of crowded places and shows aggressive behavior when approached by strangers is not ideal. Start introducing your puppy to both busy and quiet locations so that he can acclimatize to both types of environments and feel at ease.
Make a mental note of which type of people your puppy has already met.
If during the in-home puppy socialization, your pup has met adults, kids, and middle-aged people, your puppy may be missing out on socializing with the elderly. Therefore, when you start socializing your puppy outside the home, you must introduce him to some elderly people. Even if the contact is indirect, it will still be beneficial for your pup. If your pup has not met kids before, take him to the dog park and introduce him to kids, even if that is done in an indirect manner. An indirect introduction would be taking your puppy through the park when kids are playing. Always keep a safe distance between your puppy and other people till you are absolutely sure that your puppy knows the right way to interact with others.
You can also take your dog to group obedience classes and puppy training school. Such schools also conduct puppy socialization. They introduce the puppy to different dogs present in the school or daycare. This will also be a great way for your pup to meet new canines and humans while you are away at work.
When you are introducing your dog to new people, make sure your dog does not feel boxed in. There should be enough space for your dog to move easily. Train your dog in the sit command before you take your dog out to meet friends. Ask your dog to sit before you ask your friends to greet your pup. When you go on walks, take a ton of treats along with you so that you can provide positive reinforcement to your dog whenever possible. This will reinforce good behavior in your puppy.
Keep it calm
In a calm and safe environment, dogs learn socialization quicker than in a boisterous environment. One crucial thing to keep in mind is to never force any interaction from the dog when he does not seem ready. If it seems that your dog is uncomfortable or not ready to meet new people, postpone the meet and greet for a few days before you try again.
Tips for puppy socialization
Daily walks are crucial
Daily walks should not be skipped either way. Your puppy needs exercise on a regular basis. Taking your dog out for walks not only provides new sights and sounds for your dog to register but also allows your dog to become more comfortable with the environment around him. Everything on the road, from cars zooming past you to the squirrels hunting for nuts, can be scary for your puppy during the initial phases. However, regularly taking your puppy out for walks will eliminate these threats, and your dog will learn to be comfortable in the outdoor environment. When taking your dog out for a walk, keep the leash short so that your dog does not wander off.
Start on time
As I mentioned before, the ages of 3 to 12 weeks are the perfect time to socialize your puppy. Do not miss out on this period. For socializing, this duration is the best. Make sure that your puppy gets exposed to the following:
- Unfamiliar people
- Unfamiliar dressing styles
- Boots, jackets, shoes, sunglasses, hats, spectacles etcetera
- Body touching (paws, ears, tail, etc.)
- Urban environment
- Parks, woods, beaches, and other bodies of water
- Different flooring types and ground surface options
- Common objects present in the neighborhood like bicycles, strollers, skateboards, street signs, benches, etc.
- Other dogs
- Other common companion animals
The reason why trainers ask guardians to socialize their puppy by 18 weeks of age is that after the puppy reaches 18 weeks, socialization becomes very difficult. It is not impossible to socialize a puppy when it has turned into a dog. However, it will require much more patience, positive reinforcement, and treats from the side of the guardian.
There are doggy daycare and puppy schools available for proper training of puppies. The advantage of sending your puppy to a puppy school is that you will also be there with him. Along with your puppy, you will also be trained in taking care and the puppy socialization process. Dog training classes like puppy schools and daycares are the perfect place to meet other dog guardians, exchange tips, and socialize your puppy in a very safe and controlled environment.
Socializing with other dogs
When introducing your dog to another dog, make sure that it is a pleasant experience for both the dogs involved. Here are some tips to help with the puppy socialization process, especially with other canines.
Gather plenty of treats
Most dogs I have met are food motivated. They will do anything to get the treat. Therefore, taking along a packet of treats is the best way to encourage proper socialization with your dog. Anytime your dog shows a positive response to socialization, you offer a treat to your dog. The anticipation of a treat will make your dog engage in more positive social behavior.
One thing to remember here is that you must take along a treat that your dog cannot resist. Opting for high-value and tasty treats will definitely give you more mileage. If you go for dog biscuits or brands that your puppy does not enjoy or like, training will become that much harder. Bits of cooked chicken, small sections of hard-boiled egg, string cheese, etc., are the alternatives if your dog does not like kibble (dry dog food). The point here is to take along a food item that your dog really enjoys and will do anything for.
Remember to adjust the calorie count in your dog’s diet so that your dog does not become obese.
Take your dog to the pet shop or dog park.
Take your dog to the dog park. The dog park can provide a variety of direct and indirect stimulation to your dog. The different sounds, sights, smells, etc., will challenge the senses of your dog. The presence of other dogs, humans, kids, etcetera will challenge your pup’s socialization skills. If your dog has been trained in the recall command and off-leash training, you can leave your dog off leash for a few minutes while he goes and makes new friends with other dogs. Alternatively, if you do not have the option of a dog park, you can set up a doggy date with dogs of your friends.
Look for cues
Dogs give out signals. If they are not comfortable in a situation, they will give out cues before they resort to aggressiveness or fearful behavior. Therefore, when you take your dog along for a meet and greet or to the dog park, keep a strict eye on your dog’s behavioral cues. If it seems like your dog is getting tired or scared of all the interaction, take him home.
I’ve already emphasized this point before when I said that you should allow your dogs to meet through a puppy gate. Always let your dogs get acquainted with one another before they are allowed to play together. Even when you do allow your dogs to play together, keep a strict eye on them. If there is any unruly behavior from any of the dogs, separate them before it escalates.
Nothing compares to hard work, dedication and patience. Practice makes perfect. This is true in the case of humans as well as dogs. Therefore, give your dog ample opportunities to interact with other dogs, humans, strangers, other companion animals, etc. The more chances you give your dog to interact with other creatures, the more comfortable he will be in various environments.
Dog socialization is the responsibility of the dog guardian. Just bringing a dog home and providing him ample food and water is not where your responsibility ends. If you are finding it hard to socialize your dog, you can always opt for a puppy school or dog trainer. However, make it a point to be there when your dog is undergoing training. This way, your dog will also bond with you during the training process.
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How did you socialize your puppy? What was your experience with puppy socialization? How much time did it take for your puppy to be comfortable in different environments? Is your puppy still scared of anything? Please let us know your experiences in the comments section below. In case you have any queries, you can always reach me live on twitch, or you can submit your queries in the comments section. You can also reach me on any of my social media channels. I will be happy to help.
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