Puppy and Dog Socialization

Why and When to Socialize Your New Puppy

Puppy socialization should be a top priority for responsible breeders and shelters and should start while still under their care. New owners should continue socializing the pup once he is home and throughout puppyhood. By introducing your puppy to different environments during his developmental stages he will be better acclimated and more confident as an adult dog.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), behavioral issues, not infectious diseases, are the number one cause of relinquishment to shelters and cause of death for dogs under 3 years of age.

Why is socialization so important?

  • Prevents fearfulness in dogs that can lead to stress and aggression
  • Allows dogs to be taken to public places
  • Makes interaction with other animals and humans friendly and laid-back
  • Reduces stress and anxiety levels of dogs when left at home alone
  • Increases ease of veterinarian and groomer visits
  • Helps develop well-mannered, happy dogs

Timing

The socialization period for dogs is the time when they open and introduced to different environments, their littermates and mother, other animals of their species, humans and other species.

Socialization should begin during the "sensitive period", which is between 3 and 14 weeks of age when puppies are highly willing to explore and show little fear when encountering something or someone new. During this time, puppies will most benefit from being introduced to new stimuli but will move at their own pace when meeting unfamiliar people or other dogs. Timid pups will take a bit longer to become less anxious in new situations and should always be rewarded with praise or treats after a successful social encounter.

With continued exposure to people, places and things, many will continue to adapt their behaviors beyond the sensitive period.

For more info on why and when to socialize your puppy, visit

Checklist

How To Socialize Your New Puppy

Understanding why socialization is so important it only the first step. Follow the guidelines below to learn how to socialize your new pup after bringing him home.

1. Learn How He Has Been Socialized So Far By His Raiser

The breeder or shelter should provide you with details on how far the pup has come, and what they planned to introduce to him next.

2. Create A Socialization Plan To Be Thoughtful And Intentional About Socializing Your New Pup

Plan which environments and situations you will introduce to him first to be sure you are moving at a speed that is comfortable for your puppy. The goal is to build his confidence, not overwhelm or overstimulate him.

3. Get Him Vaccinated

The AVMA states that puppies can begin socialization classes as early as 7-8 weeks of age, after receiving a minimum of one set of vaccines at least seven days before the first class, as well as a first deworming.

4. Sign Up For Puppy Socialization Classes

Led by pet experts, socialization classes not only introduce your puppy to new dogs and people but also will help him learn basic commands. Be sure to check into the class size and the curriculum to ensure the class will be beneficial and not a free for all. If a skilled trainer is leading the class, all pups will stay happy and safe, and you’ll get to have access to a socialization expert.

5. Introduce Him To New Sights, Sounds, And Smells

Your puppy has a whole world to explore and everything is brand new to him. Exposing him to as many different environments, people and objects as possible, in a safe and well-timed manner, is key. For example, have him walk on different surfaces, and meet people of different sizes and ages.

6. The Only Beneficial Socialization Experiences Are Positive Ones

Therefore moving at your puppy’s pace is crucial. Always have treats on hand to be able to reward your puppy after a positive interaction or experience. Be sure to praise him and use a friendly tone when making introductions so he feels safe and comfortable.

7. Include Friends And Family When Socializing Your Puppy

By introducing your puppy to people that look, smell and act different, you are easing him out of his comfort zone and preparing him to be in public and around strangers. Be sure that your family and friends let the puppy approach them, and that they are armed with plenty of treats!

8. Start Taking Your Puppy To Public Places Once He Gets Comfortable In His New Home

Start with running quick errands to pet-friendly places or a friend’s house. Seven to 10 days after he completes his full vaccinations series, he’s safe to go to a local dog park.

9. Pay Attention If Your Puppy Is Becoming Uncomfortable Or Overwhelmed

Be prepared to step in and remove him from the situation if he looks frightened. Doing so will help your puppy recognize that he can rely on you to keep him safe.

Socializing an Adult Dog

For those who choose to adopt from a shelter or rescue, often time the dog they bring home is no longer a puppy and has matured out of the prime socialization period. Although it may require a bit more patience, adult dogs can be socialized and learn to accept new, unfamiliar people, animals, and environments. Follow the tips below to learn how to socialize your adult dog.

Teach him basic cues first

Learning cues like find it, leave it, and turn can help redirect or focus your dog’s behavior as needed while working on socialization. During this process, you will also build trust with your dog, allowing him to feel safe when in public with you.

Slowly introduce him to new social situations

Rather than taking your dog to a dog park and surrounding him with new people and dogs, start by taking walks to the dog park and then walking back home. Advance to walking around the dog park so he can see the other dogs playing, and then go into the dog park while keeping him on a leash. This way, you are building his confidence so he can eventually be let off the leash and safely play with the other dogs.

Work on counterconditioning

When your dog sees another unfamiliar dog and doesn't react negatively, reward him with a treat so he starts to associate the sight of another dog with positive emotion. This is called counterconditioning, which is the process of changing a dog’s emotional reaction to a situation from negative to positive by gradually exposing the dog to the situation in a way that does not upset him, while also pairing the situation with a desirable reward.

Recognize Fear and Anxiety in Your Pup

When socializing your adult dog, it is important to recognize signs that he is no longer comfortable. Some signs to watch for include

  • Holding the ears out to the side or back, accompanied by a furrowed brow
  • Licking the lips in the absence of food
  • Yawning when not tired
  • Panting when not hot or thirsty
  • Acting sleepy or lethargic, and moving slowly
  • Not eating or accepting treats
  • Cowering, including averted eyes, tucked tail and lowered body and head

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