Did you get a new puppy for Christmas? Make sure you know how to socialize your new friend properly!If you or someone in your family got a new puppy this holiday season, it's important that you know how to properly socialize them! Socialization means learning to be part of society. When we talk about a new puppy, we mean helping them learn to be comfortable as a pet. This includes acclimating them to many different types of people, buildings, environments, sights, noises, smells, and other animals. Most young animals, including dogs, are born able to adjust to the things they encounter in their day-to-day environment until they reach a certain age. This naturally period of acceptance means you have the chance to help your new puppy get comfortable, so he doesn't spend the rest of his life jumping at every car or bird or stray leaf that he sees.
So when should I start socializing my new puppy?Puppies are most open to new experiences between 3 and 12 weeks old. From 12 to 18 weeks, they become more and more cautious of new experiences. After 18 weeks, it's incredibly difficult to teach a dog to enjoy something new or to help him get comfortable in a situation he finds scary.
Ok, how do I socialize my pooch?Socialization is a major project, and it's not an 'all or nothing' thing. You can socialize a new puppy a little bit, a lot, or a whoooole lot, depending on how much you expose them to in the relatively short 9-week period where they're most open to it. It's important that you expose your pooch to the types of people, animals, places, sounds, sights, smells and experiences that you'll expect your dog to be comfortable with as an adult. What specifically you should expose your dog to will change depending on your lifestyle and the lifestyle you're planning for your dog. It may include anything from busy city streets to train stations, elevators to garbage trucks, school yards to farms, and anything in between. While it's impossible to expose a young puppy to literally every single thing they will ever encounter in their lives, the more you do expose them to, the more likely the puppy will be to generalize from past experiences and something familiar and therefore reassuring in almost any situation.
Do I need to do anything special while I socialize him?Yes! You have to make sure the situation isn't overwhelming and that your pooch gets more comfortable with each interaction, not more worried or scared. It's also important to take it slow at first, until you start to get an idea for your pup's comfort level. Keep a close eye on your puppy's reaction to each new situation. If your pup seems frightened or stressed, pull back and reassure them. For example, if you want your puppy to be happy and comfortable around children, but a school yard stresses him out, maybe pull back and take him to a park with a few children running around first. Always follow up a socialization experience with praise, petting, and treats.
Another important factor in socialization is your attitude towards it. If you've had pets in the past, you probably know how attuned pets are to their owner's emotions. If you're introducing your pet to a new situation and they can sense that you're stressed or concerned, they will also be stressed or concerned. Approach new experiences calmly, and make sure to positively associate the new experience with treats, playing, petting, and other good things.
What about puppy classes?Puppy classes are a great way to help socialize your puppy. These classes are specifically designed for puppy training and socialization! In a typical puppy class, off-leash play helps socialize puppies and play-fighting teaches them to be gentle when biting. They also get used to being handled by lots of different people. Some classes will even include exposure to odd sights and sounds using props and CDs. As an added bonus, puppy classes often teach basic obedience, so you'll also learn how to ask your pooch to follow requests and behave properly while he's being socialized.
Things to expose your pup to:We've compiled a (rather brief) list of some common things you'll probably want to acclimate your new puppy to. While this list is in no way comprehensive, it's generally a good starting place and may even include some things you didn't think about.
Things to Acclimate Puppies to:
- Children and babies
- Teenagers, adults, and elderly people
- People in wheelchairs/on crutches
- Skateboarders, cyclists
- People in uniform (like the vet)
- Delivery people and repair people
- Umbrellas and masks
- Hats, beards, and glasses
- People of various ethnicities
- Kids at school
- Loud crowds, clapping
- Yelling, singing, dancing
- Other dogs, cats
- Other pets
- Traffic, buses, trains, motorcycles
- Riding in the car
- Boats, snow mobiles, jet skis
- Icy streets, snow
- Gravel, cement, mud
- Walking at night, early in the morning
- Elevators, stairs
- Balconies, decks
- Car washes, tunnels
- Vacuum cleaners, hair dryers
- Wind, rain, thunder, snow
- Fireworks, sporting events
- Veterinary hospitals and clinics