From big to small, all dogs are in need of proper socialization, and this begins when they’re puppies! A puppy needs many positive experiences before 5 months of age to promote a confident friendly adult personality. In fact, the critical “window” of opportunity for social development in dogs closes by 12 weeks of age! The experiences the puppy has during this time influence the type of dog they will become.
The goal for the puppy is to show no fear or trepidation around new situations. If introduced before 3 months of age, most puppies show no fear, and this is good. If your puppy does show fear, do not try to comfort them, as your soothing talk and stroking is perceived as praise and may increase their fearful behavior. The correct response is to ignore the fear, and YOU approach the object and act relaxed. If they are still fearful, move away until they are acting friendly and confident again. Move close, slowly, to the scary object, and praise the puppy in a happy tone if they move closer to the object.
Once your puppy shows no fear in the following situations, you can check it off the list provided on the next page. Continue socialization regularly throughout the first year of life. You should try to complete the list as often as possible to help build a confident, trusting puppy.
Another goal is to have as many people as possible ask them to sit (or any other trick) for reward. Ask your friends, family members and strangers, especially anyone your puppy finds frightening (e.g., anyone wearing a hat or carrying an umbrella), to give them a command and reward them. They will be better socialized because of it, and most people are glad to socialize with cute puppies!
All puppies should be enrolled in a basic training class as soon as possible. Typically 8-10 weeks of age is the acceptable starting age for most classes. While completing the vaccine series is very important, so is training and proper socialization. It is usually not necessary to complete all vaccines prior to starting a puppy training class.
Socialization Check List
- Examine teeth (and touch them!), paws, tail and ears. This is called gentling.
- Put your puppy on a table until they’re relaxed, and then put them down. This will help them get use to doctor visits and grooming. If you have a large breed puppy, this is not necessary.
- Teach puppy that things like umbrellas, hats, canes, walkers, balloons, and loud noises are associated with happy voices, treats, and play time!
- Walk them around wheelchairs and baby strollers, as they are likely to encounter these regularly.
- If they are going to be around other animals (horses, cattle, cats, birds, etc), get them use to them early. Keep them on a leash and introduce them with careful supervision.
- Get them used to firm hugs and lots of handling.
- Teach them to lie on their back with their belly exposed to you and others. This teaches them submissiveness.
- If you plan on taking them camping, be sure to get them used to campfires, tents, etc. Keep them on a leash so they don’t burn themselves accidentally.
- Bathe them often and get them used to being wet, soapy, and towel dried. Also, groom them often with an appropriate brush or undercoat rake.
- Get them used to riding in the automobile. Take them for short rides and reward them for good behavior. It is important to keep your pet safe while traveling. Place them in a carrier, or use a pet seatbelt to keep them from being thrown in the event of an emergency or accident.
- Introduce your puppy to 100 different people by 3 months of age.
- Teach them to socialize with other dogs after they are at least 16 weeks old and have finished their vaccine series by taking them to dog parks or other areas where they will encounter playful dogs. Do not allow them to be off leash. Your puppy must learn not to rush up to other dogs, but greet them calmly and safely.
- Teach them to socialize with children. Many dogs are fearful of young children and this can lead to unfortunate circumstances. Careful supervision is necessary.
- Let them be around infants and teach them that baby “noises” are good. Again, careful supervision is necessary.
- Teach them that your mealtime is their crate time. They must learn not to beg. Reward them with a yummy treat while they are in the crate, as the smells of food will entice their hunger.
- Teach them basic commands, such as crate or kennel, sit, stay, come, down, shake, and leave it.
- Ring the doorbell and knock on the door while teaching them the appropriate responsive behavior such as “sit” or “down” and “stay”. They should have no fear with these noises.