Puppy socialization – exposing a puppy to everything in the environment they’re likely to encounter during their lifetime – is the most important thing you can do to help your puppy grow into a calm, happy, well-adjusted adult. Lack of socialization can turn your curious, excited puppy into a fearful, anxious adult dog. It results in behavior problems that can be difficult or impossible to cure, which is the main reason dogs wind up in animal shelters.
These problems can easily be avoided if you take the time to socialize your puppy from an early age.
The first few months of life are critical times for a puppy’s emotional and cognitive development. Although the socialization process can begin as early as three or four weeks, they are firmly in this stage from seven weeks to four months of age. This is the time to gently and positively introduce them to everything in the environment, and we do mean everything.
Here is just a small sample:
Riding in the car
People skating past them
Men with beards
You get the idea. Everything in the environment is something puppies can become fearful or anxious about – unless they learn from you, the leader of the pack, that there’s nothing to be afraid of.
Tips on Socializing your Puppy
Start at home: Introduce your puppy to every aspect of your home. Gently expose them to the sound of the vacuum cleaner and the blender. Let them interact with family members. Take them outside to investigate the yard and chase butterflies. Introduce them to visitors, but don’t allow any teasing, tormenting or roughhousing as this could traumatize them.
Broaden their Horizons: As often as possible, take your puppy on an environmental tour. Think of everything possible they might experience in their lifetime, and then try to give them a little taste of it now. For instance, take them for a walk down a side street, with occasional cars driving by, to get them used to the sound; have them walk on different surfaces, such as concrete or linoleum; take them to the park (after they’ve had their vaccinations.)
Start out slowly: It’s important to slowly expose your puppy to an experience; otherwise, they could become overwhelmed, making them afraid of it. If you want your puppy to be calm around traffic noise or pedestrians, for instance, start out by taking them for a walk on a moderately traveled/walked suburban street, not Times Square.