Having a properly socialized dog makes life easier for both you and your pet. Puppies who are not adequately exposed to life grow up to be anxious, and sometimes dangerous dogs.
The earlier you get a jump on socializing, the better adjusted your canine pal will be throughout life. It’s much easier to do this kind of work when a puppy is young and adaptable. If you’re not sure where to start, look no further. We put together this guide on how to do this as your puppy develops.
0-7 Weeks Old
When a puppy is this young, your only job is to prepare for the arrival! While you’re getting ready, your puppy will learn from his mother and siblings. This is where he discovers how to function as a dog.
He’ll probably look comical as he learns how to navigate all of his quickly developing senses. As those physical senses like sight and sound grow, so will the senses of curiosity and courage. The mother will kindly discipline your puppy when he gets too exuberant.
In an ideal setting, puppies should receive brief and gentle human contact at around two or three weeks old. Each week, the level of contact can increase. By the time the puppy is ready to go to his new home, he should be familiar and comfortable with human presence. Missing out on these formative first weeks with a mother and siblings is damaging to a dog’s psychological development. Depending on the circumstances, they may become aggressive, human-dependent, and fearful.
8-12 Weeks Old
Finally, your long-anticipated arrival is here. The first month of your puppy’s time with you is critical for successful socialization. Puppies are never more flexibly primed to learn than they are during this phase. Take advantage of this impressionable age. Options for socializing your new friend include:
- Take your puppy everywhere. Don’t be shy about bringing your puppy absolutely everywhere they allow dogs. The more you can expose them to – after they’ve been vaccinated – the better. Check out local malls, parks, pet stores, sporting events, trails, and anywhere else you can think of. Try to pick places that will have a variety of people, including children.
- Make car rides as fun as possible. Before starting the engine for the first drive, hang out with your puppy inside the car. Make it a cozy place with soft words and delicious treats. When you hit the road, do a few short, trial runs before making a longer drive.
- Get noisy. Let your dog hear as many new sounds as you can. You don’t want to scare them, but it’s valuable to show them things like doorbells, traffic, skateboards, vacuums, and other animal sounds.
- Have friends visit. If your puppy is particularly nervous, ask friends to come over, preferably with their own pup. It’s less nerve-wracking for a puppy to meet a new face in a familiar environment. It’s also good for them to learn early on that it’s okay to have human and canine visitors visit the home.
- Walk on different surfaces. This one may sound funny, but many puppies are tripped up by surfaces they’ve never walked on. Put them on carpets, wood floors, sidewalks, gravel, grass, etc. Practice going up and down stairs. Let them decipher the best way to cross a puddle.
- Sign up for puppy class. Puppy classes are a perfect way to socialize in a safe environment. An experienced teacher can monitor the entire learning experience so that everyone is comfortable.
Around this time, usually between weeks eight to ten, you may notice your puppy go through what is called a “fear period.” This sounds worse than it is. All it means is that at this time, puppies are more sensitive to bad experiences.
If something upsetting happens, it sticks with them in a deeper way than it normally would. All you have to do is stay positive, supportive, and cautious about any new stimuli, whether that’s another dog, person, or even a trip in the car.
3-6 Months Old
While the first sixteen weeks are the most critical for socialization, that journey continues on as the pup ages. Before, exposure was the priority. Now, allow training within the socialization experiences to take a stronger focus. Somewhere in this period, your puppy will lose his baby teeth. Have some teething toys ready to save your fingers and furniture, as chewing tendencies increase during this period. If you find your puppy’s chewing is particularly excessive, check out our article on combating inappropriate chewing.
This is also the time where your pup can be spayed or neutered. With all of these developmental changes, you may notice your puppy growing more assertive. He might test his boundaries and challenge you to see where he stands.
Combat this with obedience training and consistency. Continue to take your puppy out to as many places as possible. Regular exercise will help with the rebelliousness often seen in puppies at this age.
6-12 Months Old
We’re officially in the teenage phase. Depending on the breed, your puppy will either look a bit gangly or be nearing his adult appearance. Energy and confidence will be at an all-time high.
Don’t be discouraged if training seems to take a setback here. It’s normal for puppies to be a little erratic as they approach maturity. The six to twelve-month period is not the optimal socialization time, but that doesn’t mean you should stop exposing your pet to new experiences. Keep up your efforts to show your pet unexpected places and people. Don’t be surprised if your puppy goes through another fear period somewhere during this time. Since dogs are bigger and more opinionated at this point, the second fear period may be more obvious.
Power through it by offering loving support to your pal.
Don’t indulge his fears by making a big deal out of them. He could view that as confirmation he was right to be afraid. Remain a kind but confident leader throughout any moments where your puppy gets spooked by something unfamiliar.
Don’t Wait to Socialize!
Without proper socialization, dogs suffer from excess anxiety and are often over-reactive. A dog like that ends up being left alone instead of brought along with the group. This is why taking these steps at an early stage is so worthwhile.
Making the time to socialize your puppy sets you up for a lifetime with a well-adjusted, friendly companion.