We understand puppy socialization is critical, but how do we do it? Let me walk you through it! As we discussed in the last article, socializing your puppy properly is imperative to ensuring you will have a well-adjusted, balanced dog. Early socialization puts you a step ahead and gives your dog a better chance at a happy, balanced life because he will have learned the skills to help him navigate through our world. Learning these skills makes it less likely that he will end up in a shelter due to behavior issues. Many dogs are relinquished to shelters (and even euthanized) due to behavioral problems that can typically be traced back to inadequate socialization, genetics, or training. Puppy socialization has a short window and will be much harder to “re-do” when your dog is an adult. Here’s how to socialize your puppy safely and effectively!
Look to your puppy’s future
- First, it’s important to think about the life you want your puppy to live as an adult. What will your puppy NEED to deal with on a regular basis? What will they need to deal with occasionally? What are things they might have to deal with? Create a checklist based on your lifestyle and goals for your dog. You can adjust your checklist as needed and as new issues come up. If you see your puppy struggling with a certain stimuli or situation, focus on helping them through that (like men with beards, people wearing hats, or moving cars). Think of things you want your puppy to be okay with as an adult, and go do them! Most of us want dogs that will pass people and dogs nicely on a leash, not lunge at cyclist or joggers, not run from a plastic bag blowing in the wind, kindly greet people when they come through our doors, etc. If we never expose our dogs to these situations, how can we expect them to handle them calmly and confidently? We cannot determine what a pup will react to or be afraid of, so it’s our job as their owner to help and comfort them, not force them to face a stimuli they may not be okay with.
- Second, puppy socialization needs to begin before pups are fully vaccinated because the main socialization period occurs before your pup is fully vaccinated. There is a huge risk behaviorally if you do not and there are ways to be smart and safe about it. Areas that are highly frequented by unknown dogs should be off limits as they can be exposed to and carry more disease. Err on the side of caution and use common sense. Take your puppy on a leash in your front yard to watch other dogs and owners pass by, listen and watch cars, listen to the wind blow the leaves, watch the mail carrier deliver the mail. You can even carry your pup into certain stores (or put them in the cart) to take in the world. You can also keep your puppy safe and protected and still socialize in a high quality puppy class. (They will require your dog to have the set amount of vaccinations based on their age). Puppy classes help teach your pup how to be handled by different people, learn the basics and foundation of obedience, how to positively engage with new puppies and people, and that learning is fun!
Practice Positive Reinforcement
- Lastly, every time your puppy checks something out then checks back in with you, follow with a treat. This helps build a positive association with this stimulus. Reward your puppy for engaging with scary things. If he wants to move away from something, let him. You may need to encourage and support him and in doing do that can build the confidence the puppy needs to re-engage. If there is a stimulus you do not think your puppy is ready for, remove them from the situation and try at a different time with an easier version of that specific scenario. In general, work on rewarding your puppy for focusing on you, calmly engaging with the world, and choosing to interact with curiosity rather than hyperactivity or fear.
Puppy socialization is supposed to be a fun and positive process. Get your puppy out in the world to see, hear, smell, and feel new things. Your puppy needs to be exposed and socialized with people of all ages and races, different dogs (only allow play with known dogs that are appropriate), other animals, moving objects, sounds (thunder, door bell, construction, babies crying, alarm, vaccum, etc), handling (lifting ears, lifting tail, touching feet etc), different surfaces, and different situations (car rides, vets office, hikes, busy streets, etc) and anything you can think to add to your checklist. Reward your puppy when they notice certain stimuli and check back in with you. This work can make ALL the difference in how your puppy responds to life situations when they are an adult. If you notice your puppy continually responding out of fear or aggression, consider working with a professional trainer.
This article was written by Rachelle Yates, the owner and founder of K9 Revolution, LLC. Rachelle resides in Downtown McKinney with her husband and young daughter. She specializes in obedience, behavior modification, and training service dogs. Her goal is to develop and nurture the canine-human relationship to be the best it can be. Her canine family includes four dogs: Misha (Catahoula mix), Ginger (boxer/shepherd mix), Eli (Italian greyhound), and a new golden doodle fur baby. Rachelle is highly rated by many TDPS families.