“If we want our dogs to be acceptable, happy, welcomed, and safe in human society, we need to socialize them to human social norms.” – Laura VanArendonk Baugh
What is Puppy Socialization?
If you asked 10 different people, you might get 10 different answers to this questions! Two misconceptions about puppy socialization that we hear often:
- Socialization means that puppies should meet a whole bunch of people and dogs
- There is a “one size fits all” socialization protocol or recipe that you must follow
This probably makes it really confusing to figure out what you should be a doing as a puppy parent to make the most of your puppy’s first few months!
If there is one rule of thumb that you can apply to your puppy socialization plans, it is this: socialization is not just about exposure, but rather, your puppy should be having a good time when you are introducing them to new items, people, dogs, and experiences. If your puppy is scared or overwhelmed by an experience, we can do more harm than good.
How do you know if your puppy is having a good time?
Look at your puppy’s body language. Do they have a relaxed, loose body? Are they eager to approach a person wearing a weird hat on their own? Do they appear playful when the new thing is presented? If you can answer “yes” to these questions, you are probably on the right track!
How do you know if your puppy is overwhelmed?
Again, look at your puppy’s body language. Are they tense? Is their tail tucked down? Have they frozen in place? Are they shying away from approaching hands? If you can answer “yes” to these questions, it’s time to rescue them!
What should your puppy encounter during these early formative months of life?
The things that will be part of their every day life, including the sights, sounds, textures, surfaces, smells, and experiences that they are likely to encounter! There are several good checklists available (see the books recommended below), but remember to include your own items based on your lifestyle and what you would like your dog to be comfortable with. Each puppy is a unique individual and will need a customized socialization plan to make the most of their first few months of life with you.
With my last puppy, we discovered very quickly that he did not especially enjoy tactile stimulation. He moved away from hands and got pretty nippy when we touched him. We wanted to cuddle him so badly! To help him feel better about being touched, we customized our socialization plan to include short, positive sessions in which he could choose to be touched. By going slow and using really yummy treats, our puppy had the opportunity to learn that being touched was a good thing! As an adult dog, he now frequently requests tactile interactions with us! We are so glad our efforts early on in his life paid off!
When should you begin socialization?
ASAP! It is widely accepted that the critical window for socialization closes sometime between 12-16 weeks of age. There are many ways to safely socialize your puppy during this time even though they may not yet be fully vaccinated. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) has an excellent resource outlining the importance of socialization during this critical period, which you can find here.
Puppy Socialization Resources
If you are not sure where to start with your own socialization program, or need some help tweaking your plan to address specific issues, we are here to help! Please contact us! We offer group classes and puppy day training services that incorporate appropriate socialization, as well as in-home private training to help you customize your socialization and training program.
If you’d like to explore some excellent books on puppy socialization, we recommend the following:
- Perfect Puppy in 7 Days by Dr. Sophia Yin
- Social, Civil, and Savvy by Laura VanArendonk Baugh
- Life Skills for Puppies by Helen Zulch & Daniel Mills
- Puppy Start Right by Kenneth M. Martin & Debbie Martin
- Puppy Socialization: What it is and how to do it by Marge Rogers & Eileen Anderson
In addition, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) has an excellent resource outlining the importance of socialization, which you can find here.
Still have questions? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org