Socialization means learning to be part of society. Dogs live in our society so they must learn to be around humans, other animals, and various sights, sounds, and smells. The vast majority of a dog’s socialization occurs between 4-12 weeks of age. This is when they are most impressionable and will accept new things most readily. Any positive or negative experiences during this time will have a life-long effect. While adult dogs are able to learn and acclimate to new things, it is exponentially more difficult.
The first half of a dog’s early social window takes place before most owners have even obtained their puppy. A puppy that is born into the home of a responsible breeder or foster family will have a much better chance of becoming a well-adjusted dog than a puppy who is isolated with only their mom and littermates.
Why is this so important? Lack of early socialization can lead to dogs who are timid, fearful, and sometimes even aggressive. Of course, breed and individual temperament are contributing factors as well. Preventing these problems is much easier than treating them later in life. Behavior problems are the number one reason dogs are relinquished or euthanized.
The key to proper socialization is to introduce new things slowly, gradually, and under only positive circumstances. At home, introduce your puppy to lots of different people (not all at the same time) and various objects such as hats, canes, umbrellas, wheelchairs, and vacuums. Exposure your puppy to various noises and smells. Practice different experiences such as brushing, nail trims, ear cleaning, teeth brushing, etc. Take fun visits to the vet’s office if possible. Take car rides, go in elevators. Puppy playdates with another puppy or puppy-tolerant adult dog are also helpful.
One important note is to watch your puppy closely when you are introducing new things. If they seem nervous (backing away, hair standing up, ears pulled back), your puppy is overwhelmed and needs a break. Next time try a bit slower and more gradually with a high-value food reward.
Another fantastic way to socialize your puppy is by attending a puppy socialization or puppy kindergarten class. These classes are specifically designed to properly expose your puppy to various new things. They will also get to know some new people and dogs in the class. While you will learn some basic obedience and discuss puppy development and challenging behaviors, the main goal of this class is socialization.
One common question we hear is “how do I take my puppy to class if they are not done with their puppy vaccination series yet”? While it is true that any exposure to other dogs before the puppy vaccine series is complete (which is around 18 weeks of age) poses some risk, an organized puppy class has been shown to be a low-risk activity. Puppy class trainers should be monitoring for any sign of illness in the puppies. All of the puppies should have been examined by a veterinarian and have the appropriate vaccinations for their age. In most cases, the benefit of puppy socialization far outweighs the risk.
We can help!
Countryside Veterinary Hospital offers Dog Training Classes right here at our hospital!
Learn more about our classes