Behavior Tip of the Month
What is Puppy Socialization?
Why Is It Important To Socialize A Puppy?
Young dogs experience a development stage where they easily become used to the everyday things they encounter in their environment. This is so that they don’t become afraid or stressed of everyday occurrences. Think of the socialization as “vaccinating your puppy against scary things”. The greater and wider the range of exposure to new experiences you can give to your puppy, the more it will lead to improved social flexibility, emotional stability and trainability.
Poorly socialized dogs are more likely to:
Behave fearfully or aggressively when faced with something new.
React with fear or aggression to unfamiliar people, dogs and experiences.
Become stressed whenever outside of their home environment.
When To Socialize A Puppy?
The most critical socialization period for puppies is between 3 and 17 weeks of age. Studies have shown that the effectiveness of socialization begins to decline slowly between 12 and 18 weeks. After 18 weeks old, it’s extremely difficult, and sometimes impossible, to teach a dog to “like” something new, or help him become comfortable with something he finds frightening.
How To Socialize A Puppy?
It is important that new experiences be positive. You need to make sure that the situation is not overwhelming. The goal is to help the puppy become more comfortable—not more worried—with each new experience.
The rule of thumb is to keep a close eye on your puppy’s reaction to whatever you expose him. If your pup seems frightened, you will have create a more positive experience for your puppy so that he can have a more positive reaction at the next exposure.
Allow your puppy to approach, investigate and observe new experiences at her own speed.
Reward any confident behavior with praise and yummy treats.
Talk confidently to your puppy when she encounters a new object, person or event and give her yummy treats.
Always follow up a socialization experience with praise, petting, a fun game or a special treat.
Have ample downtime for to puppy to recover after a new experience or before a repeat exposure to “scary” experience.
- Repeated positive exposures will strengthen your puppy’s confidence with situations.
Keep in mind you're not trying to overwhelm your puppy with new experiences - quantity is not better than quality! Make sure your puppy is confident, well rested and having a good time whenever you introduce her to something new.
What If My Puppy Become Frightened During Socialization?
Great care must be taken not to reinforce negative behavior. Force can frighten the dog, and soothing tones can encourage fear. Fearful behavior should be handled with patience and kindness.
If your puppy becomes fearful during an encounter:
- When your puppy seems uncertain, take her away from the thing that is causing her stress until your puppy relaxes. Encourage her to approach at her own rate again with you adding encourage words and yummy treats as incentives.
Never force your pup to approach anyone or anything, let her explore on her terms, quietly praising and encouraging her when she boldly approaches by herself.
- NEVER coddle your pup, if your puppy shows signs of fear or nervousness. You don’t want to reinforce the fearful reaction.
Set a good example by engaging with the object or person. Make it seem like great fun to explore new things. Feed yummy snacks near the “scary” experience
- Repeat exposures to strengthen your puppy’s confidence with “fearful” situations. Be sure to use the above tips to reduce your puppy’s fear and increase positive associations.
Keep Track of Your Puppy’s Socialization Experiences.
Use this checklist as a guide to keep track of what your puppy has been exposed to and how they reacted. Remember that socialization is a process. The more times your puppy has a positive response during the socialization period, the better your puppy will be react to the next experience.