Congratulations, you’re a new or soon to be puppy parent! You have your hands full right now with housetraining and teaching your puppy basic manners. Socializing your puppy may not seem like the top priority now, however it is actually one of the most important things that you can do for your puppy’s behavioral health. Early socialization can prevent fear and aggression and create a happy, friendly dog. Socialization starts today, let’s get started!
Take your puppy to a variety of clean and safe places to meet friendly people and dogs. You will want to avoid unsanitary locations such as the dog park until your puppy is older and is completely vaccinated, since many viruses can be transmitted through urine and feces. Avoid the commotion of parades, festivals, crowded stores and other busy places where there is too much going on and your puppy may have sensory overload or become easily overwhelmed.
Introduce your puppy to a variety of people including children of all ages, women, men, and seniors; people of varying races and ethnicities; people in different contexts such as wearing costumes, uniforms, hats, glasses, holding umbrellas, using a cane, walker or sitting in wheelchair. It’s best if you can introduce your puppy to one or two people at a time to avoid overwhelming him. Don’t allow groups of children to rush up and smother your puppy. Ask children to take turns introducing themselves one at a time.
Encourage your puppy to meet strangers by providing them will special treats to dole out to your puppy. If your puppy is pushy, you may want to require that he sits before receiving a treat. If your puppy is nippy, the person can hold the treat with their hand open so your puppy can take it gently.
Visit your vet’s office to let your puppy experience the environment without the stress of an exam or vaccination. Have the staff say “hi” and give your puppy a treat and gentle pats or strokes and then leave on a happy note. This will help to create a positive, happy association reducing your puppy’s stress during other visits.
Socialize your puppy to other friendly puppies and dogs. It is important to introduce him to other young puppies or well-socialized adult dogs because you’ll want your puppy to have a good experience. The more good experiences he has, the more positive associations he will have with other dogs. If the other dog is getting annoyed by your youngster, don’t let the dogs “work it out”. It is not fair to a senior dog to be nipped, jumped on and harassed by your puppy and likewise, is it isn’t fair to your puppy for getting growled or snapped at for being playful.
Remove your puppy from uncomfortable situations. Your puppy should have a say over his own body. If he is not interested and squirms away, barks or nips a little bit, don’t correct him. Instead, get him out of the situation so he does not have to escalate his behavior into something more serious like a bite.
Puppy socialization may require a lot of upfront work however it will pay off in dividends when you have a happy, well-adjusted and friendly dog for many years to come.
Alisa Peters is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. She has worked as a pet adoption counselor, pet dog trainer and assistance dog trainer over the past eight years. She has taught hundreds of dogs and their people through group classes and private lessons. She can be reached at 443.625.9866 and firstname.lastname@example.org.