What Is Socialization?
Most young dogs are naturally made to be able to get used to the everyday things they encounter in their environment, until they reach a certain age. Puppies are most accepting of new experiences between 3 and 12 weeks old. After that age, they become much more cautious of anything they haven’t yet encountered. From about 12 to 18 weeks old the opportunity to easily socialize the puppy ends and with each passing week it becomes harder to get the pup to accept and enjoy something that he’s initially wary of.
Why Is Puppy Socialization Important?
Puppies who have been socialized properly usually develop into safer, more relaxed and enjoyable pets. This is because they’re more comfortable in a wider variety of situations than poorly socialized dogs, so they’re less likely to behave fearfully or aggressively when faced with something new. Poorly socialized dogs are much more likely to react with fear or aggression to unfamiliar people, dogs and experiences. Well-socialized dogs also live much more relaxed, peaceful and happy lives than dogs who are constantly stressed out by their environment.
How Does a Puppy Need to Be Socialized?
Socialization is a big project. It requires exposure to the types of people, animals, places, sounds and experiences that you expect your dog to be comfortable in later in life. Depending on the lifestyle you have planned for your dog, this might include the sight and sound of trains, garbage trucks, schoolyards of screaming children, crowds, cats, livestock or crying infants. While it’s impossible to expose a young puppy to absolutely everything he will ever encounter in life, the more bases that you cover during the peak socialization period of 3 to 12 weeks, the more likely the puppy will be able to generalize from his prior experiences and find something reassuringly familiar in a new situation.
Do I Need to Do Anything Special When I Socialize My Puppy?
Yes! You need to make sure that the situation is not overwhelming for him and that he becomes more comfortable, not more worried, each time you expose him to something. The rule of thumb with puppy socialization is to keep a close eye on your puppy’s reaction to whatever you expose him to so that you can tone things down if your pup seems at all frightened. Always follow up a socialization experience with praise, petting, a fun game or a special treat.
What If My Puppy Seems Frightened During Socialization?
Even though 3 to 12 weeks old is a time when puppies are most comfortable with new experiences, they might sometimes find a new experience frightening. Whenever this happens, it’s important to introduce your puppy to the scary situation much more gradually and to make a big effort to do something your puppy loves during the situation or right afterwards. For example, if your puppy seems to be frightened while sitting on your lap in a schoolyard full of children, then sit further away from the action and offer your pup a delicious treat each time a scary noise or movement happens. Another solution is to go to a much quieter park where only a few children are playing, use praise and treats to help convince him it’s a great place to be and then over days or even weeks of your socialization sessions, gradually approach a schoolyard again once he’s started to like the sights and sounds of active children.
Socialization is essential for helping your puppy develop into a happy, fun and safe companion. Most people find it easier and more enjoyable to live with a dog who’s relaxed with strangers, gets along well with dogs and adapts easily to new experiences. While some dogs are born with genetic predispositions that can make this difficult or impossible, most dogs are very impressionable when young and can learn to take everything in stride. Socializing your puppy gives him the greatest chance possible to develop into a dog who’s comfortable in his environment and a joy to walk with in Greenwich or Blackheath!