To become a happy, safe, confident member of society, your puppy will need to learn to adapt to new situations and objects, and get along well with humans and other animals. Puppy socialization is the process of introducing a pup to unfamiliar surroundings, objects, and creatures during his formative months to give him confidence to appropriately deal with the unknown later in his life. While proper socialization takes time, a principled step-by-step approach works well to safely introduce your puppy to new experiences.
Between the ages of eight and twelve weeks, puppies go through an imprinting stage that allows mental associations to be formed during different activities. It is at this critical time when you should introduce your pup to many new stimuli each day. Be sure, however, that you can safely control each new situation, as one bad experience can cause major setbacks. Make sure that you have an upbeat attitude during socialization, and reward positive behavior. Ignore negative reactions; coddling will reward fearful reactions and encourage apprehension.
To begin socialization, start small and gradually increase the size and scope of new encounters. Invite a few friends over to meet your new puppy. Invite over men, women, children, older folks, and people of different sizes and shapes. Have friends bring a friendly cat, dog, or other puppy over to play with yours. Make sure that these animals are current on all vaccinations, and only invite them if you know that they will be friendly with your pup. You can even take your pup over to someone else’s home to meet their pets; this will introduce car rides with a positive reward at the end (playtime). Once your pet seems comfortable with other people and animals, take him to dog parks, shopping centers, or even school playgrounds. Just walking around these places will introduce many new things such as loud noises, unpredictable movement, and different smells.
To have a pup that is comfortable with inanimate objects, begin introducing household items like umbrellas, boxes, and vacuum cleaners. The vacuum cleaner seems to be a particularly difficult item for dogs to become accustomed to, so begin by wheeling it out for your pup to sniff and investigate. After a few meetings, turn the vacuum on for a short time to allow your dog to hear the noise it makes. Eventually, he will realize that the big scary vacuum does him no harm, and will learn to ignore it.
Grooming should be introduced as well, with brushing, bathing, nail clipping, and teeth and ear cleaning. Touch your pup’s entire body from head to tail, including belly, and pay particular attention to handling the feet. Dogs commonly have foot and nail problems, and vets have a hard time treating animals that will not allow their paws to be touched. A dog with sensitive areas will bite out of fear, so be sure to spend a good deal of time handling your puppy.
Take Your Puppy To School
Joining a puppy or kindergarten class is another great way to safely introduce your pet to other pups, and to get a start on obedience training. Before you join, observe a few classes to make sure that you are comfortable with the trainer and his techniques. Learning new skills will improve your dog’s confidence, use up energy, and teach the brain to think! Make sure you do not allow your puppy to be bullied by other dogs, and break up rough play that you think may be intimidating for your dog.
Remember, you are working with a puppy that needs lots of sleep and may tire quickly. Keep training sessions short, interesting, and fun. Be a leader for your pup; since he is away from his mom, he will be looking to you for protection and guidance. Be consistent, have control over each situation, and work slowly.
Puppies are one of life’s greatest joys. Enjoy your puppy while he is still little, but remember that you are responsible for teaching him proper behavior. Puppy socialization allows your animal to grow up knowing that he is safe, protected, and loved; he will remain calm and cool in new situations, and you will have a companion that you can safely share with the world.