The world can be an overwhelming place for a small puppy; loud noises, people towering over them, new dogs approaching them, and weirdly shaped objects all over the place! Most puppies come into contact with many things in their daily lives and become used to them, but not always. For puppies to become confident adult dogs it’s best to make sure they experience these new things, but did you know, that as an owner, you can make their experiences even better? Pairing yummy treats with new experiences is a great way to make sure that your puppy is getting the socialization they need, in a positive way. Every dog will benefit from socialization, regardless of their age, but for owners with puppies, socialization is a vital part of training.
What is socialization?
Socialization is positive exposure to people, dogs, sounds, objects, locations, and situations. Socialization is important for every dog to be comfortable in different settings and around different things. This is especially important for puppies. The more things they come into contact with and have a positive interaction with will set them up for success as an adult. Socialization is not just having a puppy around different things if he is scared, it is important that the puppy is having positive exposure to these things.
So how can you make sure that your puppy is having a positive interaction?
We do this by pairing new things with something that your puppy already likes – yummy treats! If your puppy can easily take treats in front of different people, dogs, sounds, objects, locations, and situations, they are experiencing a positive exposure to these things. The socialization period for puppies is about 3-12 weeks. This means that during this time positive exposure is even more important because the connections your puppy is making are even stronger. These positive interactions can influence their confidence and ability to handle new things for the rest of their lives.
- 20-50 new dogs and people every week
- 2-3 new locations every week
Socialization does not necessarily mean coming into contact with every person or dog, it just means being around them. We love bringing vaccinated puppies to fenced-in dog parks and “pairing” while staying outside. Staying on the outside of the dog park means that your puppy can get close to many different breeds and sizes of dogs that might play too rough if they were in the park with them. It allows your puppy to control how close they can get to the other dog and how much time they spend around the other dog too. You can pair the other dog’s presence by saying “good” whenever your puppy looks at the dogs or people and then giving them a small treat. Praise your puppy when they choose to approach other dogs and people as well.
You can also set up puppy playdates with other vaccinated puppies! Watch the puppies to make sure they are taking turns playing, and that one puppy is not showing distress or trying to hide. You can also keep both puppies leashed and feed them separately or pair when they look at the other puppy.
Contact with different people is a great way to aid in socialization. Give your puppy a treat when people pass or approach them. You can have children or strangers offer treats to your puppy with an open palm to practice taking food nicely (please do not do this with children if your puppy tends to nip while taking treats!) and have others pet your puppy when he is sitting to practice greetings. If your puppy tries to hide when people approach, create some distance (roughly 3-5ft away) and try offering them a treat again. Once your puppy is willingly taking food from you, you can increase the difficulty by moving a couple of feet closer with calm, slow approaches.
Places to socialize your puppy
Other locations that are great for socialization are playgrounds (start 50-100ft away and slowly move closer while you pair), stores like Lowes and Hobby Lobby, and dog-friendly patios and cafes! Check out our posts about “Top Dog-Friendly Stores in ATX,” and “Best Local Parks for Puppies” for more ideas. Remember that if your puppy is not taking food from you in any of these locations, it might be good to try a place with fewer people or dogs and then work your way up to busier locations.
While getting as much positive socialization as possible, we do not recommend your puppy attend doggie daycare or go to off-leash parks to accomplish these goals. These settings are much harder to control and it can be difficult to ensure a positive experience for your puppy.
What do you do until your puppy is vaccinated?
If your puppy is unvaccinated we recommend as much socialization as possible, but with minimal contact with other dogs. We also recommend keeping your puppy on concrete and off of the grass in public parks, making sure they do not put anything in their mouths and wiping down their paws afterward. If you want your puppy to interact with other dogs, make sure you know the other dog is fully vaccinated before allowing them to play. There are many locations and situations that your puppy can experience while they are waiting to be vaccinated. Walking along paved paths in parks to see people, dogs, and other animals is a great way to hit your goals without putting your puppy at risk. You can also go to dog-friendly stores, and walk in the Domain. Until your puppy is vaccinated, please avoid dog parks, grassy areas with lots of animal traffic, and places with off-leash dogs.
If you need any help getting started with socialization, or ramping up your goals, let us know! Check out our Puppy Training page to learn more about the programs that we offer. We would love to meet your puppy and help you with all of your training goals!