Puppy socialization is more than just a fun way to show off your adorable new puppy. Helping your puppy have a variety of positive experiences out in the real world ensures that he has the behavioral tools to happily adjust to whatever life throws at him.
Well-socialized puppies grow into confident, happy dogs that are able to adapt to different social environments. Aside from potty training, socialization might be the most important thing you and your new pup do together!
Can You Socialize Puppies Before They’re Fully Vaccinated?
Because a puppy’s vaccination ramp-up happens over the course of weeks, veterinarians used to caution pet parents to keep their puppies home until their series was complete to prevent accidental exposure to infectious diseases.
Unfortunately, this period of isolation also coincided with a critical puppyhood developmental stage, as pups are most open to novel experiences through roughly 16 weeks of age.
The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) revised their position statement on puppy socialization over 10 years ago to reflect the fact that puppies are more at risk for behavioral problems later in life than infectious diseases during puppyhood.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) notes that behavioral issues, not infectious diseases, are the number one cause of relinquishment to shelters and cause of death for dogs under 3 years of age.
The revised AVMA statement states that puppies must have a variety of positive socialization experiences before their puppy vaccination series is complete in order to develop important coping mechanisms.
It also states that puppies can begin puppy socialization classes as early as 7-8 weeks of age after receiving a minimum of one set of vaccines at least seven days prior to the first class, as well as a first deworming.
Have a Plan and Make Sure Your Puppy Is Comfortable
There’s a difference between haphazard socialization and well-planned, behavior-focused socialization. As your dog’s advocate, your goal is to introduce your pup to new experiences in a way that builds confidence without forcing him into situations that might make him uncomfortable or nervous.
Since puppy socialization is so critical for healthy development, pet parents might be tempted to pursue it by any means necessary. This can mean forgetting that puppies should also have a voice during the process.
Puppy socialization should always be undertaken in a way that prevents overstimulation, fearfulness or withdrawal. Forcing pups out of their comfort zone in the name of socialization is entirely different from allowing them the choice to have new experiences.
For example, if your pup seems nervous about his new playmates at his first puppy class and chooses to stick close to your chair, the best approach is to let him proceed at his own pace.
Dropping him in the middle of the action might scare him and make him even more reluctant to engage in future classes, particularly if he has a negative experience.
The same goes for meeting new human friends, so don’t plop your pup into your friend’s arms. Instead, allow your puppy to meet new people on his own time and on his own terms.
Always be prepared to step in if you notice your puppy becoming overwhelmed. Doing so will help your puppy recognize that he can rely on you to keep him safe.
How Can You Safely Socialize Your New Puppy?
Now that you know what not to do, here are some tips for successful puppy socialization.
Go to Classes
Puppy socialization classes are a fantastic way to kickstart the process. Look for classes run by knowledgeable pet professionals in an environment that’s easy to disinfect.
Check into the class size and curriculum before signing up; classes with too many dogs or those that have more playtime than learning can do more harm than good.
Well-run classes allow time for important dog-dog play, which improves canine communication, as well as brief manners lessons and a pet parent Q&A.
Once your pup has had a chance to settle into your home, welcome a variety of well-mannered friends over to say hello.
Try to include people from all aspects of your social life; senior citizens, children who know how to interact with dogs, people who wear hats or have facial hair or people who are differently abled.
Instruct visitors to let your puppy approach at his own pace and give them tons of dog treats to hand out to help your pup understand that new friends are fantastic.
Visit Dog Buddies
Take field trips to hang out with friends who have older dogs that are comfortable with puppy shenanigans. Keep in mind that not every adult dog can deal with puppy behavior, which is often pushy and inappropriate, so choose friends with tolerant dogs. That way, if your puppy steps out of line, the adult dog can react with a calibrated correction.
Public spaces that are dog-friendly but not dog-frequented are great spots for short puppy socialization trips. Your pup can have a variety of positive experiences, and these new environments and friendly faces can help round out your pup’s socialization checklist.
Do a Drop-In Vet Visit
Your pup has a lifetime of veterinary checkups ahead of him, and you can start to make the experience stress-free by doing fun drop-ins. Bring a pocket full of treats, and ask if you can spend a few minutes exploring an exam room.
Your adorable pup is a guaranteed to attract attention, so it’s possible that a friendly vet tech might be willing to help you with basic handling exercises.
Thorough puppy socialization helps your puppy adapt to our world in a way that pays off for the rest of his life. Though it’s a critical step in your puppy’s development, it’s a fun and rewarding process that will strengthen your growing bond with your new best friend and lead to a well-adjusted companion.
Featured Image: iStock.com/luliia Zavalishina