Tips for Successful Socialization
You can avoid the dangers of under-socialization with a well-constructed plan that addresses all of these potential problem areas. Sign up for a well-run puppy socialization class where your dog can meet new friends and learn the rules of friendly play. Take the time to explore your puppy’s body, including the paws (specifically the nails), mouth, ears and eyes using “touch for a treat” training. Create a checklist of different types of people to meet, but make sure that participants let your pup approach them on his own time. Gently expose your puppy to different noises at low levels. Carefully introduce household equipment, like brooms and unplugged vacuums. Allow him to explore different surfaces, like sidewalk grates and slick floors. Encourage him to check out objects like parked bikes, garbage cans on wheels and strollers. Although it’s critical to expose your puppy to new environments, avoid areas with porous ground where many unfamiliar dogs go, like parks, during the early stages of socialization.
Keep in mind, though, that it’s not just the quantity of experiences your puppy has, it’s also the quality. The secret to socialization success is to make sure that it’s always a positive experience for your puppy. Forcing him to meet someone he’s tentative to approach might actually backfire and reinforce any underlying fear. Similarly, plopping him in the middle of a sandpit when he’s only been on grass might cause undue stress. Work through your puppy’s socialization checklist slowly, always allowing your pup to move at his own pace, and always making sure that he has an escape route from the action should he need it. If you plan ahead and don’t leave anything to chance, your puppy will have a rich vocabulary of real-world skills.
Victoria Schade is a certified dog trainer and author.