The Basics of Puppy Socialization
What is Puppy Socialization?
In a nutshell, puppy socialization is the act of exposing your puppy to new environments where they can interact with other animals and people. This is done in gradual steps to allow the puppy to slowly acclimate to the new setting and also to learn how to interact with other animals and human beings. Puppy socialization is an integral aspect of training your pet and if done correctly, it results in a healthier, happier animal.
Why is Puppy Socialization Important?
A well-socialized puppy stands a better chance of becoming a happier, more adjusted pet that is a joy to be around. Getting them used to new environments at an early age equips them with a coping mechanism that allows them to be comfortable in a number of situations. It may seem trivial but an animal that is relaxed in an environment full of new people, other animals and new sounds is more likely to be healthier than one that gets jumpy at every vehicle horn.
Under-socialized Dogs are Often Fearful, Aggressive and Unable to Cope with New Environments
The more relaxed your puppy is around new people and animals, the less likely he/she is to exhibit aggressive behavior. Poorly socialized dogs become extremely fearful when introduced to unfamiliar people or animals. When an under-socialized dog is put in an unfamiliar situation, the most intrinsic fight or flight reaction kicks in and this leads to unwarranted aggression.
As much as socialization is important, it is not really necessary to expose your puppy to every new environment there is. You can ease off as soon as you start noticing a marked change in your puppy’s behavior when introduced to unfamiliar people, animals and new experiences.
When should you socialize Your Puppy?
Puppies are at their most adaptable when they are between 3 and 12 weeks of age. During this period, they are still very friendly and capable of adapting to new environments and experiences quicker.
After 12 weeks, puppies begin to develop a natural cautiousness towards unfamiliar people and other animals. It becomes a lot more difficult to get them to acclimate to new situations then since they become threatened easily. Although it can still be done, expert advice dictates that you should begin socializing the puppy before 12 weeks for better results.
How is a Puppy Socialized?
Puppy socialization is not something you can just cram into a week and get it done. It takes time to familiarize a new puppy to new experiences in addition to getting them used to being around different people and environments.
Depending on your lifestyle, you should expose your puppy to environments they are more likely to encounter during their lifetime. If you live in a noisy neighborhood full of young children, a visit to the park or a school yard should get them used to the sight of young children running around all day. If your life is based further away from the suburbs and deeper into the city, get them acclimatized to the sounds of vehicles, the sight of random, unfamiliar people and the various smells in the city.
The more you cover during those crucial first week, the more adapted your pet will eventually be. Although there is no systematic approach towards it, just ease into everything and try to make your puppy comfortable throughout.
Introduce your Puppy to Many Kinds of People
Your pets should get the chance to meet as many different people as possible. The park is the ideal place to make this happen. Letting different people pet him/her is one way you can get the puppy used to being touched by unfamiliar people. It makes them a whole lot friendlier and less aggressive towards unfamiliar faces.
Familiarize your Puppy with Other Animals
Be sure to give your puppy the chance to run around with other dogs in the park if possible. Introduce it to your cat (or your neighbor’s) early enough and let it get used to the idea of being around other animals. This teaches your puppy to “play nice” and generally makes it more sociable towards animals of all kinds.
Getting your Puppy Familiarized with Different Sounds
This is a delicate part of puppy socialization. It is hard not to get frightened when hearing an unfamiliar sound for the first time. As such, you should keep reassuring your pet with your presence among other things to let it know that everything is okay. Once again, consider your immediate surroundings when getting him/her acclimatized to different sounds. A countryside dog does not necessarily need to learn the sounds made by a ship or a train.
What if my puppy seems frightened during socialization?
It is perfectly normal for your puppy to get frightened when exposed to an experience for the first time. This only means that you should try a more gradual approach towards getting them used to the experience. Take a step back if they exhibit too much fear and try to ease into it as slowly as possible.
Reassure your pet constantly throughout an uncomfortable ordeal to make them feel safe. You can give them the occasional treat to calm them down and try to get them to be as relaxed as possible. To take the edge off the situation, do something your puppy loves before or immediately after. The more they associate the experience with the things they love, the easier it will be for them to get used to it.
If things prove to be a bit difficult at first, give it a little time and patience. Alternatively, you can opt for puppy kindergarten classes which focus on pet socialization and training. This environment is ideal for the puppies as they get a chance to play with other puppies and also get handled by different pet owners. On top of that, your pet will also learn basic obedience skills and also how to respond to your requests among other essentials.
Ensure your puppy is properly vaccinated before introducing him/her to new environments and other dogs. During these early weeks, they are very vulnerable as their immune systems are still not properly developed. Do not take chances with this as the risk of infection when exposed to pathogens is much higher during this period. Nevertheless, this should not impede your efforts to make your pet more sociable because in the long run, the overall behavior of your dog is what will matter most.