Congratulations on your new puppy, Charlie! There are a lot of things for them to learn, but socializing is one key to ensuring your new furry friend is happy and comfortable in their new home. According to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, many dogs who end up in the shelter lack basic social skills because of their limited exposure to other dogs and people, which causes major behavioral issues. Our goal is to ensure your new family member feels safe and comfortable in their new home!
The first three months of a puppy’s life (between 3 to 20 weeks of age) is called the “imprint period”. This is a critical time period to work on socializing because puppies are more accepting of new things that will shape their future. Once this stage passes without the proper socialization, puppies tend to be afraid of new things and unfamiliar environments and become “neophobic.” That is why it’s important to socialize your puppy early in his life. However, if you’re past this critical stage, it’s never too late!
Chances are that your pup’s socialization period will be close to ending before they finish their vaccines. If you are purchasing from a breeder, a responsible one would have already begun with their social development. If you are adopting a dog from the shelter, there may be challenges associated with this, but again, it is never too late to socialize your dog.
Pro-tip: Dog parks, dog-oriented stores, and public parks with plenty of dogs visiting should be avoided, especially if your puppy is not fully vaccinated. Talk to your veterinarian or dog trainer about the safest places to take Charlie.
Safe Ways to Socialize Before Full Vaccinations
- Invite your friends over (as many different types of people as possible – children, men, women, etc)
- Take your puppy to a trusted friend’s home.
- Invite your friends’ healthy, vaccinated, and puppy friendly dogs over for a play date
- Take Charlie on a walk, but avoid any kind of feces and urine.
- Visit businesses that welcome dogs, but carry them inside and let them sit on a designated mat.
- Visit the veterinarian often, even if it’s for a quick weigh-in or treat.
Know Their Warning Signs
If Charlie is your first puppy, then you probably are not aware of all the warning signs. If isn’t your first rodeo, then you will easily recognize these behaviors. The most common tell tale sign is when Charlie’s tail is tucked underneath his hind legs. Other signs include:
- Walking backward
- Crouching down
- Flattened ears
- Piloerection (hair standing on end on the neck and/or spine)
The Best Method
There are many methods on how to socialize your puppy, but none of them are perfect. It’s important to balance them and adjust based on how Charlie is reacting to the training. If you live in the city, this list will definitely be longer, but we’ve provided an extensive list for you to follow. Click here to download our helpful puppy socialization checklist so you can keep track of Charlie’s progress!
Continue to do what you love to do and bring Charlie along! Try to think of all the things you want your puppy to be okay with when they’re an adult. While adventuring with Charlie, reward them with treats when they pay attention to you and calmly ignore their surroundings. Start off with short excursions because starting off with too much can simply be too much for Charlie to comprehend.
Treats are your best friend. When Charlie looks at something and then looks back at you, reward them with a treat! This can be anything from plastic bags to skateboards. This will condition Charlie to believe new things only means treats! Using high value treats such as hot dogs or cheese is a great option. The more they love the treat, the better! Eventually, Charlie will naturally look at you when they encounter something new.
It’s hard to ask, but ask strangers to ignore your puppy as they are training. If your puppy is naturally more timid, it may be a good idea to allow them to say hi to strangers more often instead of pulling them away. Allow your puppy to approach first. If he pulls back, then the interaction should end there.
Let Charlie work it out themselves. If your puppy is nervous about something, allow them to explore their feelings and work it out. If Charlie wants to move away, that’s okay – back up! If they can look back at that scary thing, they get a treat. Do not force them to approach something scary if they aren’t ready or their trust for you lowers. If Charlie is really afraid of the new thing, leave the area to re-group. Charlie will learn that you’re there to support them and will be braver the next time you encounter the scary thing!
Try joining a puppy class. These can definitely cost big bucks, but it is a great way for Charlie to interact with other puppies in a controlled environment. Plus, you’ll be in contact with a professional who will be able to offer alternatives to your current training if something is not working quite right.
Take baby steps. Do not force Charlie into crowded places or busy parties as this can overwhelm and cause a fearful response. If you want them to be accustomed to being held by multiple people, start slowly with one or two family members, then friends, and so on. Allowing friends and family to take part in socialization can be a fun event and even help expose them to new experiences!
Goals of Socialization
The primary goal of these methods is to get Charlie to look at you when encountering new things and then reward them with a treat. Positive reinforcement is a very powerful and effective tool. By working with positive reinforcement, we can create a comfortable environment for our new family member. When all is said and done, Charlie will be able to:
- Calmly pass children, strangers, and other dogs
- Walk across grates on the sidewalk and not get distracted by plastic bags
- Be comfortable with strangers who are on crutches, in wheelchairs, skateboards, bikes, etc.
Click here to download our helpful puppy socialization checklist so you can keep track of Charlie’s progress!