The first three months of your puppy’s life is called the “imprint period,” which is a critical period to work on socialization. During this time, puppies are more curious and accepting of new things. Once this stage passes, your puppy may become “neophobic” or afraid of things they do not understand. Many dogs who end up in the shelter lack basic social skills because of their limited exposure, which cause major behavioral issues.
The key to ensuring your puppy is well socialized is making sure all of the experiences are positive. Bring high value treats with you such as cheese, boiled unseasoned chicken, hot dogs, etc. The more they love it, the better. Positive reinforcement is an incredibly effective tool in ensuring your new fur baby is comfortable and not fearful.
Pro-tip: Do not force your puppy into situations they are clearly afraid of as it can overwhelm them and have the opposite effect.
Watch out for these warning signs:
- Walking backwards
- Crouching down
- Flattened ears
- Tail tucked between their legs
- Hair standing near the neck or spine
1. Puppy Kindergarten
Try joining a puppy kindergarten class. This will allow your puppy to learn valuable skills while also playing with other people, pups, and their trainer. This is generally a controlled environment that will allow them to safely greet others.
2. Invite healthy, vaccinated, puppy-friendly dogs over.
Have friends who have well-trained dogs? Invite them over! It is important for your puppy to interact puppy-friendly dog who can teach them the ropes of properly socializing with other dogs. Dogs tend to copy other dog behaviors so make sure this is with someone you trust!
3. Take your pup on a walk
This may seem like a simple solution, but the more often you are outside with your puppy, the more they will get used to their environments. Working on leash training while outside can encourage your puppy to pay attention to you while you’re outside and learn to ignore distractions. At the end, you can bring them to a human park for a picnic! Keep their leash/harness on and bring toys, treats, etc to distract your puppy while they relax with you at the park. There are hundreds of distractions in the park so it is the perfect place to socialize your puppy.
4. Take your pup for car rides
If you have a car at your disposal, taking your puppy on car rides will get them accumulated to it, especially if you’re looking forward to taking road trip with them in the future! Using it often to fun places for your dog and rewarding them will allow for positive experiences associated with the car.
5. Take your pup to dog-friendly businesses
We find that more businesses are allowing our furry friends in to help drive business for them. Try and find cafes, restaurants, pet stores, etc that will allow your pup to roam with you. This can also help socialize your puppy so they are calm in situations they are not familiar with.
6. Help your puppy experience unstable surfaces
“Unstable surfaces” is a broad term. You should specifically look to sand, linoleum, marble, tile, wood, metal, etc to expose your puppy too. It can be annoying trying to avoid specific surfaces while walking them so introducing as early as possible is important!
7. Expose to different sounds
If you live in the city, this is definitely a big one. Loud noises like motorcycles, trash trucks, fireworks, construction, etc can be really scary for your puppy! Their ears can hear -5 dB and -15 dB on average, which is fancy way of saying they can hear things we can’t. Sometimes playing videos or audios on noises inside a safe environment can help with getting them ready for the real thing.
8. Wear different hats, sunglasses, and “odd” clothing
This one is definitely a fun one for you and the family! Dogs are naturally neophobic in the beginning so they will be wary of people who may walk differently from you (i.e canes and wheelchairs), or people who have their faces covered from masks to burqas. We want to train our dog to be calm and respectful when encountering people on the street. Even encouraging strangers to give them treats can help!
9. Visit your veterinarian
If you veterinarian is close by, believe it or not, it’s great idea to stop by for a treat or two. The staff absolutely love it and your puppy will associate the veterinarian with good experiences this way. They will be dragging you to the veterinarians afterwards!