May 25, 2020
From the first moment that man and dog befriended one another until today, that relationship has long moved beyond that of man and pet—our dogs are now undeniably beloved members of the family. Worldwide there are at least 900 million canis lupis familiaris (dogs) and at least 80 million of them live in America alone. Approximately 48% of all American families include at least one canine member today.
Behavioral issues such as fear, avoidance, and even aggression are issues that can be easily avoided through a process called “puppy socialization”. Not only is socialization one of the most important things that a human will do for his furry friend, but it can also easily be one of the most enjoyable, rewarding things as well, frequently with the added benefit of strengthening the bond between a human and the newest member of the family!
One of the most critical steps in any puppy’s development, socialization is key to ensuring that your new best friend will not only be happy, but friendly, confident, and well-adjusted throughout their lifetimes by introducing them to life in a human’s world. Proper socialization means introducing the puppy to different types of people, environments, scents, sights, smells, sounds, other animals, and even other dogs! This kind of socialization will ensure a happy, well-adjusted companion that acclimates quickly and easily to new situations. At its most basic, socialization simply means that you are introducing your new best friend in a positive, safe way to all of the sights and sounds that are likely to be a part of their world.
Between around three and twelve weeks of age, puppies are more curious and accepting of new things, and should not yet show signs of aggression or fear. Before twelve weeks, puppies are still at an impressionable stage and are more likely to absorb their new experiences instead of hiding from them or reacting aggressively. By eight weeks, it is important to introduce as many people as possible in order to prevent fear or shyness later in life. Puppies do not begin to become wary and cautious of who and what is in their world until around twelve to eighteen weeks, at which time they may begin to show signs of aggression.
While timing is an important factor in the socialization process, it is also to remember some other key factors. Patience is a very important part of the process, and it is always the dog who will set the pace. Socialization is a process, and it will take time, patience, and repetition. Exposure to something new is not the same thing as socialization to something new, and mistaking the two will lead to a poorly socialized dog who is likely to develop behavioral issues later in life.
Your dog should walk away from any new experience feeling positive about it, and wanting to do it again. It’s also important to remember that it is only your dog who can make the determination if an experience is positive or not, and a great indicator of this is to keep an eye on their body language. Loose, wiggly body language is a good indicator that your puppy is having a positive experience.
If you do not see body language that indicates that your dog is having a positive experience, now is the time to move on until another day or time. Make sure that you continue to work on positive reinforcement, even when you have to move away from a particular experience. This will ensure that your puppy continues to trust you as you go through the socialization process.
Finally, remember never to force an interaction. Again, body language is key. If your dog does not want to experience or interact with something at a given moment, that’s okay. Move on and try again another time. Forcing interactions will only cause fear and anxiety in whatever you are attempting to socialize your dog to at the moment.
Socialization can look and seem like an overwhelming, daunting process, but it shouldn’t be, for you or your puppy. It should be an easy, fun process that allows the two of you time to bond just as much as it allows your puppy to get to know the world around him!
If you have never socialized a puppy before, there are numerous checklists online that break the process down into small, simple steps in order to help cut down on the anxiety for both of you.
If you’re feeling anxious about socializing your puppy, you can always seek out a professional trainer at your local pet store or even your local doggy daycare. They can help both you and your puppy traverse those obstacles so you both are feeling comfortable. Make it a fun and enjoyable experience for both of you, and at the end of the process you’ll not only have a well adjusted and happy pet, but you will also have established a strong bond between the two of you!
Good luck and have fun!